15 Locks – Call of the Ancient [Review]

The Call of Cthulhu

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Call of the Ancient, a game rooted in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft and centered around the rise of the elder god Cthulhu, was an especially challenging escape room with an optional roleplay element and a “sanity” game mechanic.

If a player lost all of their sanity points, then there were unknown consequences. And we lost sanity… frequently. This completely shifted how we played the game. This was approximately our 690th escape game… so it’s saying a lot that Call of the Ancient made us immediately shift our approach to gameplay.

In-game: a cryptex an unrolled scroll, a locked box and an idol.
Image via 15 Locks

Looking back, I found myself wishing that one or two puzzles were a little clearer, and that the sanity system was more refined. I wanted to feel more consequence.

In true Lovecraft fashion, Call of the Ancient was difficult, with some deliberately frustrating puzzles. This was brilliantly in-narrative and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

This was a really interesting game for Lovecraft fans and puzzle nerds. It was challenging and steeped in its source material. If that sounds like you, then this is a must-play. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, this game might drive you to madness. 15 Locks really went crazy on this one.

Who is this for?

  • The Lovecraft-familiar
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for something challenging and different

Why play?

  • Unusual gameplay that forced us to change the entire way we approach playing escape rooms
  • Optional roleplaying opportunity
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Connection to the source material

Story

A secret society had summoned a great evil. They had arrogantly believed that they could control it and harness its power for their own gain… but they were wrong.

We had to investigate the ritual that they had conducted and determine how to contain the menace that they had released.

In-game: A bookcase filled with old books and trinkets.
Image via 15 Locks

Setting

Call of the Ancient was set in a study-like room with a decidedly creepy Lovecraftian feel.

15 Locks included a beautiful animated painting and an animated portrait. The former served as an elaborate gameclock, the latter as the hint system. These embellishments added a ton of atmosphere.

In-game: A faux rotary phone on a desk in an old study.
Image via 15 Locks

Gameplay

15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient was an unusual escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Call of The Ancient introduced character cards, special abilities unique to each character, and “sanity points.” If a player lost all of their sanity, then they triggered a new, adverse effect within the game. The fear of losing sanity was real. It quickly shifted how we approached playing.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, unravelling complex problems, and making connections.

In-game: an old study with a bookcase, phonograph, and a mesmerizing clock.
Image via 15 Locks

Analysis

➕ The animated clock and hint system were fantastic.

➕/➖ The puzzles in Call of the Ancient were intense and in a few instances, a bit maddening. They felt at home in a Lovecraft game, which was amazing. For those who didn’t like or appreciate this stylistic choice, however, it was a bit maddening.

➕ There were some really unusual interactions that completely belonged within this strange, chaotic world.

➖ We were pretty sure that one puzzle had an incorrect solution.

➕ The sanity system was really cool. All sorts of normal escape room actions could result in a loss of sanity. This quickly changed the way that we approached puzzling, which was so damn amazing.

➖ The sanity system functioned on the honor system. If a player didn’t want to go insane, they could simply pretend that they hadn’t triggered a sanity loss. On the one hand, this meant that an individual player could have whatever experience they desired. On the other hand, it meant that a big portion of the game could be essentially ignored, and one player’s decision did impact everyone else’s experience. It was also possible for players to honorably follow their own interpretation of portions of the sanity game. The mechanics weren’t entirely clear.

➖ Partway through the game, I decided to try to go insane while following the rules. There were too many powers at play, however, that allowed my teammates to “save” me. I wish that I could have fairly triggered insanity; it would have been a jolly good time… for me.

➕/➖ The character cards were an interesting addition. The characters’ powers injected another dynamic to the game. Unfortunately, nearly all of the powers were focused on preserving sanity points. This turned the entire power section of the game into a sanity preservation side-game.

➖ There was variation in LED color in the final puzzle, which lead to a fair amount of unnecessary confusion.

➖ We didn’t have enough light. This was maddening… and maybe rightly so… but we much preferred that feeling to come for the game itself.

