Can’t Escape Love: A Reluctant Royals Novella [Review]

Innuendo Sauce

Location:  at home

Date Read: June 2019

Team size: 1; we recommend 1

Page Count: 139 pages

Price: $4.99 paperback; $1.99 kindle

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: HarperCollins

REA Reaction

In Can’t Escape Love, romance novelist Alyssa Cole brought together a nerd blogger and an escape room designer in a 2019 novella, as part of her Reluctant Royals series. I’m not a romance novel connoisseur, but when my sister mentioned this novella, I was intrigued to see how someone outside this industry would portray my lifestyle. After all, the main character was a nerdy, 100% focused, busy-all-the-time woman blogger.

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole's Novella cover depicts a woman in a wheel chair sharing ice cream with a man.

Can’t Escape Love cultivated the characters’ romance around a genuine issue: building escape rooms in IP and navigating the fandom that comes with that opportunity. The novel nailed what’s at stake in this scenario.

I found the writing hokey. To me, the characters’ relationship felt unrealistic, and at times, downright silly. That said, I lacked the context of the larger series and the romance novel genre.

If you like romance novels and are interested in the idea of an unusual novella based around escape rooms, bloggers, nerd culture, and diversity, try this out.

Who is this for?

  • Any experience with puzzles, escape rooms, bloggers, or romance novels
  • Discerning romance novel aficionados looking for a lot more story than sex
  • Folks who recognize that representation matters
  • Best for people who have read Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals novels, given how novellas tend to work (see below)
  • People interested in how escape rooms are portrayed in other media

Why Read?

  • Worlds-collide crossover between escape rooms and blogging that plays out in a romance novella
  • An antidote to bodice-ripper stereotypes about romance novels (complete with three-dimensional characters, consent, and a heroine who doesn’t need saving)
  • A plot that addressed genuine issues, albeit in a magical version of the world where you can always expect a happy ending

Story

Reggie was a nerd blogger and a businesswoman trying to launch an online media company in the 21st century. (Sounds familiar!) Gus was a puzzle-obsessed designer tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular anime series for an upcoming con.

Reggie struggled with insomnia. Gus had the most soothing voice.

Gus couldn’t understand the appeal of the IP he was working with. Reggie was a huge fan.

When they traded his voice for her knowledge, they discovered a chemistry. Could they escape love?

Gameplay

Can’t Escape Love was a fairly typical romance novella in some ways (story structure and role in a larger series) and an emphatically non-stereotypical one in others (decidedly feminist and inclusive perspective).

There wasn’t any gameplay, per say. As a reader I could appreciate that the characters were enjoying puzzles, but I couldn’t solve alongside them.

Core “gameplay” revolved around reading.

Analysis

➕ Alyssa Cole captured the blogger life pretty realistically. I could identify with her portrayal of a nerdy blogger. Reggie had depth of character and her day-to-day was relatable.

➖ The puzzle enthusiast character lacked depth. I wanted more insight into the puzzles Gus was designing and solving. Puzzlers and escape room players will likely want more from this character and his work.

➖ The story felt corny. His voice? Really? I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but there were so many cringe-worthy lines as they started to fall for each other. For instance “… maybe it was the happy-anime endorphins rushing through her veins, but everything they said to each other seemed to be dipped in an innuendo sauce and served with a side of ‘let’s bang’ fries.”

➕ While I didn’t connect with the story, the emotions seemed heartfelt. I could empathize with the characters.

➕ In the story, Gus was designing an escape room based in a popular IP. Fans will play this escape room and judge it… as only the fan can. Alyssa Cole nailed this conflict. She also captured a fan’s excitement for a creative world.

Time Run faced these same hurdles in real life with Sherlock: The Game is Now. Creative Director Nick Moran alludes to this commitment to getting it right for fans in our interview from last summer, before the room opened. His talk at Up the Game in 2019 honed in on the challenges involved.

Gus was out of his element designing an escape room around IP he didn’t understand and couldn’t appreciate… until Reggie showed him what it meant to her, and convinced him of its value. As we see more escape rooms based in IP, this will be what sets the good ones apart.

