Piwnica Quest – Midnight Killer MK II [Review]

Polish title: Midnight Killer MK II

Location: Wroclaw, Poland

Date played: October 26, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 77 minutes

Price: 160 złoty per group (approximately $45)

Story & setting

A man who went by the pseudonym Midnight Killer was arrested in 2016, convicted of many murders, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The man denied involvement in the killings, but all evidence pointed to him. The slayings have started once again, all following the same pattern established in the Midnight Killer murders. Is this a copycat? Did the killer have an accomplice? Or does he have some means of killing from behind bars? We had to investigate.

In-game: Skulls nested in one another beside a hammer within a fireplace.

Midnight Killer MK II had a large and intricate set; some of it was pretty intense. At the beginning our gamemaster split the team into captives and rescuers. The opening minutes of the escape room differed dramatically for the players depending upon their roles.

Puzzles

The puzzles within Midnight Killer MK II were rooted in the theme and narrative. Some of these puzzles tied in literally; others were more metaphorical.

Piwnica Quest integrated tangible puzzles into the set.

In-game: A street sign.

Standouts

Throughout Midnight Killer MK II, the themed puzzles represented both abstract and literal ideas.

The set design was carefully, deliberately, and cleanly executed.

Piwnica Quest included phenomenal, original illustrations in this escape room. We greatly appreciated this unnecessary detail.

Piwnica Quest implemented technology well in Midnight Killer MK II. The tech interactions facilitated the puzzles. They had purpose.

I’ll never forget one early moment when I looked upon a portion of the set… It was strange, a little messed up, and surprising.

The ending added a lot of depth to the experience. It was as fun as it was unexpected.

Shortcomings

The split beginning was too uneven. One group had a lot to do; the other could accomplish almost nothing until the group reunited.

Our gamemaster warned us before the game that a puzzle would “require patience.” They really understated how much patience we needed. This interaction took a silly amount of time.

The ending, cool as it was, went on for one too many interactions. Piwnica Quest added one final completely unnecessary step that killed the momentum of an otherwise brilliant and dramatic finish.

Should I play Piwnica Quest’s Midnight Killer MK II?

I loved Midnight Killer MK II. Piwnica Quest built this escape room with love and care.

The puzzles were designed with intention. The set was built well. The technology was interesting. The escape room was creative. But above all, the Midnight Killer MK II was fun.

I strongly recommend that experienced escape room players visit Midnight Killer MK II. If you haven’t played any escape rooms, play a few so that you can visit Piwnica Quest and truly enjoy Midnight Killer MK II. This escape room was fantastic.

Book your game with Piwnica Quest’s Midnight Killer MK II, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

SparkFun – The Prototype HARP [Review]

“This is a strange device.” -Barry2 in The Prototype HARP’s comments

Location: at home on Windows 10, macOS, & Linux

Date played: Fall 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-3

Duration: Solved in 3 sessions that span 1 to 3 hours

Price: $60 + ~$6.50 in additional components

Story & setup

Electronics store SparkFun sent us a mysterious board containing an artificial intelligence and a dark secret.

The Prototype board plugged in and resting on an anti-static bag.

HARP stands for “hardware alternate reality puzzle” and that’s an accurate description of The Prototype. The package we received from SparkFun contained a board, a microSD card, a microSD reader, and a cable. Those were the puzzle components.

Puzzles

The Prototype was a test of electronics skill and puzzling know-how. The game was a strange merger of traditional puzzle hunting and bringing up and debugging a board.

You absolutely must be competent with electronics in order to solve The Prototype. You should be comfortable soldering, working with Arduino (or something similar), and reading chip datasheets.

The Prototype board with all of the other components. They are sitting on top of a cipher wheel.

Standouts

The Prototype was exceptionally strange and we interacted with it unconventionally.

Puzzling generally follows predictable patterns, even when the solutions are hard to derive. Due to this unusual and open-ended medium, this puzzle could ask all sorts of unexpected things of us.

The puzzle accurately replicated the exciting feeling of exploring a prototype piece of hardware with sometimes flaky behavior.

As we progressed through the game, the board had an interesting mechanism for indicating our current stage.

Solving these outlandish puzzles was enormously satisfying. When we took an action, we were confident that it would work, but seeing it work was still surprising.

