Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 1 [Review]

Box of soap opera.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2017

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

Story & setup

A package came in the mail filled with media clippings, journal, wedding invitation, wedding program, and letters. My (the collective ‘my’) best friend’s heiress wife had turned up dead on his honeymoon and he had disappeared. I (the collective ‘I’) knew that something strange was going down and had to sift through the evidence to make sense of these tragedies.

Dispatch, On The Run box. A cardboard shipping box made to look like it was covered in stamps.

Upon opening Dispatch by Breakout, the first thing that I noticed was the high quality printing of just about everything in the box. The wedding invitation was an actual invitation and newspaper clippings were on newsprint. Everything else was printed in color on quality stock.

The second thing that became immediately apparent was the volume of reading material. We played this in the car driving between New Orleans and Houston. It took us well over an hour to read everything in the box aloud.

Structure

Breakout is one of the largest escape room chains in the United States. Dispatch, however, was decidedly not a boxed escape room. I would describe it as interactive fiction. Dispatch was more like a novel, broken up between different written materials, than is was like an escape room (boxed or real life).

An assortment of papers from Dispatch, On The Run. Newspaper clippings, a journal, wedding invitation, a wedding toast, the cover of a tabloid magazine.

On The Run was the first chapter of Dispatch. It set up a lot of different mysteries that I assume will be addressed in future installments.

Puzzles

We had to use the information in the box as well as a web browser to explore the world that Dispatch built. There were a handful of puzzles to solve. I counted 3, but I think that you could count differently. They had to be solved sequentially.

Dispatch, or at least this first chapter, was far more focused on building a world than on puzzling.

Standouts

On the Run set up an engaging story. After reading through all the written materials and poking around on the different websites they mentioned, we were invested in the characters and the mystery.

On the Run was approachable and physically compact. There weren’t any heavy objects or tiny odds and ends. The elements in the box were high quality paper products. They were legible and accessible.

Additionally, the handwriting fonts used throughout the game were easy to read. This might seem like a minor thing, but we’ve seen far too many challenging handwriting fonts.

It was clear when we reached the conclusion of the first episode. We had many more open plot threads than resolutions, but we knew we’d achieved success.

We really enjoyed the first puzzle. We didn’t find it particularly difficult, but it got us rolling and we found it amusing.

Shortcomings

After that first puzzle, On the Run was like finding a needle in a haystack. We had tons of information to work with and little direction. The solutions ultimately relied on information that was out of the proverbial box.

There was a ton to read, which was not conducive to group gameplay. We ended up having one person read everything aloud to the group. This seemed to be the only way to reasonably engage everyone in the mystery.

While there was tons of story to absorb, there were only a few puzzles to solve in the first box. We spent a lot of time working on just a few things.

This turned out to be a printed story and an internet hide-and-seek. We all searched the internet for information that was more or less challenging to uncover. While On the Run created a world to explore, it was much like day-to-day existence, searching through browser tabs.

A lot of the internet-based components were simply not believable. I’m no Instagram expert but that was decidedly not the Instagram profile of a sexy tabloid-stalked heiress.

The hint system was delayed. When we asked for a hint, we received it almost 24 hours later. If we’d intended to explore On the Run over a long period of time, this could have been interpreted as experiential. Since we played through the box in a single (long) car ride, by the time we had received a hint, we no longer needed it… because we’d texted a friend.

Should I play Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run?

Dispatch was interactive fiction with some puzzles. The story pulled us in enough that we wanted to see it through, even when the game was not what we thought we were getting into.

Expectations really matters here. Dispatch was absolutely not the game that we thought we were receiving from an escape room chain. It bore almost no resemblance to an escape room. That’s not a knock against it; it’s simply a description.

If you’re looking for a play-at-home escape game, there are a ton on the market; this is not one of them.

If an interactive novelization with a soap opera-y narrative and a few puzzles sounds like something that you could enjoy over an evening or two (or a long car ride), then Dispatch by Breakout will have plenty of drama and intrigue for you to explore. You just have to go in knowing that the few puzzles there are can be a bit obtuse.

This is not really my go-to type of game, but I am pretty curious where this story will go and what they will do with it as Breakout refines their storytelling.

Buy your copy of Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary first episode.

