Clocked In Escape Room – Priceless Gift [Review]

Ma chéri

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $116 per team of 4 (minimum number), more for larger teams

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraintse

REA Reaction

Priceless Gift asked us to find a treasured object in our grandmother’s home. This premise and the corresponding gamespace were oddly charming.

In-game: An antique white couch in a white room with paintings of France hanging on the walls.

Clocked In Escape Room built a search-and-puzzle escape room with standard puzzle types. Despite a few bumpy solutions, the puzzles generally made sense and the gameplay flowed well.

If you’re in San Antonio and you’re looking for a gentler, puzzle-focused escape room – one that isn’t about saving the world or a fantastical situation – visit Priceless Gift. It won’t blow your mind, but it will deliver competent, classic escape room play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A tender story
  • Fun puzzles

Story

Our grandmother had passed away. Her will clearly stated that she wanted us to have a diamond necklace that had been in the family since the 18th century. Unfortunately, when she wrote her will, she couldn’t remember where she put the priceless jewelry.

The executor of the estate informed us that her house had been sold. We had only 60 minutes until the closing in which to find our inheritance.

In-game: a Singer sewing machine.

Setting

Priceless Gift was set in a bright, white room, with faux stain-glass, and antique furniture.

Clocked In Escape Room built a visually unusual environment that wasn’t fancy, but still was striking. The inclusion of a few select antiques like a Singer sewing machine added a bit of authenticity.

Gameplay

Clocked In Escape Room’s Priceless Gift was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Priceless Gift told a sweet story through escape room gameplay. We don’t see enough of this genre of escape room. It was refreshing.

➕ The puzzles were generally sound, satisfying solves that flowed logically.

➖ A few of the puzzles asked for a larger step in logic.

➖ Priceless Gift could have benefited from a little dusting and maybe a couple of lock replacements.

➕ /➖ Clocked In Escape Room attempted an artistic puzzle in this mostly lock-and-key escape room. We liked the concept, but it didn’t quite stick.

➕ I loved seeing the old Singer sewing machine. Personally, if I were associating a single object with my grandparents, that’s probably it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Clocked In Escape Room’s Priceless Gift, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Rooms Should Scale Up [Design]

Over the years, certain design elements in escape rooms have repeatedly jumped out at us. One such design choice is scale.

Man holding a massive screwdriver.

Make it Bigger

Most escape room interactions can be improved by making them bigger.

Seeing this video reminded me of how much fun it can be when something mundane is blown up to a larger scale.

Choose Wisely

I’m not telling you to make a giant screwdriver. That’s a giant leverage tool and in the wrong player’s hands, things could get ugly fast. I know this.

That said, there are plenty of other items in escape rooms that would be far more interesting if they were larger than life.

Video found via BoingBoing.

EscapeSF – Space Bus [Review]

Ride on the Magic School Bus

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $155 per team of 4 players to $275 per team of 8 players

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The aptly named Space Bus was exactly as its name implied: a retired school bus transformed into a spaceship… and a beautiful one at that.

In-game: The Space Bus' exterior with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background.

When we heard “converted school bus” we pictured a rundown hacked together mess… not a slick Star Trek-esque setting.

In addition to looking good, Space Bus performed where it counted: strong puzzles.

While there were a few aspects and moments that could have been smoother, EscapeSF’s mobile sci-fi game was a solid escape room through and through.

If you’re in San Francisco, this should be among the escape rooms that you play.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Best for any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great puzzles and flow
  • An elegant spaceship set
  • Space Bus can come to you (within reason)

Story

We boarded the Space Bus bound for Space Academy. While in transit with our fellow cadets, the bus was damaged. We needed to figure out how to get everything running properly before the system failure became terminal.

In-game: A wide angle view of the starboard side of the Space Bus.

Setting

Space Bus was set in a converted school bus. From the outside it was incredibly clear that this was a bus, but once inside, we were in a spaceship.

The glowing lights and sleak sci-fi design greatly exceeded anything that I had ever imagined I’d see in a school bus. The only details that gave away the gamespace’s original purpose were some rooftop emergency exits, air conditioners (all painted silver), and the exit door leading to the front of the bus.

In-game: The glowing thermal control system routing console.

Gameplay

Escape SF’s Space Bus was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It was unusual because it was on wheels.

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

In-game: The glowing energy consumption level by sector console.

Analysis

➕ EscapeSF turned a classic yellow school bus into a spaceship. The bus had been through an impressive metamorphosis. It was jarring – in a good way – to see a school bus look so futuristic and beautiful.

In-game: The Space Bus school bus with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

➕ The physical interactions in Space Bus were immensely satisfying. This spaceship had great button-y buttons.

➕ We enjoyed the structure of “turning puzzles on” and then returning to them when we were ready to solve them.