I wasn’t expecting it, but this thing actually carried us through a narrative… and it was funny.

The ending was enjoyable.

Shortcomings

This was not a game for casual puzzlers. It also required at least one player who is comfortable with electronics. Lisa and I absolutely could not solve this on our own. My dabbler’s level knowledge of electronics was insufficient. Thankfully we recruited an electronics-savvy teammate who had the necessary pieces on hand and knew what things like “SPI” meant.

The puzzle accurately replicated the frustrating feeling of exploring a prototype piece of hardware with sometimes flaky behavior.

If you aren’t equipped for working with electronics, there’s a solid $45+ worth of additional gear you’ll need including (some spoilers can be implied from this):

Minor Spoiler - Equipment List

You’re going to need a soldering iron, solder, assorted resistors, wire, a multimeter, X-Acto knife (or something similar),  an Arduino, and breadboarding kit.

This kit has a low-cost soldering iron, solder, and a few other tools that might be useful.

This kit has an Arduino and all the other pieces you’d need, plus some extras if you want to explore Arduino programming beyond what you’ll need for the HARP.

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It is not possible to solve The Prototype in a single sitting. It will require you to purchase something inexpensive along the way. No, I cannot tell you what you will need to buy. Don’t bother writing in and asking.

The Prototype was designed for Windows 10, macOS, and Linux. Older Windows systems (including 7 and 8) do not have the proper drivers to talk to it. While you may be able to make virtualization work, the hardware implications are complex and I wouldn’t bet on it.

While the narrative worked, some of the writing and delivery was hokey.

There was a major red herring that seemed to be due to a puzzle being removed, but the associated clue documents still being included.

There were several points where we knew the correct thing to do but had to attempt it multiple times to get it to work. This was especially frustrating in the final resolution of The Prototype. It took us 50 minutes to trigger the end sequence after we had already solved everything. This was further complicated by the aforementioned red herring that we essentially turned into a puzzle that it wasn’t. It was a rough way to end the journey.

Should I play SparkFun’s The Prototype HARP?

The Prototype HARP is an odd, fun, and difficult beast to conquer. It also has a hyper-specific audience.

Is The Prototype for you? Well that depends on the answers to these questions:

  • Do you like puzzles?
  • Are you competent with electronics and comfortable with things like connecting chips to Arduinos?
  • Do you have a puzzle-loving friend who is competent with electronics?

If you love puzzles, but electronics are completely out of reach, I recommend almost any other product that we’ve ever reviewed ahead of The Prototype. You simply will not be able to participate, let alone solve this thing.

If you answered at least two of these questions affirmatively, then you should buy The Prototype. It’s a wild ride. I hope they make more HARP products.

Buy SparkFun’s The Prototype HARP, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: SparkFun provided a complementary media copy of this game.

13th Gate Escape – Death Row [Review]

Ride the lightning.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We were scheduled for a seat in the electric chair in one hour. Due to overcrowding in the prison, the warden moved us to the old and previously abandoned Cell Block E. Some say that it was shutdown for safety reasons; others because there was an unexplainable escape. We were hoping for the latter because we had to find a way to break out.

In-game: An incredibly realistic of an old, rundown prison cellblock hallway.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

Death Row nailed the concrete and steel prison aesthetic in another of 13th Gate’s hyper detailed sets. Death Row looked like someone had turned the set of The Green Mile into an escape room. It felt real.

Puzzles

Death Row combined keen observation with mechanical interactions. We needed to parse out which components of our unadorned gamespace would enable us to work the various machinery we encountered.

Death Row included one difficult strength and dexterity challenge… and it was luck of the draw who’d needed to execute on it.

Standouts

We’ve seen a lot of prisons, but 13th’s Gate’s Death Row overshadowed the others. Its high ceilings and deliberately barren walls rendered the cells dramatically unwelcoming. In its depths, we found heavy metal bars and pipes, which completed the aesthetic.

We used the few tools we had to craft an escape with the objects we found. This felt thematically appropriate. One late-game use of a standard item really drew us in.

The final action was fantastic. 13th Gate combined lighting, sound, and other effects to deliver a dramatic and exciting prison ending, unlike any other we’ve played to date. It was a little unsettling, as it should have been.