➕ 15 Locks used space in crazy ways.

➖ The initial spatial reveal was clunky. We loved the concept, but the execution needed more work.

➕ The environment looked and felt designed. 15 Locks chose appropriate locks, which added a lot to the aesthetic.

Call of the Ancient rewarded familiarity with Cthulhu and Lovecraft in a profound way. If those names mean nothing to you before you enter this game, you’re missing out on a significant chunk of the experience.

➕ The conclusion was brilliant and perfectly fit the narrative.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This is a challenging game. Bring a team that is ready for it.
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Enigma Emporium – Blowback [Review]

Puzzle across Europe. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 29, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $12 on Kickstarter (plus $3 for international shipping) / $15 when it becomes available in their store

Publisher: Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium is back with another postcard puzzle game. Our hidden hero from Wish You Were Here has mailed us 5 more postcards, each jam-packed with puzzle content. 

Blowback played well, with clean and entertaining solves. If you enjoyed Wish You Were Here, this is more of the same… and should be an easy impulse buy. 

If you didn’t play Wish You Were Here, you should start there. It’s available at a reduced price as part of the current Kickstarter (and if that has expired, it’s available on the Enigma Emporium website). 

If you weren’t fond of Wish You Were Here, or you’d like to play a game that does something dramatically different, then you’ll want to take a pass on Blowback

We had a lovely time puzzling our way through Blowback. The game took our minds off of an otherwise abysmal day… and that’s saying something. 

The "Blowback: Wish You Were Here Part II" envelope depicts a black hoodied hacker in front of many computer monitors.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (experienced puzzlers will have a significant advantage)

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle density
  • Low price

Story

Enigma Emporium’s second chapter Blowback picked up where Wish You Were Here had left off. We had previously helped save the family of our main character and now he needed more help from us. 

He had sent us 5 additional postcards, each with hidden and enciphered messages explaining the details that he had uncovered about a nefarious organization. 

5 different post cards. The top one is England.

Setup

Structurally, Blowback functioned similarly to Wish You Were Here.

We received 5 post cards, each packed with puzzle content. We had to use our wits and a computer to crack the codes and help the unseen hero. 

The back of the England postcard, has parts of coordinates, stamps and a message about the danger that Ouroboros poses.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Blowback felt like a light puzzle hunt. It was challenging relative to escape rooms, but fairly easy relative to puzzle hunts. 

Core gameplay revolved around observation, deciphering, puzzling, and a bit of internet research. 

Analysis

➕ As with Wish You Were Here, we were impressed with the puzzle density of each postcard. Enigma Emporium did a whole lot with a compact format.

➕ For the amount of content, the price is quite fair.

➕ There are quite a few brilliant puzzles in Blowback. Most of them involved multiple layers of meaning.

➕ This go-around, Enigma Emporium did a really interesting thing to internationalize their game. 

➕ The structure of Enigma Emporium’s hint system is great. It’s easy to use and intuitive. We used it only minimally. The puzzles came together cleanly and we rarely found ourselves reaching for a hint. 

➖ The hints would benefit from a greater degree of granularity. Although we didn’t use it much, we encountered moments where the hints jumped from “vague” to “there’s nothing left to figure out” in a single step. 

➖ Although Enigma Emporium has proven that they can deliver a ton of content in a few postcards, this second chapter felt like it was missing something new and special. I’d happily solve my way through one more of these games in this structure because the puzzles and game were well crafted, but without something to shake up the format, this concept will feel predictable and turn stale. 

❓ There’s a lot of deciphering. I believe it’s less then in Wish You Were Here… but if translation grates on you, some of the puzzles will overstay their welcome.

➕/ ➖ We played a media copy of Blowback in advance of its Kickstarter launch. We encountered a few puzzles that lacked adequate cluing and felt less than intuitive, or became overly tedious. Enigma Emporium was interested in feedback and continues to iterate. We commend them for this. We anticipate that you will have a smoother experience than we did at a few junctures.