In-game: The Space Bus Flight Manual

➕ Space Bus was a successful checklist-style escape room. Although we were following set instructions, it wasn’t exactly a runbook. We had to correlate instructions with puzzles, which added a reasoning element, and the gameplay wasn’t strictly linear. Additionally, the checklist made sense in the scenario. We could imagine a larger world where we’d be completing a different set of tasks should our spaceship have encountered a different sort of trauma.

➖ For the most part, the instructions were in small booklets. Although we had multiple copies, one was pretty worn, the text was small, and we couldn’t remove the pages to correlate them with the physical puzzle elements. We were constantly flipping through these books trying to find something we knew we’d seen before, which was frustrating. Even adding section tabs would make a big difference.

➕ The puzzles were intelligent. In some cases, they had multiple possible solutions. EscapeSF had programmed the technology to recognize multiple correct solves, and all correct solutions, even if the solutions were – as happened in once instance – input out of order. EscapeSF also had bypasses ready should anything not function properly. The tech was fun, forgiving, and fair.

➖ Space Bus started strongly, but lacked a finale. The last scene was the weakest in terms of both set design and puzzles.

In-game: The front of the Space Bus filled with post-game signs.

Tips For Visiting

  • Space Bus is mobile. You can play it parked outside of EscapeSF or book it to come to you.
  • You will need to go up a few steps onto the bus.

Book your hour with Escape SF’s Space Bus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: EscapeSF provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Spellbound Supper [Review]

Puzzle pre-fixe

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 3-10; we recommend exactly 5 or exactly 10

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per person weekdays, $33 per person weekends

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

SCRAP once again created a unique escape game structure that’s clever enough that it could be a genre unto itself.

The entirety of Spellbound Supper happened in our seats around a dinner table.

In-game: Team B surrounding their white table.

SCRAP used a combination of real life objects, as well as projection and a Microsoft Kinect to allow us to gesture and interact with the projected items. It was “magical” in the Steve Jobs sense of the word.

Spellbound Supper was an amazing concept and a remarkable experience. At the same time, the game felt unfinished. There were many little places where added refinement would have made all the difference.

We would love to see more games in this style. SCRAP could and should push this idea even further. It was mind-opening and entertaining. Throughout the experience, despite the imperfections, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much fun it was.

If you’re in San Francisco, this one is absolutely worth checking out. Much like The Popstar’s Room of Doom, it wasn’t perfect, but its cleverness and novelty greatly outweighed its flaws.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technofiles
  • Fantasy fans
  • Players with mobility struggles
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The brilliant use of technology
  • The dramatic yet simple setting
  • Unusual gameplay, challenges, and puzzles

Story

We’d heard legend of a risky dinner served by a powerful witch. Those who had attended, if deemed worthy, had been rewarded with wonderful magical abilities. Everyone else who had dined with the witch had vanished.

In-game: Team A surrounding their white table.

Setting

Spellbound Supper was an escape room played entirely at a dinner table. All of the puzzles and components were either delivered by our server or projected onto the stark white table cloth.

The projected graphics were beautiful.

The room itself was elegant and slightly intimidating, but not in a frightening way. Its minimalist intensity combined with the demeanor of our server to create an imposing vibe.

In-game: A neatly folded green napkin on a white plate and white tablecloth.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The unorthodox environment added challenge. We had to solve different types of puzzles – printed and projected – from our seats at the table.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and using the magical tools with which we were provided.

Analysis

➕ The dinner table theme was novel. This was our first puzzle feast.

➕ Although we didn’t move from our seats at the table for the duration of the game, Spellbound Supper kept our attention focused on the meal. SCRAP used projection mapping to reveal the gameplay. It was magical and visually intriguing.

➖ The courses progressed rather nonsensically. There didn’t seem to be any reason – story-driven or puzzle-driven – supporting this progression.

➕/➖ The technology could be finicky. We were torn about it. On the one hand, straight video games do some of this better. On the other hand, it was entertaining to be playing a video game with real props, in real life.

➖ We became impatient with the mechanics. We had to wait for long voice-overs to finish. When we made mistakes – which we did often as we pieced together how to solve puzzles – we had to finish a failed cycle repeatedly, which became tedious and took away from the magic feeling magical. We spent a fair bit of time waiting to get back to puzzle-solving. A reset interaction would have been a big improvement.

➕ Spellbound Supper assigned us roles. These were pretty even. You couldn’t draw the short straw. Additionally, the roles were vital to the experience. (For this reason, we recommend you play with a group of exactly 5 or exactly 10 people.)

➖ There weren’t a whole lot of props and the ones they had felt chintzy. With a few more details, dinner would have been classier, and the game more polished.

➖ There was a lot to read. Seated at a table, we had to pass cards around in low light. We would have preferred this part to be better incorporated into the projection mapping or the physical gameplay.