Shortcomings

Death Row started with each of us in a different cell. There was only so much we could accomplish before freeing ourselves from the cells. Unfortunately, due to the physical layout of the space, the gameplay came to a halt as we all waited for the player with the appropriate vantage point to complete a challenging action. Our inability to help each other, or do much of anything, was frustrating.

Death Row leaned a bit too heavily on journal reading. The gamespace was exciting and engaging and we would have liked to uncover more from the space itself and less from the written word. The most engaging puzzles were those that were fully integrated into the set.

In one instance the cluing in Death Row led us astray, down a frustrating and time consuming path.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row?

Death Row looked and felt like a prison. Creating hyper-realistic environments in large scale is 13th Gate Escape’s bread and butter. They make it look easy… like they hadn’t so much built the set as found it.

I’ve said many times that prison escape games are not my favorite because they generally look and play the same. Death Row was very much a prison escape game, with a lot of the tropes that come with it, but it also had a look that was undeniably cool, and an ending that was anything but common.

The puzzling in Death Row was a little bumpy, but it all came together.

Regardless of your level of escape room experience, Death Row is playable. Some parts pack a lot of challenge. Just approach it calmly, observe what’s at your disposal, and an answer will present itself.

If you’re into the prison escape game concept, you won’t find many that can rival the stunning visuals and feeling of Death Row.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

3 Classic Games That Are Common Escape Room Puzzles

Game design cannibalizes ideas from past games. It’s the nature of gaming in general and we see it in tabletop games, video games, and escape rooms.

We’ve seen these 3 games turned into escape room puzzles on too many occasions to count. Sometimes we see straight implementations of the classic games; others times they are well-hidden or reimagined.

If you feel like leveling up your escape room skill, mastery of these 3 games will come in handy.

A simon game with green, yellow, red, and blue buttons arranged in a circle.

1: Simon

It’s a simple game of repeating button pushes in a particular pattern. It’s also the kind of thing that can be difficult to do as a group or under pressure.

As a kid, I’d play Simon for hours. If I’m being honest, I think I was better at it back then. 

A blue Mastermind Board covered in multicolored pips.

2: Mastermind

A codemaker sets a secret code and the codebreaker tries to crack it through deduction, logic, and a bit of guess work. The mechanics of this game are incredibly simple, but it has a ton of depth to it.

Somehow I never encountered Mastermind in my pre-escape room life and I’m kind of sad about that. 

A beautiful wooden towers of hanoi puzzle. There are three vertical rods. One rod has a cone of cylinders stacked on it.

3: Towers of Hanoi

Towers of Hanoi is a straightforward logic challenge. There are 3 pillars and the more disks you add to it, the harder (and more interesting) it becomes.

I’ve seen some especially creative interpretations of this puzzle in escape rooms.

Not an endorsement for use in escape rooms

Each of these three puzzles has its place and its virtues. When we encounter Towers of Hanoi in an escape room such that it’s fun and make sense, that’s fantastic. That said, these classic puzzles don’t belong in every single escape room.

If you design escape rooms, please don’t read too deeply into this post. Don’t replicate these puzzles just because.

Clue Carré – The Voodoo Room [Review]

No players were cursed in making this review.

Location: New Orleans, LA

Date played: October 8, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau left a trail of puzzles to her last bottle of love potion. Could we retrieve it before the curse she left upon her home took effect?

In-game: A livingroom space with two chairs, a small table with a light, and red walls with many pictures hung from it.

The Voodoo Room was aesthetically cohesive and minimally designed. It had a clear and coherent art direction with few set pieces, many wall hangings, and a lot of open space (relative to the game’s size).

The escape room began approachably and got a touch more grim in the second act. It was just barely spooky, so no need to worry about horror.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Voodoo Room required meticulous observation and careful searching. We needed to notice oddities, patterns, and connections between various set decor and props.

Standouts

The puzzles in The Voodoo Room flowed one to the next. We connected elements, opened locks, and uncovered more intriguing props. The gameplay worked well and would be accessible and unintimidating to newer players.

In-game: A feathery tophat resting on a bookcase. A glowing red lamp in the background.

One set piece flipped the tone of the space midway though the escape room. It was detailed and just a bit eerie. It made the set that much more exciting.