➕/➖ Can’t Escape Love was a crossover that could appeal to both puzzle nerds and romance readers, and especially to anyone who already likes both. I’m thrilled to see escape rooms featured in different genres of culture. That said, Can’t Escape Love didn’t quite build the necessary bridge. As someone who doesn’t know and appreciate the format of a romance novel, the story felt contrived and, at times, downright preposterous. Someone who reads romance novels but doesn’t know or appreciate escape rooms will probably feel similarly, wondering why the characters care so much about that weird thing people do for fun that seems terrifyingly like Saw.

❓Romance novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, romance novels can do good things in the world, and even more so when they represent the vast array of humans who fall in loveCan’t Escape Love is this kind of romance novel. While its style may not satisfy everyone’s desires, it’s written with intent.

Can’t Escape Love was a novella in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Novellas typically give more depth to minor characters who show up in the longer novels in a series. This makes novellas awesome if you’ve already read the novels and wanted to see a minor character’s happy ending. This also makes novellas a little confusing and light on context as a place to start. I read Can’t Escape Love without having read any of the novels that give it context. Without this, the culminating conflict fell flat. I could relate to the conflict as a person who is close to her sister, but I wasn’t invested in the characters’ own drama and I didn’t really understand a good portion of it. In contrast, my sister had already read the book about the protagonist’s sister and knew exactly what the final conflict was about (and could also relate as a person who is close to her sister!).

Speaking of my sister, this is her first appearance on Room Escape Artist. We co-authored this review.

Tips For Reader

  • You will get more out of the story if you either know you like the romance genre or want to give it a whirl.
  • You will get more out of the story if you’ve read the novels in the Reluctant Royals series. I found it a bit hard to get into. I think my lack of a previous connection to the characters had a lot to do with this.

Buy your copy of Can’t Escape Love, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Skurrilum – Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death [Review]

“This is a lovely room of death.” – Ace Ventura

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €99 per group for teams of 3 to €156 per group from teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death did tons of unique things. We hadn’t played a game set in a zoo. This setting, in combination with Skurrilum’s ghost hunting staging, gave Zoo of Death an unusual jumping off point.

Zoo of Death had some amazing moments and interactions contained within its beautiful set. It also had a fantastic door puzzle. (It’s well documented how much we love a great door.)

In-game: Overhead shot of a cage in a rundown zoo at night.
Image via Skurrilum

There was plenty to love in this game, but does it live up to the hype of Wailing Woman or the 9th best escape room in the world? That’s more debatable.

One critical prop that could turn dangerous didn’t feel sturdy enough and the story lost its way in the last act by taking itself way too seriously and not paying off that intensity.

Zoo of Death was an incredibly strong escape room. Critiquing a game like this can get dicey because we’re talking about missed opportunities in the finer points of execution, which can sometimes look like condemnation of the entire experience. That’s not our intent.

Skurrilum built an impressive and unique game in Zoo of Death. If you’re in Hamburg, you ought to check it out. But once again, as with Wailing Woman, leave your hype in their lockers.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Memorable interactions
  • Story-driven gameplay

Story

Ghost hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson had given us a second case! This time he’d sent us to investigate grim and scary events at a nearby zoo.

In-game: A sign reads, "Do not make eye contact with the gorilla."
Image via Skurrilum

Setting

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death opened as Wailing Woman did: in darkness with a story establishing voiceover setting the stage.

Once the game began, we found ourselves on the grounds of a rundown zoo. It looked old, creepy, and forgotten.

In-game: A tire swing hanging in a sad, dark cage.
Image via Skurrilum

Gameplay

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a brain cooked up to some strange device.
Image via Skurrilum

Analysis

➕ Skurrilum built two games in the world of ghost hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson. In this second game, we had a strong sense of Ernie as a character and his world. It’s a world with infinite possibilities. We were excited to be back in it, in an unusual escape room setting, solving another case.

➖ The opening sequence of Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death bottlenecked severely. There was no way for most teammates to participate at all.

➕ Skurrilum used space brilliantly in Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death. The changes were unexpected and tons of fun.

➖ While impressive, we questioned the safety of one large set piece, its corresponding action, and its sturdiness.