➖ We played with 2 groups of 5 players each. The two groups played the game simultaneously around separate tables without ever interacting, or even seeing each other. We finished at different times, which lead to confusing, anticlimactic endings. The audio kept playing while we tried to figure out if we’d won it or if there was more.

➕ As is typical of SCRAP games, there were a few twists. These were mostly fair challenges that mostly made sense, well… it was still a difficult SCRAP game with an obligatory logic leap or two.

Spellbound Supper was fun. Even in moments of frustration, I was eager to try again, see the next challenge, and explore the interactions. It was so unlike any other escape room we’ve played and the novelty was fun as well.

Tips For Visiting

  • The Japantown parking garage is across the street.
  • There are lots of great restaurant options in Japantown.

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Escape Games by SCRAP provided media discounted tickets for this game.

“Up Your Game” With Us this May

Up The Game Logo - A keyhole in an arrow pointing upwards.

Once again, we’re making our annual pilgrimage to the Netherlands for Up The Game 2019, the European escape room & reality gaming conference.

Lisa & David in Room Escape Artist t-shirts on the Up The Game show floor.

Discount Code

For those who don’t yet have a ticket, we have a bit of a treat in the form of a discount code that will save you 50€ (~$57).

Our discount code is:

UTG19REABLOG

Buy your tickets now before the price increases on April 1st.

Panel

This year, I’ll be moderating a panel on Innovation and Lisa will be one of the panelists.

Up the Game will soon announce who else is appearing on the stage with us, but we are excited to have a conversation on innovation with these folks.

It’s going to be a good show with some interesting perspectives.

You’ll be able to catch that panel at 4pm (16:00) on May 8th.

Stay tuned for more details.

Meet us at TransWorld in St. Louis!

We’re excited for the Escape Room City at TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show this week.

We’re eager to see all of our old escape room friends and make new ones.

Here’s how to find us over the next few days.

Lisa & David's RoomEscapeArtist.com name tags sitting on an assembled jigsaw puzzle.
We’ll be easy to find.

Thursday

We’re opening the conference with a panel about ethics.

It’s Thursday’s free (included with your ticket) escape room seminar.

The Elephant in the Room: Escape Room Ethics – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and How We Can Come Together to Change It!

  • 9:00am – 10:00am
  • Room 260

I will be moderating and David will be on the panel with industry veterans from Escape Games Canada, Museum of Intrigue, 13th Gate Escape, and The Puzzle Effect.

We’re going to cover a range of ethical issues and I’d expect some good… productive arguments.

Friday

We’ll be on stage early again to talk about operating an escape room in 2019.

This seminar is also free (included with your ticket.)

Setting Expectations for Escape Room Design in 2019

  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We will cover how haunted attraction owners have raised the bar and pitfalls they need to look out for. We will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds, painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go.

The talk is written. It’s been rehearsed. We’re ready for this.

Saturday

Find us at the escape room mixer on Saturday evening.

  • 5:15 pm – 7:15 pm
  • Holiday Inn, Broadway/ Washington Rooms
  • Free to attendees; cash bar

All Show

Stop by the San Antonio Escape Room Conference Lounge, booth 3029, located in Escape Room City. We’ll be hanging out there in between seminars and exploring the show floor.

We’re looking for interesting conversation. Come find us. We’d love to chat.

All in Adventures – Superhero’s Adventure [Review]

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na…

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

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

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $20.32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape The Mystery Room Mystery Room All in Adventures builds out escape rooms in malls. The walls partitioning the games don’t reach to the ceiling. The decor is minimal and the puzzles are bolted on rather than integrated into the props. Superhero’s Adventure was full of paper-based puzzles that more or less worked, and locked props, roughly on theme.

In-game: A brick facade, a newspaper vending machine, a handheld stop sign, a blue mailbox.

Going in with the right (low) expectations, the right attitude, and a fun group of friends, we found some enjoyment brute-force solving our way through all these locks. Your mileage will vary.

All in Adventures is a value question. Is this type of low-budget escape room experience worth $22 for 50 minutes? If yes, go in with the right attitude and find your own fun. If you’re looking for higher production value or more meaty puzzles, look elsewhere. For just a bit more money, you could buy a lot more investment in design and gameplay from another escape room company.

While we were there, our gamemaster/ facility manager had expressed frustration that past escape room enthusiasts hit them with negative reviews, but didn’t understand that All in Adventures was striving to do something different. At the end of the day, the biggest flaw with All in Adventures isn’t their approach to game design, but that they want to be viewed as serving a different niche, without labeling themselves as such.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a company attempting to target a lower quality and price point. That said, there is no way for a first-time player to realize that All in Adventures is the O’Doul’s of escape rooms. Their tagline is, “Your Ultimate Escape Room Destination,” and by that standard, well… let’s just say that they are no Cutthroat Cavern.

Who is this for?

  • Walk-ins
  • Deal seekers

Why play?