Tips For Player

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer. We don’t think a mobile device would be adequate.
  • Keep yourself organized while solving this game. Details matter. You will have a lot of puzzle paths open at once and as you solve them, you’ll need to hang on to the solutions.
  • While not necessary, you ought to play the first chapter before beginning the second chapter. 

Back Enigma Emporium’s Blowback on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

(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.)

Extreme Escape – The Cursed [Review]

Voodoo so well.

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Cursed impressed us with a detailed environment, a solid puzzle game, and one hell of a moment. Extreme Escape sold us on the place, the story, and our role within it.

Although they could tweak some aspects of this escape room to improve the puzzle flow, we throughly enjoyed solving our way through this dramatic adventure.

If you’re anywhere near San Antonio, The Cursed is a must play.

In-game: A series of wooden doors linked by a heavy steel chain.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Cinematic moments
  • Gorgeous set
  • Interactive puzzles
  • Memorable moments

Story

We were trapped in a witch’s cabin. We had to break her curse before she stole our souls.

In-game: closeup of a human skull.

Setting

The Cursed had us venture into a witch’s cabin. It really sold the illusion. From the dramatic lighting to the wooden construction and the mystical props, Extreme Escape built a believable world.

As the experience progressed, audio and visual effects served to create an epic moment.

In-game: A shelf with a human skull and other idols.

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s The Cursed was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: small alligator heads and candles arranged in a shrine.

Analysis

➕ The set was gorgeous. The wood-paneled cabin was dramatically lit with voodoo-esque decor. It felt magical.

➖ The Cursed was dimly lit. Our team of 5 was only provided with 1 hand-cranked flashlight. Although Extreme Escape nailed the ambiance, the gameplay suffered for it. Strategically lit work spaces would help the puzzle flow.

➕ The puzzles generally involved large, tangible prop interactions. These were a lot of fun.

➖ Secondary spaces felt underused. The decor was less detailed and the they were light on gameplay. These spaces were fun to open, but felt like missed opportunities.

➕ Extreme Escape seized their window of opportunity for a dramatic and memorable moment.

➖ One interaction wasn’t firmly secured. It would be easy for one player, taking a specific and well-intended action, to inadvertently injure another unsuspecting player who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Yes, this happened. Extreme Escape was quick to provide a Band Aid.)

➖ We spent a long time on just a few puzzles. Additional cluing or intermediary confirmation would help the gameplay flow more smoothly

The Cursed told a story through the set and many of the puzzles. It was a ton of fun to puzzle our way through this tale, which culminated beautifully.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • They are on the top floor of the plaza.

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

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape NJ – The Garage [Review]

Escape & BBQ

Location:  Wharton, New Jersey

Date Played: January 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Created as a side project from the people behind the 2-time Golden Lock-In Award-winning company 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was a themed puzzle game in a fun setting. We were in a garage trying to get the garage door to open.

The Garage exemplified how escape rooms don’t require a complex, epic story to be entertaining and compelling. The substance of The Garage existed in the thematic props and their associated puzzles. It was lovely, challenging, and fair.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, a car door rests on a workbench in the background.

If you’re in the region and enjoy puzzle-driven games in a unique environment, we strongly recommend driving through The Great Escape NJ. The Garagewould be approachable and fun regardless of experience level.

Additionally, The Garage is for sale along with its lease (and, I believe, space for another game). Feel free to contact The Great Escape NJ for details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Fans of 13th Hour escape games

Why play?

  • Great puzzles & flow
  • An elegant set with an unusual theme
  • Attached to a BBQ restaurant

Story

We had 60 minutes to reopen the old Hot Rods Garage.

In-game: the heavily weathered garage door with a digital keypad beside it.

Setting

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage looked as the name advertised. The entire room was built around tools and cars. The puzzles, props, and interactions were rooted within the theme.

Created as a side project by 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was imbued with their aesthetic and level of detail… without the creepiness of their other rooms.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, and a work bench and large set of cabinets sit in the background.

Gameplay

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of an unusual weathered electronic component.