➕ The best puzzles asked us to solve real-world problems in the zoo setting. If we wanted something from one set piece, how could we logically get it? This was an incredibly satisfying sequence of linked solves.

In-game: A decaying rodent in a cage.
Image via Skurrilum

➕ There was a beast of a puzzle. It was fun.

➖ The gameflow was choppy.

❓ The choppiness of the gameflow was exacerbated by a bad reset and the gamemaster failing to intervene even though we were repeatedly saying how we thought the puzzle was supposed to work and that something seemed wrong. We spun in circles for a solid 10 minutes until we finally received confirmation from the gamemaster that something was amiss and the issue corrected.

➕ We love a good door mechanism. Skurrilum transformed a classic puzzle type into an amazing doorway.

➖ While the narration was fun, in this instance, it felt like the story was told rather than experienced. Wailing Woman did a better job on this front.

➖ While Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death took us on an adventure, we wanted more from the culminating interaction. Narratively, the conclusion disappointed us by steering straight into the obvious cliche. We thought that Skurrilum was going to do something more interesting with the ending. It felt like it built up drama only to fizzle out at the end.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 14 years old
  • You must be able to climb stairs and crawl to play this game.

Book your hour with Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Skurrilum provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Simulacra Games – The Wilson Wolfe Affair [Review]

Animated

Location:  at home

Date Played: Spring 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable, there is a lot of game

Price: £59 for Silver Package, £119 for Gold Package, £219 for Platinum Package

REA Reaction

We dove down the rabbit hole that was Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair, Silver Package (the smallest, but still quite substantial edition).

This puzzle hunt-style game was very difficult in comparison to escape rooms and felt pretty average in terms of puzzle hunt challenge level.

A movie poster for Wilson Wolfe "Ice Odyssey" features the feline title character exploring frozen tundra dragging an ice block with a mummy in it.

The Wilson Wolfe Affair really shined in its production value. The materials and design were consistently beautiful. The writing felt strong and in-character throughout every item… and there were a lot of items. Additionally, the puzzles that made use of some of the more animation-focused components really stole the show.

The Wilson Wolfe Affair stumbled in some aspects of game design, particularly on-boarding, which was chaotic, and led to many of the game’s less than stellar moments. There were also a few puzzles that played it a little too loose for my taste.

All-in-all, I’m happy that we spent 4 evenings plaything through The Wilson Wolfe Affair. I was content with only playing the Silver Package. Although there is a part of me that’s curious about some of the puzzles we never got to see, when all was said and done, I was fine turning to my teammates and saying, “That’s all folks.”

If you’re a puzzle hunter and can get your hands on a copy of The Wilson Wolfe Affair, I think it’s a worthy challenge. If you’re unfamiliar or inexperienced with puzzle hunts, please don’t make The Wilson Wolfe Affair your maiden voyage. Attempt something a little more guided and with tighter, more definitive puzzles. (I discussed this in my Cryptex Hunt Primer.)

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Deep puzzling
  • Some nifty interactions

Story

A secret society was operating from within a 1930s Los Angeles animation studio who’s most popular character was the cartoon cat Wilson Wolfe.

We had received a package of items from the studio and had to decode and decipher the secret organization’s communications.

Simulacra Games/ Jinks Studios box.

Setup

We cracked open a box and found a wide variety of meticulously designed paper puzzles.

The documents ranged from animation cells and movie advertisements to internal corporate memos and a newspaper, among many other things.

The printed materials varied greatly depending upon the item, but the print quality as well as the art direction was unquestionably strong.

An assortment of items including a journal from 1936 and a pamphlet titled "Modern Magick."

Gameplay

Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair was a play-at-home puzzle hunt with a very high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, making connections, piecing together the story, and staying organized.

A newspaper, a map, a poker chip, an a patch with a South American-esque design.

Analysis

➕ The Wilson Wolfe Affair was loaded with challenging and largely entertaining puzzles, more than 35 of them.

➖ There were some puzzles that were too tedious, requiring pixel-hunt-like detail fishing. There were also a few puzzles were the solutions were too loose for my taste.