The final puzzle sequence in The Voodoo Room was superb. It felt magical, as love potions generally do.

Shortcomings

The Voodoo Room was an older escape room and much of the gameplay reflected an older design style. This included some challenging search elements that eventually became tedious time wasters. It also meant that Clue Carré hadn’t built the strongest of connections between puzzles and locks.

There were far too many locks with identical digit structures. We were regularly inputting codes multiple times “just to be certain.”

There was a lot to read in The Voodoo Room. While we didn’t need to hang on every word, we did need to familiarize ourselves with the text. It would be easy to get too caught up in reading and miss all the fun.

The Voodoo Room struggled with lighting and ambiance. Clue Carré could develop a more magical and pointed lighting strategy to eliminate that dimness of voodoo-meets-puzzling environment. (Considering that Clue Carré will be replacing The Voodoo Room in a few months, we don’t recommend that they invest in this idea for this particular room escape, at this point.)

Should I play Clue Carré ‘s The Voodoo Room?

The Voodoo Room was a solid beginner-friendly experience with a few nuggets of unusual innovation that would appeal to experienced players.

The Voodoo Room was one of Clue Carré’s first escape rooms and it has been operating for about 3 years. If you played this a couple years back and feel like this review is more positive than what you saw, that’s because Clue Carré overhauled The Voodoo Room a while back and it plays a lot better than it once did. We had friends shadowing us who had played the original and they were pleasantly surprised with how far The Voodoo Room has come.

If you’re looking for something approachable and locally themed to get started with escape rooms, The Voodoo Room is a great choice. If you’re looking for something special, give Clue Carré’s French Quarter House of Curiosities a shot. Regardless of your selection, there’s good puzzling to be had.

Book your hour with Clue Carré’s The Voodoo Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Clue Carré comped our tickets for this game.

 

Hunt A Killer – Season 1 [Review]

“What’s in the box?”

Location: At home, monthly subscription

Date played: Most of 2017

Team size: 1- ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Price: $165 per season (9 boxes over 9 months)

Spoilers?

This review will be discussing the entirety of Hunt A Killer Season 1. Spoilers will be hidden unless clicked open. However, it includes a discussion of the game’s structure from which you could glean nuance and solving tactics. If you’re sensitive to the spoilage of any detail, please don’t read this. You’ve been warned.

Story & setup

Season 1 of Hunt A Killer was centered on The Listening Friends of America, an organization that links “isolated men and women living in prisons, hospitals, and psychiatric wards” with volunteer pen pals. Listening Friends put us in contact with a man named John William James (JWJ), as his pen pal.

JWJ, an intelligent and charismatic individual, had spent many years under compulsory psychiatric care after committing murder. All communication with JWJ was screened by Listening Friends inspectors, so he elected to fill his ongoing communication with veiled and encoded messages.

This was the detective story that Hunt A Killer presented to us: each month we would receive a Listening Friends package from JWJ. We had to chew on the letters, documents, clippings, and items that we received to explore the past, present, and future of this criminally insane individual.

Materials

Hunt A Killer’s boxes, notebooks, pins, and other paraphernalia that arrived in the packages all looked slick.

In-game: An assortment of box 1 items laying on a stack of Hunt A Killer boxes. They are illuminated by a blacklight.

With rare exception, the boxes that we received had high quality, meticulously designed materials.

In a game where every detail could be important, Hunt a Killer minded a lot of details on the component level.

Puzzles

Hunt A Killer Season 1 was interactive fiction with some puzzles (not the other way around). The puzzles within these boxes were generally about achieving understanding, identifying details, and researching references.

While the experience did include the explicit puzzles that an escape room player or puzzle hunter would consider to be a puzzle, there were maybe one or two per box and they almost never identified themselves without research.

Hunt A Killer was striving to present a detective game, not a puzzle game.

Standouts

Hunt A Killer had phenomenal aesthetic style and excelled at carefully selecting materials to send subtle messages. Observing these details was without a doubt my favorite part of each episode.

The folks at Hunt A Killer were clearly iterating on the product in real time. A few episodes in they introduced “Inspector’s Notes” which were in-character hinting provided by the Listening Friends’ inspector who was reviewing JWJ’s communications. This was an essential addition to the game.