Mindquest – Legacy of Noo’Zaca [Review]

Tomb Raider without the short shorts.

Location: Budapest, Hungary

Date played: August 25, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 10,000 HUF ($39) per team per team of 3-5 players; 6,000 HUF ($23) per team of 2 players

Story & setting

In the jungles of South America we set off on an expedition into a cursed temple to recover a mystical artifact.

Legacy of Noo’Zaca had a beautiful jungle temple set. It looked superb and the puzzling was deeply integrated into the surroundings.

Puzzles

Setup as an immersive adventure in the vein of Tomb RaiderLegacy of Noo’Zaca’s puzzles were all built into the set as physical and mechanical interactions. These all fit well and were good fun, even when they weren’t particularly challenging.

Standouts

Legacy of Noo’Zaca was an adventure. It told a story through the puzzles, which integrated beautifully into the set.

As we moved through the puzzles, the gorgeous set continuously revealed hidden secrets. We became increasingly curious about what we’d uncover next, which enhanced the feeling of adventure.

Mindquest seamlessly integrated analogue and digital technology. We particularly loved a few late game mechanical puzzles.

Shortcomings

One essential prop was in rough condition. Because of this, the interaction became frustrating.

While most of this experience was beautifully polished, we occasionally encountered exposed tech, which detracted from the magic of the space and could easily be covered up.

All too often, solving a puzzle triggered something to happen almost silently. Consequently, each time we solved a puzzle, we had to re-search the entire space to determine what had changed. A little bit of auditory or visual feedback from these opens would have gone a long way

Finally, Legacy of Noo’Zaca felt a little light on content. An extra puzzle or two would have made it a more complete room escape.

Should I play Mindquest’s Legacy of Noo’Zaca?

Legacy of Noo’Zaca was one of the prettiest and most professionally built games that we encountered in Budapest. It was a fun adventure with entertaining puzzles and good surprises.

As experienced players, we truly enjoyed the details in the set and the fantastic puzzle integration. We wished that it had lasted a little bit longer and given better feedback when we unlocked something.

Beginners will absolutely love Legacy of Noo’Zaca as it was pretty, entertaining, and still approachable.

If you’re in Budapest and love escape rooms, I would not miss Legacy of Noo’Zaca. 

Book your hour with Mindquest’s Legacy of Noo’Zaca, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mindquest provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Pirate Cave Escape Room [Review]

Pirates of the Great Hungarian Plain.

Location: Budapest, Hungary

Date played: August 27, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 6,000 HUF ($23) per player for a team of 2 or 3 to 2,800 HUF ($11) per player for a team of 7

Story & setting

We were captured by pirates and cursed. We had to escape captivity and break the curse in this movie-inspired pirate adventure.

Pirate Cave had a homemade pirate aesthetic. The space was a lot of fun, even when the details fell short of convincing immersion. The sense of adventure was also aided by a few large set pieces that set the tone for each act of the game.

In-game: A wood raft in front of the gated entrance to a cave
Image via Pirate Cave Escape Room

Puzzles

Most of the puzzles were born of the props and set pieces within the game. They played well. A handful of the puzzles felt a little escape-roomy, while still working within the theme.

Standouts

Pirate Cave Escape Room was first and foremost an adventure. It conveyed story through the set, props, gameplay, and even hint system. Each mission was personalized, ever so slightly, and we loved this little touch. It enhanced our adventure.

Pirate Cave Escape Room incorporated standard escape room puzzle types through different implementations. The puzzling was entertaining.

In Pirate Cave Escape Room, we encountered many locks we’d never seen before. Some of these were pretty old. These locks – as well as many of the other carefully selected props – truly enhanced the environment and made the adventure more immersive.

There was a surprising transition. The designer’s willingness to build this made it that much more exciting.

Shortcomings

With a story-first design, Pirate Cave Escape Room could feel a little light on substantial cerebral puzzling. We would have liked to see more complexity and challenge.

Pirate Cave Escape Room nailed so many little details that the few places where these were overlooked stood out a little too much.

For tourists in Budapest, Pirate Cave Escape Room wasn’t far, as the crow flies, but it was well off the beaten path and difficult to find.*

Should I play Pirate Cave Escape Room?