➕ The writing and art was wonderful and consistent, especially considering how much content was in the box.

➕/➖ The online hint system was mostly sufficient and helped us get back on track when needed. The biggest struggles that we had were when we couldn’t tell exactly what puzzle we were working on, which happened from time to time because of the nature of the game structure.

➖ Opening The Wilson Wolfe Affair felt like drinking from a firehose. There were tons and tons of materials. It wasn’t entirely clear which items went together, nor which puzzles we should start with or leave for the ending. The Wilson Wolfe Affair needed stronger on-boarding.

➖ There was a journal that included cluing. This thing was kind of strange. Sometimes it was the key to solving a puzzle; other times it offered nothing or worse, functioned as a red herring and lead us wildly astray.

➕/➖ There was a clever system that conveyed how many letters in each puzzle’s answer. While this was clearly designed to lend a hand to the solvers, we didn’t figure out what it was until we were almost finished with the entire game. We thought it was a separate puzzle and not a clue. I’m not pointing fingers…. It’s possible that this was conveyed somewhere, but we never found it. This ties back to the need for stronger on-boarding in The Wilson Wolfe Affair.

➖ The net effect of the disconnects between on-boarding, the journal, and the puzzles themselves was that we solved them in a completely random sequence. In most puzzle hunts, this wouldn’t be a problem. The Wilson Wolfe Affair, however, attempted to convey a story. In the end, we could barely follow the story because it was more out of sequence than a Christopher Nolan film.

➕ The more tangible puzzles were among the most memorable and unique of the game.

❓ We played the less expensive and less expansive Silver Package. The larger versions of the game seem to have included many more tangible puzzle, and tangible puzzles were among my favorite parts of the game. On one hand, I’m really curious what they played like. On the other hand when we finished up the Silver Package, I felt satisfied and didn’t really want more content.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: paper and pencil or frixion pen, an internet connected device
  • Recommended Gear: a spreadsheet for keeping answers organized

Buy your copy of Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

To do so, you’ll have to check the second-hand market because it is no longer available from Simulacra Games. You can sign up on their website to learn more about their future projects.

A Puzzler’s Guide to Amazon Prime Day Deals

We scoured Amazon’s Prime Day deals (which are continuing today) for the kinds of things that we think escape room players might enjoy.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Exit: The Game – The Sunken Treasure

Sunken Treasure's box art features a sunken tall ship.

Most of the Exit series is on sale for Prime Day. The Sunken Treasure is one of my favorites (full review) that they offer. It also happens to be one of their easiest games, so it’s great for first-timers to the series.

Mysterium

Mysterium box art.

This is one of the most frequently played tabletop games in our collection. It’s collaborative, easy to learn, challenging to master, and incredibly replayable.

6 Key Puzzle Lock

A large and sturdy brass padlock beside 6 strange brass keys.

I love puzzle locks and this is a good one. We recommend it as a puzzle itself. Please do not put a puzzle lock in an escape room.

3D Crystal Panda Puzzle

A 3 dimensional panda bear holding bamboo.

I have a 3D Crystal Rubber Duck puzzle that I truly enjoy. It has some interesting mechanics. The panda variant is pretty adorable.

Dog Treat Puzzle Ball

2 balls containing dog food

Good doggos should get to puzzle too.

(Note: I love dogs, but I’m allergic to them. I have no idea if this is a good product, but I do like the concept.)

A beautiful shiba on a train platform at night.
This photo of Nick Moran’s dog Elinor was stolen and published without permission.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Looking Glass Adventures – Mystery at Maryweather Mansion [Review]

Study Egypt

Location:  Toronto, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 2-12; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per adult, $20 per child (under 13)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Mystery at Maryweather Mansion was not designed for me and my group. Looking Glass Adventures’ target market was younger families, as demonstrated by the changing tables in their bathrooms.

Considering their goal of producing family-friendly adventures that adults can enjoy, I think that they are doing a lovely job.

In-game: A cartoonish purple and green door.

Did I see anything mindblowing? No. However, Mystery at Maryweather Mansion had solid puzzle and set design with a few creative interactions.