We enjoyed the set up with the Listen Friends of America and our pen pal JWJ, which created an interesting dynamic to deliver a mystery. We welcomed the narration via documents, letters, innuendo, and encoded message. All together, this was a compelling way for us to dive into a world, rather than being told about a world.

The first two boxes were seductive. They set up enough intrigue that we felt compelled to dive into this continuous river of madness. It was clear that we were going to have to swim upstream and we were not certain that we would enjoy the journey… but we couldn’t deny ourselves the challenge.

At the end of the experience, we received a final box including an epilogue and review of each previous box, with an item-by-item explanation of each’s significance, insignificance, and puzzle solutions.

Shortcomings

The Hunt A Killer Season 1 episodes were not self-contained and didn’t conclude with any resolution. There was no way to know when we were finished investigating a box.

For as much information as Hunt A Killer would throw at us, we were given almost no feedback in return. When we learned or accomplished something, we could assume that we’d solved something because our conclusion felt right; there was almost never confirmation. We figured out a ton of this mystery, but along the way, we never knew how much we had actually solved nor what we were still missing.

Season 1 also suffered from a serious depth problem. Every component in each box needed to be interrogated and researched. As a player, it was impossible to tell if the significance required digging deep or taking a thing at face value.

Minor spoiler example:

One of the boxes included a maroon, unsharpened Listening Friends of America pencil. What did it mean? When we couldn’t figure it out, we sharpened it. It seemed like a normal pencil… but it had to mean something. However unlikely, maybe something was something hidden within it? So we sharpened it and sharpened it until it was a freaking nub. In the epilogue, we learned that it was just a pencil. We kind of knew from the beginning, but because of the nature of the game, we couldn’t be certain. As a result of this depth problem, the various blog posts and forum posts by Hunt A Killer fans are a mess of treatises on constellations, mythology, and other nuances that emerged in the story. Most of these dove entirely too deep, but then every once in a while there was a clue that required an insane amount of exploration.

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The longer the Hunt A Killer season went on, the more troublesome the volume of content became. Since these boxes weren’t self-contained, anything could be in play. More often than not, backtracking wasn’t required… but sometimes it was. By the final box, the threat of having to look back through two thirds of a year’s worth of content was depressing.

Minor box 1 spoiler

To further illustrate the backtracking, volume, and depth problems, consider the blacklight included in box 1. This blacklight revealed a minor detail that was also re-revealed repeatedly throughout the story. We didn’t need to see this detail illuminate in UV ink, but since we had been given a blacklight in box 1, that meant that we had to use it on every damn item that we received from that point forward, because you never know.

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While the printed materials were smartly designed, the physical objects were generally weak (although there were one or two great ones). This is a problem that I’ve seen recur in many subscription games. I think it stems from needing to purchase these items in bulk while controlling weight, size, and cost. Since these items are never designed by the game’s creators, they generally feel tacked on. This is unfortunate because tangible objects stand out among paper and it’s natural to ascribe more meaning to them, even when it’s undeserved.

When Hunt A Killer established a game mechanic, we learned how to work with it. Then in some critical instances, they shifted the function and meaning of the mechanix. Praised be design controlled. This violated a basic tenet of game design. I understand that storytelling was the main thrust of Season 1, but it was still a game, which was sometimes forgotten in the puzzle design.

Bluntly: There were too many logic leaps. Most of the details that we missed necessitated insane connections. When I was reading the epilogue, at times I felt like the person who wrote it must have known that these puzzles and deductions were nonsense.

While the box-by-box summary in the epilogue was great, we needed each to arrive within the next box. This would have at least prevented us from feeling like we had missed too many details to move forward.

In the first few boxes, I really cared about a few of these characters – the ones that Hunt a Killer worked to develop a bit – but as the story progressed, they became utterly unbelievable. I stopped caring whether they lived or died or achieved their goals (good or evil). In a game focused on storytelling, this was Hunt A Killer Season 1’s cardinal sin. I’ll explain, but this is a deep spoiler:

Serious late game spoilers

The emails from Valerie Madson did not read at all like a letter from a mother of a young child whose husband had disappeared. (I’m not referring to the autoresponder… that was cool). When this character was killed off, I didn’t care at all. What a wasted moment.