We truly enjoyed each and every game that we played in Budapest and Pirate Cave was our favorite of the bunch. It was large, interactive, and highly entertaining. There were a number of larger interactions that simply didn’t need to be a part of the game, but the fact that they were made it so much more enjoyable.

Within Budapest, we played more interesting puzzle games. We also played games with more elegant set design. However, the way these things came together in the Pirate Cave put smiles on our faces.

Regardless of your skill level, we wholeheartedly recommend Pirate Cave.

*Do note that if you’re looking to visit Pirate Cave, you’ll likely need a taxi. We used the Uber clone Taxify in Budapest and it worked well. You should also follow the directions on Pirate Cave’s website and navigate to their GPS coordinates, not their address. We made this error and it would have been avoidable if we simply read the instructions.

Book your hour with Pirate Cave Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

LogIQrooms – Napuche [Review]

A fantastic puzzle game with a variant in Las Vegas.

Location: Budapest, Hungary

Date played: August 26, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 12,000 HUF ($46) per team of 2-6 players, student pricing available

Story & setting

We entered an archeological dig somewhere in Central America where we had an hour to explore the artifacts and equipment of the dig site. With some luck and skill, perhaps we could make a discovery of our own.

A massive map on an unusual map table.

Set within an old brick basement in Budapest, Napuche’s unusual location immediately set the stage. The well chosen antiques and custom created props completed the vibe. It was a bit musty and felt especially compelling.

Puzzles

There were a lot of puzzles to solve in Napuche and they were far from trivial. Interestingly, it was easy to see what was relevant, but challenging to determine how to use the various components to move forward.

A stack of crates with a large stone statue atop them.

Standouts

LogIQrooms artfully designed the old space in which Napuche took place to enhance the drama of the experience. The rustic look contributed to our archeological exploration and set up some exciting reveals.

The crux of this escape room was truly the puzzles. Napuche combined layered thinking with prop manipulation. The execution was smart.

Napuche incorporated some outstanding mechanisms into its puzzles.

Shortcomings

We had trouble with some of the props in Napuche. Since some of the objects seemed breakable, we explored them too gently and thereby couldn’t determine how they worked. In one instance we had to use a beautiful antique to solve a puzzle. We would never have explored its functionality enough to operate it correctly without invitation. This could be fixed with a little in-game cluing.

The set sometimes responded oddly, such that we didn’t know whether we’d triggered something or it was functioning on a timer. One puzzle, once solved, only remained solved for a limited period of time. This was confusing.

Napuche was nonlinear and not particularly well gated. It was easy to waste time on puzzles before they were solvable. With a larger team, this would have been less detrimental to gameflow than it was for our team of two, but it would still lead to wasted effort on the part of a least a few teammates at any given time.

Should I play LogIQrooms’ Napuche?

We played a number of escape rooms in Budapest basements and Napuche used that old dingy setting better than any of the other games that we had encountered. The game setting and props looked ancient.

I highly recommend Naupche for experienced players. This was one of the more challenging games that we’ve played in a while and we truly enjoyed it.

Newbies would probably be best served by starting with something a little less difficult to learn their way around an escape room.

A variation of Napuche exists in Las Vegas, Nevada. The US version is known as Curse of Mapuche at Xterious Escape. I have no idea how effectively Xterious Escape compensated for their lack of an ancient Budapest basement, but it’s a shorter trip to Vegas for most of our readers. If you’ve played Curse of Mapuche, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Book your hour with LogIQrooms’ Napuche, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

The Room – Go West [Review]

Escape the crap.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 4, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 35€ per ticket for 2 players to 24€ per ticket for 5 players

Story & setting

Go West was set in a 1980s Soviet-controlled East Berlin apartment beside the Berlin Wall. Our application to emigrate to the “Golden West” had been rejected and the Stasi was after us. We had received a tip from a secret source about a way out, but we had to hurry or suffer.

In-game: A drab 1980s living room in East Berlin. A stuffed fish named Erich hangs on the wall.

As an American and student of Cold War history, it was immediately clear that Go West captured the look of a 1980s home in Soviet territory. The color scheme, furniture, and props were almost entirely authentic. I have to imagine that any former East Berliners stepping into this set would experience a strange journey back to when their entire city was held prisoner.

Puzzles

Go West was primarily a puzzle game. That said, The Room created puzzles from period-specific props or used puzzles to carry the narrative and message of the escape room.