  • To get your escape room fix
  • You’d rather not be shopping

Story

The intergalactic hero known as the Golden Skateboarder had stashed his spare board on Earth before taking a vacation in the cosmos. Unbeknownst to the hero on holiday, his board was disrupting Earth’s magnetic field.

We had to find the location of his skateboard and send a message, summoning the Golden Skateboarder back to Earth so that he could permanently rectify the problem.

In-game: A yellow cage labeled "flammable materials" a garbage can, an orange traffic cone, and an oversized wall decal of a screenshot from the Batman from Arkham Knight video game.

Setting

Superhero’s Adventure‘s gamespace was a single room surrounded by 3/4 height walls. Two of those walls were covered in full-sized decals.

The few props were supposed to evoke a city environment: a blue post office mailbox, a parking cone, a garbage can (filled with garbage), etc.

The set was bare-bones. It served as a container to hold the game’s locked boxes and puzzle content, while evoking a vague superhero theme.

In-game: A trunk with 20 super hero logos on the top, sealed with two combination locks.

Gameplay

All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The staff at All in Adventures were energetic, friendly, and engaging. They welcomed everyone entering their doors.

➖ All in Adventures used a call-button hint system. We could ring for help. Unfortunately, the few staff had to oversee the entire facility including the lobby and the teams in the other games. It could take a long time to get a hint, which wasn’t cool in a timed game.

➖ Because the walls weren’t floor-to-ceiling, we could hear everything going on in adjacent games. This was distracting. (We could also hear when the staff were otherwise preoccupied helping another team.)

❓ It was strange seeing a massive wall decal of a Batman: Arkham Knight press screenshot.

➖ The props were simply containers to gate the gameflow. They looked cheap. Most of the cluing was on laminated paper and not worked into the surroundings.

➖ The puzzles weren’t well thought out. Potential puzzle solutions were just that: possibilities. We never had confidence in our answers, even the ones that did pop locks. The solutions could be overly obvious or ridiculously obscure.

➖ We spent most of our time trying potential puzzle solutions in every lock in the game. Most of the locks had similar digit structures. Because the majority of props and locks weren’t logically connected to puzzles, potential solutions could go just about anywhere. Our gameplay experience felt like a giant brute force.

Superhero’s Adventure included a bonus puzzle. We applaud this effort to make sure that teams who were solving quickly got to spend more time playing. We enjoyed the puzzle. Note that it was far more complex than we’d been conditioned for, based on the rest of our experience in the room, which threw us off for quite some time.

Tips For Visiting

  • This escape room is located in The Domain.
  • Park in the adjacent garage.

Book your hour with All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: All in Adventures comped our tickets for this game.

Post Escape Room Hyperawareness

You exit an escape room and walk down the street… and everything that you look at feels like it has hidden meaning. You’re hyperaware. It’s an oddly pleasurable feeling.

I suspect that any engaged escape room player knows what I’m talking about. Call it what you want; we call it post-escape room hyperawareness.

Closeup image of a blue eye.

After playing more than 700 escape games, we often get asked if we’re bored with escape rooms… and the answer’s still the same as the last time we wrote about it: The highs are higher, the lows are lower, and we really love novelty and thoughtful design.

One thing has changed: we don’t get that hyperaware feeling anymore… and we really miss it.

Where did it go?

I’m not really sure. I’d venture to guess that becoming really practiced at escape rooms, and having learned to parse the signal from the noise in any given room, has focused our awareness. I think in our earlier days of playing, escape rooms would kick our awareness into overdrive.

I also suspect that it might be adrenaline-related. After playing so many, an escape room has to do something really special (and frequently frightening) for us to trigger that particular neurological reward.

What about you?

What’s your escape room play count? Do escape rooms send you on your way in a state of hyperawareness?

How To Escape A Sinking Car

For some time, I’ve kept a window breaker / seatbelt cutter in my car in case of emergency. I don’t plan on using it, but I was a Boy Scout, and I try to be prepared.

An orange hammer looking device with a pointy metal tip, and an enclosed cutting blade recessed within its handle.

Old Wisdom

For decades, the prevailing wisdom was that if your car is sinking, you have to wait until it’s submerged for the pressure to equalize before you can open the door to escape.

Mythbusters demonstrated this:

I can’t hold my breath that long and you probably can’t either.

Good thing there’s a better approach.

How To Escape A Sinking Car

The real key to surviving a flooding car is to get the window open and get out before the car submerges. This requires quick thinking and some preparedness.

Having the right tools on hand can be critical, especially if you have power windows. Also, don’t forget to shield your eyes.

Knowing how to swim competently can save your life in quite a few scenarios.

Avoidance is Best

Finally, if you see pooling water of unknown depth, consider not driving through it. It’s probably not worth killing yourself and your passengers or wrecking the car.

Not all escapes are recreational or fun.