Then there was JWJ’s progression from charismatic and enigmatic murderer to omniscient and unstoppable super-villain. This guy was so much more compelling when he seemed like a human, deranged though he may have been, he was still human. By the end, I was completely indifferent to him.

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Should I play Hunt A Killer’s Season 1?

The Hunt A Killer team did so many things so right with materials that subtly conveyed plot details. I loved that. I wish that this review could have been more positive, but the truth is: I did not enjoy Hunt A Killer Season 1. By the end, I just wanted it to be over.

Once the first couple of boxes offered no resolution, I became frustrated. Still, I needed to know where the story was going and what Hunt A Killer would do with it. It was clear that they were attempting something different. I respected that enough that I wanted to see it through.

The game improved in some ways over the course of Season 1. They were iterating on their product live, which I respect. However, this made Season 1 feel like an elaborate beta test. Almost everything felt like it hadn’t been tested enough. This was a critical issue in a game that was infinitely open-ended.

The story started out strong, but it buckled when it shifted from telling an intimate tale of murder to a grand murderous epic.

The puzzles and gameplay never really worked. Their flaws snowballed as the volume of game mechanics and content increased with each subsequent box.

Hunt A Killer Season 1 fell victim to its own decadence. It attempted to tell too grandiose a story. It demonstrated a blatant disregard for its players. The logic leaps were painful. The lack of clue structure was mind-boggling. The game mechanics were far too fluid to ever feel like you could achieve mastery over this experience. Plus, there were too many things to research… and too many of them weren’t relevant without any means of discerning what mattered.

In spite of this, I know that there is an audience for this concept. I know that there are people who have enthusiastically embraced JWJ and his story. I know that there are people who are enrolled in Season 2. So here are my final thoughts on Hunt A Killer:

I love and respect what Hunt A Killer was trying to do. I don’t think that the finished product was satisfying and I didn’t enjoy the journey. If I hear that Hunt A Killer has created mechanisms to tighten the gameplay, I will eagerly re-enroll in the future. But for now, there is no way that I can recommend Season 1 and I cannot even bring myself to look at the Season 2 material that came with the epilogue.

If you loved Hunt A Killer and think that I’m wrong, let’s discuss. I’m going to pull a page from Theme Park University’s playbook and ask that you tag your comment with #IReadTheWholeReview and I’ll happily engage with you on the nuances of the game’s design.

Also know that the comments might have spoilers. I am not going to police them.

Sleuth Kings – Case 001: The Guilty [Review]

I’ll be back in 5 minutes.

Location: at home, with an internet connection

Date played: October 9, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-3

Duration: up to one month

Price: $24.95 per month

Story & setup

Sleuth Kings is a new play-at-home escape game subscription service that mixes mailed materials with online inputs.

We played the role of remote assistants to private investigator Sullivan King. King sent us a file of evidence and then we emailed with him when we’d solved pieces of the case or needed a little extra help from him.

The materials in Case 001: The Guilty were printed papers, photographs, and a rather fetching folder with Sleuth King’s logo emblazoned on the cover.

The Sleuth Kings folder of materials next to a laptop with the Room Escape Artist logo.

The internet interactions were predominantly email-based. Sullivan King was in fact… an email bot.

Surprise Chipmunk
Dun, dun, DUN!

Case 001: The Guilty had us investigating a street revolutionary who went by the moniker Dictator Sin. We had to team up with Sullivan, root-out Dictator Sin’s plans, and stop him.

Puzzles

Sleuth King’s puzzle game was strong with varied, challenging, and interesting puzzles driving gameplay.

After we resolved a puzzle, we would email the solution to Sullivan who would “act on the information” and provide us with followup details.

Standouts

I really enjoyed the puzzle offerings of Sleuth Kings.

The conversational interface of emailing with Sullivan was a good way to narrate a story and keep everything cohesive.

The Sleuth Kings logo is slick.

Sleuth Kings delivered puzzles that weren’t in the initial packaging.

Shortcomings

As we sent information to Sullivan, he would take time to act on it. He’d reply, something like, “The address isn’t far. Give me five or ten minutes and I’ll email you when I’m there.” Then we’d literally have to wait 5 minutes or so before receiving another email moving the story forward and giving us our next task. This shattered the game flow.