Standouts

As Americans, we frequently see different types of 1980s escape rooms built around pop culture references. Go West was not our 1980s, but it was a detailed, accurate, and poignant representation of the time period. The gamespace felt lived in, but not distracting.

In-game: A gridded cocktail table with chess pieces on it, and a large 1980s television set in the distance.
Sign me up for that wallpaper.

Go West made a conscious and deliberate political statement through interaction design. The Room used in-game transitions as the primary vehicle for conveying their opinion.

We were particularly fond of one of the mid-game layered, collaborative puzzles in Go West.

Shortcomings

Much of the puzzling in Go West was from an older era of escape room design. It involved significant searching. Many puzzles were for puzzles’ sake rather than narrative-driven.

Go West was emotionally level for much of the experience. The gameplay didn’t instill urgency until deep into the experience.

Should I play The Room’s Go West?

Yes, you should play Go West. This was The Room’s first game and it was a beautiful and interesting experience.

It was one of the few games that I’ve encountered that communicated a political and historical message.

While Go West has been open for a few years now, it has been meticulously maintained. I have to imagine that it was far better than the norm when it first opened. It still played remarkably well, even if some of the gameplay suggested its age.

You will have to crawl to complete Go West. If that isn’t an issue, you should absolutely experience this room escape regardless of your level of experience with escape rooms.

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

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: The Room comped our tickets for this game.

Journal29 [Review]

They were here before…

Location: at home

Date played: Summer 2017

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

Price: $16 per copy

Story & setup

A top secret excavation yielded no interesting results until the team suddenly vanished on the 29th day leaving behind no evidence of their existence except for a mysterious and cryptic journal.

Created by Dimitris Chassapakis, Journal29 was a puzzle book with a narrative experienced entirely through puzzles and illustration.

The Journal29 book, a pencil, and a iPhone with the Journal29 website open.
All that you need to play.
Playing Journal29 required the book, a pencil (seriously, don’t try this with a pen), and a computer or smartphone.

Every 2 pages of Journal29 contained a URL / QR code and puzzle. When we thought we had a solution to a puzzle, we visited the URL, submitted our answer, and the page either told us we were wrong… or rewarded us with a “key” word. The keys from the puzzles would ultimately be plugged into subsequent puzzles.

Puzzles

Journal29 contained 63 individual puzzles. Each one was unique. If a particular method of solving worked once, it would not work again. In the book’s own words, Journal29 required us to “write, draw, search, fold, combine, and more.”

Standouts

While some of the puzzle types were familiar, many were remarkably inventive.

The mix of puzzles was fantastic. These included both simple ones and mindbogglers.

The first 8 puzzles built a elegant on-ramp for the rest of the book.

The website was simple and effective.

The key system was smart. If we solved a puzzle based on incomplete information (we didn’t have one of the necessary keys) and then backsolved that key, it did not spoil the puzzle that was meant to yield the backsolved key. We simply had the key to an unsolved puzzle… not the solution to the puzzle. (I’m looking at you puzzle #28. One day I’ll figure out what the hell you are.)

We loved how some puzzles daisy-chained via keys. This meant that certain portions of the book would bind up until we made progress on an earlier puzzle. In the meantime, however, we had other puzzle tracks and puzzles that required no keys. Because of this design decision, we could be woefully stuck in one segment and simply move on to different puzzles. We’d periodically revisit the puzzle we were stuck on until we had a breakthrough. As a result, every time we sat down with Journal29, we made some progress.

Journal29 was low commitment. It lasted us a few weeks of on again, off again puzzling.

I liked the geometric aesthetic of Journal29’s illustrations.

Shortcomings

The handwriting font used in Journal29 was occasionally difficult to read. This led to transcription errors when we jotted down keys, which later resulted in frustration in the form of unsolvable puzzles.

The QR codes were worthless. It was easier to type into the URL bar to jump between puzzles. This was important because after the first 8 puzzles, we stopped solving them linearly. Also… QR codes are a silly, ugly, and insecure feature for people trapped in 2013.

A few puzzles in Journal29 got a little weird. They all ultimately had reasonable and clear solutions, but it was a grind to get through some of them.

The story was present, but not so compelling.