Analysis

➕ The garage setting was an unusual and welcome theme. The Great Escape NJ’s execution was solid. It felt right.

➕ We had an objective. We didn’t miss the presence of a deliberate story.

➕ The Great Escape NJ made excellent use of automotive props in general, incorporating them into clever, layered puzzles.

➕ The hint system was triggered by beeping the horn on a steering wheel. It was a great detail.

In-game: closeup of a steering wheel.
“Beep” for a clue. We forgot to do it.

➕ The Garage contained a searching puzzle that was legitimately fun. We took turns doing it. When we had reached a point where we could have brute-forced the last digit, we elected not to. We wanted to complete the puzzle naturally.

➕ The Great Escape NJ turned 1-person interactions into full-full team moments.

In-game: Closeup of a large electrical safety switch locked up a directional lock.

➖ While The Garage made good use of traditional locks, we had access to a few too many 4-digit locks at once, creating situations where we had to try solutions in too many places.

The Garage included non-traditional inputs, in addition to 4-digit locks. These added a lot to the puzzle solving.

The exterior entrance/ exit for The Garage. A weathered door and garage door surrounded by car parts.

➕ The Garage gave feedback whenever we solved a puzzle. We always knew whether we were on the right track, or needed to u-turn.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with The Great Escape NJ’s Garage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Escape NJ comped our tickets for this game.

Talking Escape Rooms on Top of Mind with Julie Rose

I spent 20 minutes on BYU Radio speaking with interviewer Julie Rose about escape rooms.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose banner features their logo and a black and white image of the interviewer.

Julie asked some of the best questions that any interviewer has ever raised. She even had me momentarily stumped when she asked a question that no one has ever asked us before.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose – Measles Outbreak, Escape Rooms, Food Preferences, Llama Nanobodies

As usual, we’ve timestamped the entire interview for your comfort.

Interview Timestamps

19:10 – Intro

20:05 – Why did I start reviewing escape rooms?

21:00 – What’s my favorite escape room? (Man From Beyond)

21:30 – What is an escape room experience like?

22:40 – What’s the history of escape rooms?

23:45 – How has the definition of escape room changed over the years?

25:30 – How do escape rooms vary across countries and cultures?

27:00 – What kinds of themes do you commonly see in escape rooms?

28:15 – What makes for a good escape room? I low-key mention Bill Chang.

29:00 – How do escape room creators come up with their games?

30:25 – Where do escape room creators get puzzle ideas from?

31:20 – What kinds of challenges show up in escape rooms?

32:40 – What the most creative puzzle that I’ve ever seen? …I’m momentarily stumped.

33:40 – How do escape room creators tune the difficulty of a game?

34:50 – What safety precautions should be taken when designing an escape game?

36:00 – We talk about the tragedy in Poland.

37:15 – Outro

Red Herrings in Escape Rooms [Design]

Red herrings are one of the oldest and strangest debates in escape rooms.

This is an unusual hot-button issue because unlike the public vs. private ticketing debate, there isn’t even consensus as to what constitutes a red herring in an escape room.

A big red fish viewed from head on. It has an intense gaze.

Competing Red Herring Definitions

In my experience, it seems like there are 3 different red herring camps:

  1. Anything not directly related to a puzzle is a red herring.
  2. Red herrings require intentionality.
  3. Anything that is misleading is a red herring.

Camp 1

I don’t think the first definition holds up to any level of scrutiny. This basically suggests that the set is only there as a container for the puzzles. I don’t think that is true or advantageous.

Camp 2

I also don’t think that intentionality can be the measure because nearly every escape room has some non-deliberate interaction in it. If a red herring must be intentional, then an aloof designer – whose game has little intentionality behind it – could never have red herrings.

Camp 3

That leaves us with the definition that anything misleading is a red herring… so let’s play with that idea for a bit.

A school of red fish near the surface of the water.

Types of Red Herrings

Let’s look at a few types interactions that are misleading, intentionally or otherwise.