If you’re a family in Toronto looking to introduce your children to puzzle adventures, this is a fantastic choice. If you’re an adult looking for a solid escape room with a few interesting interactions, you can absolutely find fun within Mystery at Maryweather Mansion. We did.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Families
  • Newbies

Why play?

  • Cute, clever puzzles
  • Approachable gameplay

Story

Renowned archeologist/ adventurer Ms. Maryweather was off on another one of her journeys when she heard a rumor that a rival archeologist was planning to steal her most prized possession from her mansion.

She contacted us, her loyal pupils, to sneak into her home, bypass her security, identify her most prized artifact, and hide it before it could be stolen.

In-game: A purple walled study with a couch flanked by table lamps.

Setting

Mystery at Maryweather Mansion was built around the main character’s study. It looked like a traditional escape room with a few added elements that reminded us that the room was targeted at children.

While most of the game looked typical, the final act had the most interesting aesthetic (and gameplay) twist.

In-game: A wooden desk with locks on the drawers.

Gameplay

Looking Glass Adventures’ Mystery at Maryweather Mansion was a standard escape room with a family-friendly level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a coat rack with a pair of hats and a handbag hanging from it.

Analysis

➕ The in-character delivery of hints was delightful.

➕ The story behind Mystery at Maryweather Mansion was light but solid. Above all, it didn’t come with a ton of reading.

➕ There were a couple of creative puzzles. My favorites made clever use of Ms. Maryweather’s artifacts.

In-game: A large antique radio beside a couch.

➖ One of the puzzles that I truly enjoyed the mechanics of also felt like it was missing a bit of clue structure. The solution was alluded to, but even after having derived the correct answer for all of the right reasons, we weren’t confident at all until we saw that it worked.

➖ The lighting was too low, especially for the amount of searching required of us. We probably would have had an easier time in this game if we’d had a kid or two searching about.

➕/❓ While the set wasn’t fancy by any measure, Looking Glass Adventures selected an achievable locale and did a fine job. If your game selection is motivated specifically by set design, there won’t be anything that blows your mind.

➖ There were a few locks that had seen a few too many adventures and deserved to retire.

➕ Looking Glass Adventures provided an amusing bonus puzzle after the main game concluded. They do this for speedy teams. This was delivered in-character with the same charm as the hints.

Tips For Visiting

  • Looking Glass Adventures requires at least 2 adults present in the room with a group of children.

Book your hour with Looking Glass Adventures’ Mystery at Maryweather Mansion, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Looking Glass Adventures provided media discounted tickets for this game.

On Not Updating Escape Room Prices in Reviews

For years now we’ve been receiving this reasonable request from escape room owners and managers:

“Hey Room Escape Artist, I’m the manager of [escape room company] and we’ve updated our pricing from the $28 per ticket that we had when you reviewed our games to $35 per ticket. Can you update your reviews of our games to reflect the new pricing model?”

And every time, we politely decline this request.

A pink piggy bank looking into the camera.

Why No Price Updates?

When we review an escape room, we review it on a particular date and at a specific price point.

Both the price and the date we played the game were part of the experience.

My go-to example is that we absolutely loved Maze of Hakaina when we played it in 2017. It was fantastic at that time and price point. Our review was our snapshot of that experience. If we were to play it for the first time in 2019 at a higher price, that review would look quite different. How different? We can’t be sure.

Short of re-reviewing a game (Hydeout 2015 vs Hydeout 2019), which is complicated and often times impossible, the best thing that we can do is be honest with our readers about when we played it and what the experience was like at that point in time.

Crypto Escape Rooms – Below Zero [Review]

Cool!

Location:  Newmarket, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Below Zero was a standout game with high quality gameplay, narrative, and puzzling. Crypto Escape Rooms has really jumped out into the forefront of where escape rooms ought to be heading.

Newmarket may be a hike from Downtown Toronto, but it’s well worth the trip. When people ask me why I haven’t gotten bored of room escapes, it’s because of gems like Below Zero. Lisa didn’t play this one with me because I was traveling without her, but I am already trying to figure out how to get back there just so that she can play it too.

Below Zero brought me a lot of joy. If you can play it, you ought to.