Hinting got a little awkward because Sullivan-bot could only discern three things:

  • Correct answers
  • Incorrect answers
  • Requests for help

When we were almost there, and simply inputting our answer incorrectly, it was treated as a wrong answer without any feedback that we were on the right track and simply needed a nudge.

Additionally, Sleuth Kings was constantly creating new email threads. All in, I had 19 threads through Case 001: The Guilty. It wasn’t initially clear to how this threading/ replying dynamic operated.

The many of the printed materials were a little hokey.

The story was fine, but not particularly believable.

Should I play Sleuth Kings’ Case 001: The Guilty?

If you evaluate the standouts versus shortcomings in this review purely on word count, it would be easy to think that Sleuth Kings was bad. It wasn’t. It was actually quite fun, and this was their first chapter.

Sleuth Kings has a fantastic concept and an interesting structure. It needs additional refinement to run smoothly, but it largely works.

Interaction with automated characters smartly mixed story, puzzling, and gameplay. If Sleuth Kings can refine the pacing issues and make the system a little more aware and able to identify nearly-correct answers, this would be phenomenal. Swapping from email to a chatbot, or the addition of another character who could “run errands” while the gameplay continues, could smooth over some of these issues.

Sleuth Kings is strong contender in the burgeoning subscription puzzle game market, and could make for a fantastic holiday gift for that special puzzle lover in your life.

I welcome our robotic puzzle overlords and look forward to where Sleuth Kings is heading.

Subscribe with Sleuth Kings, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Case 001: The Guilty is no longer available. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Sleuth Kings comped our tickets for this game.

 

WroEscape Video Recap

WroEscape, the Polish escape room conference, has published a video recap of the event.

wro_logo_site

In it, you hear from all of the speakers. They mostly speak in Polish, but there are subtitles. I make an appearance (speaking in English) around the 2:30 mark.

You’ll see the show floor, stages, competitions, and the insane fountain show that concluded the event.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll publish reviews of the seven games that I played during my trip.

In the mean time, I’ve also written my own reaction to WroEscape 2017.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Escape Again – The Seance [Review]

Houston, we’ve had a haunting.

Location: Sugar Land, TX

Date played: October 7, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

JJ Buster, star of the psychic debunking TV show Bustered, had gone missing after attempting to prove that Madam Trousseau’s abilities were fake. His producer had hired us to track down her lost star.

In-game: A dim, fenced-in yard with a candle-lit shrine for offerings.

The Seance was less of a seance and more of a witch’s home. We started outside of the dark abode and had to find our way in. The set was dimly lit, with a large contrast in the design of the exterior and interior environments.

While the set was dim, everyone entered with their own flashlight.

Puzzles

The Seance offered a solid array of typical escape room puzzles and mechanisms. The puzzles required searching, observation, pattern recognition, deduction, logic, and communication. The puzzles varied in interaction type. They generally became more involved over the course of the escape room.

Standouts

Escape Again created high quality, ominous introductory videos of The Seance. These were intriguing and sold the story.

There were a few dramatic, magical, and exciting set pieces, and of them, one truly stood out.

We particularly enjoyed a few of the props in the initial set. They belonged in this eerie exterior space, but they were also quite funny.

The Seance included fun and satisfying puzzles, one of which required a lot of teamwork.

Shortcomings

While we enjoyed the puzzles, we would have preferred more interwoven elements and layered connections. This would have helped involve more people in any given puzzle. We felt that all too often puzzles were seen, solved, and never enjoyed by others.

A few early puzzles seemed just a bit too random. Perhaps these work well as an introduction for new players trying to feel around for associations, but we would have liked something a bit more substantive.

While the introductory video set the scene, and a mid-game moment provided a bit more story, the narrative never built to a conclusion. The escape room felt more “voodoo” than “seance.” We were left unsure exactly what had taken place in this space, other than puzzle solving.

The quality of set pieces and props varied dramatically. In one instance, we recommend additional attention to player physical comfort given the relatively lengthy action required. In general, there was room for additional polish.

Should I play Escape Again’s The Seance?

The Seance was a solid, beginner-friendly room. The team of newbies who flooded out before our game were clearly exhilarated.