Fake Puzzles

A fake puzzle is an actual puzzle that resolves to dead end.

One example is a decipherment that translates to an answer along the lines of:

  • “You just wasted your time.”
  • “You should work on something different.”
  • “Unhelpful solution.”

We’ve seen this type of thing a few times .

Fake puzzles are demoralizing. They beg the question: why didn’t you just integrate this into the game?

Ghost Puzzles

Ghost puzzles are any props, writing, or other markings that are left over from a broken or removed puzzle.

These remnants transform into a point of confusion. We’ve written more extensively on the subject.

Puzzle LookAlikes

Sometimes something looks like a puzzle, acts like a puzzle, and quacks like a puzzle… but it isn’t a puzzle.

Maybe this puzzle lookalike was placed there to intentionally mislead or maybe it was a complete accident. Regardless of the intent, if something irrelevant is regularly suckering players into thinking its a puzzle, it’s a red herring.

Escape rooms should not punish people for exploring interesting things in the gamespace. That’s a good way to make a player leave feeling like they wasted their time.

Irrelevant Cool Objects

The red herring that I have really grown to resent most is the really cool but irrelevant object.

When I walk into a game, I’m there for an adventure. I’m there to play. When I look around any given gamespace, my assumption is that the most eye-catching and fun objects in the room will be integrated into the gameplay.

If there’s a periscope in a submarine, I expect that I will use it for something. If that isn’t the case, first I will be distracted by it as I try to use it for a puzzle… and then I will be disappointed by the lack of an interaction. (An inconsiderate player might break the thing.)

A red fish viewed from the side.

Our Definition of Red Herring

The more I think about red herrings as they pertain to escape room design, the more I think that “anything that’s misleading is a red herring” is the correct definition… but that is only half of the issue.

Once something is misleading, the follow-up question should be: is it detrimental?

Fake puzzles, ghost puzzles, puzzle lookalikes, and irrelevant cool objects are almost always detrimental to gameplay.

Additionally, when the majority of teams require the same hint to solve a single puzzle, that puzzle is harming the experience, regardless of whether it is a red herring that causes the teams to falter. This kind of content is junky.

In the end, my feelings aren’t that a red herring = 😡.

My anger is directed toward spending my time with junk content instead of quality content. Unfortunately, red herrings frequently mean junk content.

Eliminate the junk and have your players grapple with quality gameplay.

“It’s Supposed To Be Hard Bro”

The most common red herring defense is, “we put it in there for the challenge; it’s supposed to be hard.”

I like a difficult game as much (or more) than the next puzzle nerd. If a game is going to be hard, however, I want it to come from challenging, interesting, and clean puzzles.

Anyone can make a game incredibly hard by hiding multiple tiny components in obscure places. Difficulty has no inherent value, especially in absence of quality content.

Closing Thoughts

Two years ago, we had dinner with puzzle designer Eric Harshbarger the night before competing in his puzzle hunt Eric’s Puzzle Party 17. At one point in the meal, he told me something that I think all puzzle designers should apply to their designs:

“I never design with red herrings. The players will create their own.”

Spy Code – Hackathon [Review]

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Jr.

Location:  at home

Date Played:  December 20, 2018

Team size: 2-9; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 5 – 20 minutes per round

Price: $12

Publisher: YULU

REA Reaction

Hackathon, YULU’s kid-friendly take on the classic communication game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, was tangible and easy to learn.

The device activated, lights glowing, there is 14:41 on a timer.

Physical interactions that are both unusual and satisfying have been a hallmark of YULU’s game design. They delivered that again with Hackathon, although to a lesser extent than in some of their previous games. This served Hackathon well. It didn’t feel like it hinged on a gimmick.

The emphasis of Hackathon was on puzzles and communication. The devices and other components were there to facilitate.

Hackathon would be a great game for younger puzzlers and gamers. It was enjoyable as an adult, but more in an “I’m content playing this with a kid” kind of way… which in my experience is far more entertaining than most kid-focused games.

Who is this for?