In-game: A matrix of glowing dots on a door.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Wonderful character
  • Fantastic set
  • Great puzzles
  • Lots of humor
  • All around strong game

Story

We were among the last surviving humans, cryogenically frozen to protect us from a calamity. The good news was that the deep freeze had worked. The bad news was that we had been thawed hundreds of years early.

We had to figure out how to restore ourselves to cryo-freeze.

In-game: Wide angle shot of a control room.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Setting

Below Zero was set in a sci-fi cryogenics lab overseen by a charming artificial intelligence. The set was gorgeous, with puzzles and effects deeply integrated into the environment.

In-game: Wide angle shot of a room with access terminals along the walls.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Gameplay

Crypto Escape Rooms’ Below Zero was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, making connections, and interacting with a character.

In-game: A futuristic blue, glowing screen and interface.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Analysis

➕ Bert, the AI, was a wonderful and unique character. His influences were clear, but he proved himself to be far more than just another GLaDOS clone.

➕ Below Zero was a strikingly well-written escape game. I have nothing but praise for the narrative structure, character development, and humor of this game.

In-game: A series of chambers, a radiation symbol on the wall.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕ Crypto Escape Rooms made excellent use of choice in Below Zero. With clear options, we made a knowing decision and faced the consequences of our selection.

➕ The set was fantastic.

In-game: A storage device with a red object within it.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➖ There were a number of moments that were too loud. On the one hand, this added to the ambiance. On the other hand, it happened a bit too often and the impact diminished.

➕/➖ There was a clever take on the laser maze. I loved what Crypto Escape Rooms did with this mechanic. Unfortunately, it was a little too easy to bypass one of the coolest parts of this interaction.

In-game: Close up shot of a control computer.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕/❓  Over the course of Below Zero, there were a few occasions where we encountered increasingly challenging renditions of same puzzle concept. I loved the way that this played. I can, however, imagine teams that don’t quite gel with this puzzle type diving deeper into demoralization with each subsequent iteration.

➖ A few props that get handled a lot were showing some wear and could benefit from another coat of paint.

In-game: An input terminal with different disks input into slots.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕ I’m a sucker for a strong interface where you know that you’ve done something when you interact with it. Give me some good buttons and my enjoyment of a game will jump immediately. Below Zero had great button-y buttons.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Crypto Escape Rooms has a parking lot.

Book your hour with Crypto Escape Rooms’ Below Zero, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crypto Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Big Break Hamburg – Time Travel [Review]

Climb and crawl through time

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 10, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 75 € per Group for teams of 2 to 154 € per Group for teams of 7

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As with Insomnia, Big Break Hamburg picked another brilliant theme in Time Travel. By having us traverse a broken space-time continuum, each new space was a completely different place, any of which could have been the setting for an entire escape room. (In fact, each setting in Time Travel was a theme for an escape room that we’ve played elsewhere).

Time Travel’s sets were solid. Its puzzles were strong. It played well from start to finish. This was a truly enjoyable escape room that just needed a memorable moment to pull the plot together and deliver something impactful.

In-game: The interior of a heavy metal vault door. Large gears and a locking bolt in view.

All-in-all, Big Break Hamburg is a company worth visiting if you’re in the region. I suggest playing both Time Travel and Insomnia. If you only have time for one, Time Travel played more cleanly, but Insomnia was a bit more memorable.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Diverse settings
  • Solid puzzling

Story

Many had attempted time travel, but no one had succeeded until Professor Emmerson did. Initially there were celebrations of the incredible accomplishment, until things started changing.

Emmerson had accidentally made minor changes to the timeline that reverberated throughout history. At first the timeline alterations were small. Then as the chaos spread, the changes to the timeline became catastrophic.

We had to repair the timeline before we all disappeared.

In-game: A wall of newspaper clippings, the NY Times piece about Apollo 11 in focus.

Setting

Time Travel opened up in a steampunk-esque time machine, which we used to travel through space and time. Each subsequent set took us to a different locale. Each location could have been its own escape room.

In-game: A strange metal device made from an assortment of objects.

Gameplay

Big Break Hamburg’s Time Travel was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A wall of clocks.