Escape Again built The Seance with a lot of love. They succeeded in creating a cohesive, approachable escape room. While some aspects of The Seance could benefit from a little more polish and cohesion, other segments were great. The intro video in particular was exceptional.

All in all, The Seance is a solid starting place for those beginning to explore escape rooms. It offers a good mix of escape room puzzles, technology and thrills without becoming impossibly difficult or terrifying.

Book your hour with Escape Again’s The Seance, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Again comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape My Room – Inventor’s Attic [Review]

Rube Goldberg’s bayou punk attic.

Location: New Orleans, LA

Date played: October 7, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

With the DeLaporte annual ball scheduled to begin in an hour, and the estate’s electricity malfunctioning, it fell to us to explore the home and determine the cause of the outages. All wires led to eccentric Uncle Remy DeLaporte’s attic, where he claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

In-game: an antique rolltop desk filled with books and trinkets next to a small bed.

Inventor’s Attic was gorgeous and unusual. This room escape took Escape My Room’s eclectic, antique-collection-of-curiosities aesthetic and bumped it up quite a few notches. Uncle Remy’s makeshift inventions were strewn about the space, each one strange and worthy of exploration.

Puzzles

Inventor’s Attic had a lot of nifty gadgets… and of course, these were puzzles. They were interactive and exciting. Inventor’s Attic also required observation and correlation.

Standouts

Escape My Room’s DeLaporte Mansion has an aesthetic like no other. Inventor’s Attic started off with a similar vibrant look similar to Escape My Room’s other escape rooms, but morphed into a more focused look that maintained the feel of the mansion while setting the attic apart. It was beautifully designed.

In-game: A Rube Goldberg machine with slanted shelves with a number of contraptions affixed to it.

We loved the Rube Goldberg-esque theme that ran through Inventor’s Attic. From the first moment of play, we were intrigued by the interconnected oddities.

With Inventor’s Attic, Escape My Room enhanced their spatial reveals. Two moments in particular stood out, where the space changed in surprising and exciting ways.

A lot of the gadgets within the Inventor’s Attic were, to the best of my knowledge, unique among escape rooms. We enjoyed so many of the puzzles that were the meat of this experience. One in particular was almost mesmerizing to work through and a lot of fun.

For one puzzle, Escape My Room included a player-friendly reset switch, something we’ve rarely seen with this type of challenge.

As a matter of philosophy, Escape My Room wants their players to spend as close to a full hour as possible in each escape room. They present bonus puzzles to speedy teams who win with time to spare. The way they introduced this puzzle was so smart.

Shortcomings

Inventor’s Attic didn’t always give us enough feedback when we’d solved puzzles. We sometimes couldn’t figure out what we’d earned. Additional springs or lighting or audio clues would enhance these little reveals.

One of the more involved puzzles didn’t have adequate cluing. We loved the concept, and how it pulled together the inventor’s aesthetic with that of the overall DeLaporte Mansion, but the puzzle within needed work.

The puzzling at the heart of Inventor’s Attic was largely non-linear. While some will absolutely see this as a boon, we were a little disappointed because many of the puzzles couldn’t really support more than 1-2 players at a time. This meant that each of us completely missed at least one of the amazing interactions in this room escape.

Should I play Escape My Room’s Inventor’s Attic?

I can’t think of a more cohesive escape room company than Escape My Room. Their entryway, lobby, series of lobby puzzles, hallways, and each of their escape rooms have all been crafted with the same aesthetic and story in mind. Even their gamemasters present themselves in character at all times. Everything they have to offer is built around the DeLaporte family, their estate, and their odd history.

It’s damn impressive… and Inventor’s Attic is a jewel in this beautifully strange collection.

Inventor’s Attic is a must-play for experienced room escapers. Its uniqueness, beautiful design, surprising reveals, and brilliant interactions all combined to make an unforgettable and challenging yet fair experience.

Beginners will certainly be impressed by what Inventor’s Attic has to offer, but they will likely be a bit bewildered by it. I would highly recommend playing at least one or two other escape rooms before attempting Inventor’s Attic. That will make this escape room more approachable and let you more fully appreciate how joyous Escape My Room’s latest creation is.

Book your hour with Escape My Room’s Inventor’s Attic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape My Room comped our tickets for this game.