  • Younger puzzlers
  • Younger tabletop gamers
  • Families

Why play?

  • Great interactions
  • Solid children’s puzzles
  • Amusing team collaborations

Story

Your spy team’s identities have been stolen by a group of villains. You have gained access to the super-advanced Console that holds your information. Time to steal it back.

The catch was that only one of you could access the Console, while the rest of the team was elsewhere deciphering the Console’s operating instructions.

The activated device, the USB, an allen key, and a stack of cards.

Setup

The team split into two. One person went with the Console; the rest stayed with the instruction cards.

Once the player with the Console had activated the device, they needed to communicate what they saw to the people with the instruction cards. Those with the instruction cards deciphered the instructions, solved a puzzle, and told the Console operator what steps to take.

This loop repeated a total of 8 times, each with a different challenge, or until the Console operator ran out of time or made a critical error and failed.

An assortment of 8 puzzle cards.

Gameplay

Spy Code’s Hackathon was a child-friendly play-at-home puzzle and communication game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around communicating and puzzling.

Closeup of an allen key attached to the corner of the device.

Analysis

➕ This was a lovely, kid-friendly take on Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

➕ Hackathon was easy to setup and quick to learn.

➕/➖ Most of the challenges in Hackathon were entertaining for all parties involved. That said, a few of the interactions feel like throwaways.

➕ There was a switch on the Console that would kick it into different modes, 1 through 4. These modes didn’t really change the difficulty, but they opened up different solution paths to keep the game interesting.

➖ It would be nice if there were more room for puzzle variation or even a purchasable expansion pack that could add more variety to the solutions. If you play Hackathon a lot and have a good memory, it would be entirely possible to memorize the solutions.

➕ The wrenches necessary for some of the puzzles were fun to use and connected elegantly to the Console.

Closeup of the USB key in its slot.
It just doesn’t stay clipped into this slot. Good thing it’s just for storage.

➖ There was a clip on the underside of the Console meant to store the “Flash Drive.” It didn’t grip properly and the drive always fell out. It was just a storage mechanism and didn’t impact gameplay, but it wasn’t on par with what we’ve come to expect of YULU’s design and build quality.

➕ Yanking the drive out to complete the game was a great, physical way to stop the clock. I never would have thought to design it that way, but it felt so much more satisfying than pushing a button.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor. Players will need to be split so that they can hear one another, but cannot see each other’s materials.
  • Required Gear: 3 AAA batteries and a small phillips screw driver to install the batteries.

Buy your copy of Spy Code’s Hackathon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: YULU provided a sample for review. 

(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.)

Academic Survey: Immersive Design Accessibility

Escape room designer Jerry Belich, co-creator of the 2017 Golden Lock-In Award-winning Utopia at Riddle Room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, needs your help.

In-game: A futuristic, sci-fi-looking tiled room lit blue.
Utopia

Jerry is working towards a Master of Fine Arts in experience design and needs immersive design professionals to answer a survey. Having been through this process myself, I’m empathetic to his cause.

We asked Jerry a few questions to frame up what he’s studying.

When he’s all finished with his thesis, he will publish the raw data for the public. We’ll share it then.

What is the hypothesis you’re testing against?

The current technology and software available don’t provide accessible and flexible solutions for creating immersive experiences. They are holding back innovation.

In this case, accessible means “easy access for creators” referring to how much previous technology expertise is required to use a tool.

In the video gaming industry, we saw a boom in innovation once tools were better democratized. Consider how Photoshop made graphic design accessible. Before it, you had to write code to create digital graphics.

As live-action games and experiences grow, I believe better tools can provide a similar benefit to this industry.

Is your interest academic or business?

I’d say 50/50. I’m interested in the field advancing everywhere, not just in building a product. If through my research I discover that I could create a new generation of software and hardware tools that improve accessibility, I’d be interested in pursuing that.

How do you define “immersive technology”?

From my perspective, immersive technology is electronics and/or software that may be visible or invisible to players.