Analysis

➕ The steampunk aesthetic of the first set was a strong opening location. There was a lot going on, but the set never felt red herring-y. Rather, it delivered the appropriate time-travel vibes.

➕ The sets each looked and felt distinct. For the most part, they were detailed and polished. Each was an unexpected and welcome next hop through time.

➖ The final set felt sparse. It was too large for the amount of interaction and not quite refined enough to pull off that look.

➕ We enjoyed a few key props, each in a different scene.

➕ Big Break used the layout of the gamespace to facilitate adventurous movement through space and time.

➕ Big Break Hamburg crafted substantial layered puzzles. These were well clued and fun to solve.

➖ While most of the puzzles worked well, there were a couple where the cluing could have used a touch of refinement.

Time Travel didn’t take itself too seriously. In the last scene, we got a laugh out of the goofy and political pop culture jokes.

➖ The “save the world” premise felt bolted onto a set-hopping puzzle game. Time Travel had a story, but it wasn’t a narrative-driven adventure. Although this worked from a gameplay standpoint, we felt it didn’t quite deliver on its ambitions.

➕ Big Break Hamburg hid Easter eggs in the escape room. Ask about these at the end of your play-through!

Tips For Visiting

  • This game involves some crawling and a little climbing.

Book your hour with Big Break Hamburg’s Time Travel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Big Break Hamburg comped our tickets for this game.

EscapeDiem – JigSaw [Review]

An unpretentious yet quality SAW-inspired experience

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 12, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 71 € per group for teams of 2 to 135 € per team for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a solid SAW-inspired escape game in a sea of generally mediocre SAW-themed games.

In-game: Jigsaw behind chickenwire.

JigSaw was intense with some scary moments, but never overwhelming. It was far more puzzley than we typically expect from a game playing with horror tropes. It did a great job of throttling back the fear when we really needed to think.

JigSaw wasn’t a gamechanger, but it did a good job casting us into a freaky and eerie murder room and making us fight through puzzles while overcoming our nerves. If you’re in Hamburg and this sounds like your kind of fun, then you should absolutely book EscapeDiem’s JigSaw.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • SAW fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Compelling SAW-inspired gameplay
  • Some creative puzzle design

Story

We’d woken up blindfolded in an old bathroom and under the supervision of a serial killer. We had to play his game… or he would skip to the end.

In-game: "I want to play a game" painted in blood on a white tiled wall.

Setting

JigSaw was exactly what we expected from a SAW-inspired game. It began in a rundown, tiled bathroom-like environment with heavy weathering and a foreboding feel.

The escape game moved on to other dark and intimidating settings, continuing a sense of fear that was occasionally stoked by the gamemaster.

This was all tied together by an in-character hint system that was especially well-performed by our gamemaster.

In-game: An iron clawed bathtub in a rundown bathroom.

Gameplay

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Numbers scrawled in blood all over a white wall.

Analysis

❓ EscapeDiem’s take on a serial killer game was standard. This played out exactly as we would have expected.

➕ EscapeDiem used space well. Jigsaw felt bigger than it was.

➕ There was a standout lighting effect in JigSaw.

❓ The set and puzzle design felt a bit messy. Although the gameplay worked, the look at feel of the space, props, and puzzles was unrefined. That said, this was justified by the theme and set up.

➕ The gamemastering was phenomenal. Our gamemaster justified her existence in our experience. This was well-acted over a walky-talky. This wasn’t her only role.

➕ The puzzles were varied and flowed well, shifting from search-heavy in an uncomfortable environment to more substantial and challenging puzzles.

➕ EscapeDiem did a fantastic job of tuning the fear level of the room to the complexity of the challenges.

➖ The gameplay arc didn’t quite conclude. Because of the choice of final puzzle, our playthrough (and energy level) fizzled rather than rushing to a dramatic conclusion.

❓ We’ve played a number of serial killer-themed escape rooms. This one made no attempt to hide its inspiration. It was conceptually unambitious, but well executed.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 16 years old
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

Book your hour with EscapeDiem’s JigSaw, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: EscapeDiem comped our tickets for this game.