Visible elements enhance the game by providing additional sensory immersion for players, including sight, sound, touch, smell, or even taste.

Invisible elements help automate aspects of the experience or enhance the game master’s ability to monitor or run the experience.

Who is the ideal respondent for your survey?

Although new tools would be useful far beyond live-action games / escape rooms, this particular entertainment space provides a common set of problems with a diverse set of approaches.

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My design partner David Pisa and I co-designed and implemented Utopia from start to finish. Riddle Room provided us a development budget and we get a percentage of ticket sales.

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Calliope Games – Double Double Dominoes [Review]

Dominoes with a puzzley twist.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

Team size: 2-4 (6 with an expansion); we recommend 3-4

Duration: 30-60 minutes

Price: $29

Publisher: Calliope Games

REA Reaction

We’ve been on a kick to find tabletop games that are easy to learn, quick to play, and feel puzzley. Double Double Dominoes is the first one that we’re writing about.

A full board at the end of the game.

Double Double Dominoes was a Dominoes/ Scrabble hybrid that we found more interesting than traditional Dominoes and a whole lot more approachable than Scrabble.

We were playing Dominoes against one another, but scoring points based on the placement of our tiles on the board. It started off straightforward, but as we placed more pieces, the variables and opportunities to score grew into an elaborate conundrum. When coupled with a mechanic that meant that any player could score on anyone’s turn, Double Double Dominoes turned out to be a thoroughly engaging game.

If you’re looking for a classic style board game that’s easy to pick up, friendly for players of all ages, and comfortably plays 3 or 4 people, Double Double Dominoes would be a great choice. It’s staying in our game collection.

Closeup of the board, featuring three point indicators in close proximity to one another.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers who don’t require fancy components or elaborate rules
  • Competitive puzzlers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You can learn the rules in under 5 minutes
  • Straightforward gameplay with a reasonable amount of strategic depth
  • Piece placement feels like a puzzle, especially in the mid and late game

Setup

We played Double Double Dominoes by chaining dominoes together like we were playing a more classic game of dominoes… but we were doing it on a scrabble-like board with score tiles.

There were a few other rules. This video does a good job of explaining everything… even if it’s a bit cheesy.

Gameplay

Calliope Games’ Double Double Dominoes was a classic-style board game with a gentle learning curve.

Core gameplay revolved around pattern recognition, strategic thinking, and bit of luck.

The center of a fresh Double Double Dominoes board.

Analysis

➕ The first few rounds of Double Double Dominoes were gentle, with few options. This created a lovely on-ramp for the game and allowed everyone to get comfortable with the rules and mechanics.

➕ Double Double Dominoes was simple to learn and teach. We pretty much just opened the box and started playing. There were a few nuances, but nothing crazy.

➕ Every player could score on every play. This kept everyone engaged. It meant that the nature of gameplay shifted constantly. It drove the pace of play.

➖ The score markers were fairly transparent, but we regularly found it difficult to tell which number our pieces were resting on.

Closeup of two point indicators, one on a 4, the other on a 5.
It’s easier to see the difference in values in this photo than it was in real life.

➕/➖ Double Double Dominoes was much more interesting with 3 or 4 players than it was with 2 players.

➖ This was a small nitpick, but it would have been nice if the tips of the starbursts for point tiles were colored to match the tiles’ value.

Closeup showing how the dominoes cover the color of a point tile.
If those diamonds maintained the color of the center, it would help newer or forgetful players with scoring.

➕ After playing quite a few games, most of the time, the person who played the best won. There were a couple of games where it felt like luck was the prevailing factor. This happens in any game that involves chance. The balance seemed fine.

The board mid-game.

❓ The rules called for players to draw a new tile at the start of their turns. We opted to introduce a house rule where players drew at the end of their turns. This allowed everyone to familiarize themselves with their tiles and evaluate all of their options on other players’ turns. We found that this sped up the pace of the game.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor

Buy your copy of Calliope Games’ Double Double Dominoes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Calliope Games provided a sample for review. 

(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.)