I really, truly wish that the answer website had accepted minor variations on puzzle solutions. There were times where we derived an answer along the lines of 123-456-7890, but it had to be entered as 1234567890. We lost a lot of time and built up a lot of frustration over minor variance in solution formats.

Journal29 had no built-in hint system. The Journal29 forum, however, did have spoiler discussions for each puzzle. I used this twice and the experience was mediocre because the discussions were unstructured, often giving me more detail than I wanted or requiring me to dig deep because some of the comments were more confusing than the puzzles. Both times that I used the forums, I learned that I had a key transcription error. I wish that the Journal29 simply had a structured and predictable help website; it would have been a better experience.

Should I play Journal29?

If you’re a puzzler, Journal29 is a fantastic purchase. It was more intriguing than a normal puzzle book. It was deeper, more challenging, and more entertaining than a 60-minute at-home escape room.

We’ve been traveling more than normal these past few months and we carried Journal29 with us. We’d pull it out on a train and solve a puzzle or two or focus on it for hours during a flight delay. It was lightweight and low tech. Because most of the puzzles solved with “ah-ha!” moments rather than grinding process puzzling, we could experience it casually.

I recommend Journal29 for small groups of people who spend a lot of time together. As a couple, it was fantastic. We could easily share the book and it was always remarkable when Lisa easily saw a path forward that was completely invisible to me (and vice-versa). If I was going to attempt this book with 3 or 4 people, I’d consider purchasing a second copy just to make sure that everyone could participate.

It is possible to solve Journal29 without destroying it, but you’d have to work very hard and probably photocopy many of the pages to do so. Jorunal29 was designed for destruction and that was absolutely fine with us.

Grab your copy of Journal29, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Amanda Harris for giving us a fresh copy of Journal29. You’ve brought us hours of entertainment.

(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.)

 

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – Revisited

Back in the old, innocent days of February 2016, Lisa and and I were a month away from our wedding when we received a message from Julianna and Ariel, the creators of Escape Room In A Box. They asked, and I’m paraphrasing:

“We’re about to launch a play-at-home escape room on Kickstarter. Will you promote it?”

Now we were not sold on this and thought it seemed like a pretty terrible idea. We’d seen our share of bad escape rooms and the last thing that we wanted to do was blindly promote a pile of garbage, so we responded:

“Nope, we won’t promote it… but we would review it if you could get one to us.”

We thought that would be the end of the discussion, but Julianna and Ariel said “sure” and overnighted the game to us.

We gathered our regular team, plus a newbie (as we generally try to include fresh eyes). While everyone was skeptical at the beginning, no one was at the conclusion. This was the review that I wrote then (in our old, non-standardized format):

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment [Review]

Revisiting The Werewolf Experiment

Some 20 months later we gathered a new group of escape room lovers, cooked them risotto, baked them cookies, and watched them play the Kickstarter First Edition of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment.

In-game: The stop warning, time will begin as soon as the panel is lifted.

While The Werewolf Experiment was our first attempt at a tabletop escape game, this new group of players had seen many of the at-home escape rooms on the market. We worried it wouldn’t hold up, but they had a great time.

Assorted illustrations and the box tied off with rope.

I’m happy to report that we’re able to let that old review stand with a few additions:

  • The packaging in the Kickstarter edition was dramatically improved from the prototype that we played.
  • The art, illustration, and general presentation of the Kickstarter edition were cohesive and massively improved. (I don’t really remember any in-game art in the prototype.)
  • I didn’t know enough about at-home escape room games to comment on the hint system at the time. Now I can add that the hint system is easy to use and a lot less annoying than most of the tabletop escape game hint systems.
  • We also called out that many of the puzzles were paper based and felt a little homework-y. While I think that style of puzzle is more acceptable in a tabletop game than a real life escape room, I also think that those puzzle types will stand out even more nearly 2 years later.
  • We found a minor typo in the hint & answer booklets.
  • This game still has some of the most brilliant escape room-y moments in all of tabletop escape games.

In-game: 2 locked tins, and one locked antidote bag.

 

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Mattel Edition

This November, the retail version of The Werewolf Experiment will hit store shelves as the game was picked up by Mattel.

Box art for Mattel's Escape Room in a Box.

The new edition will cost $29.99 and we will run a test group through it as well.

Kickstarter lateness

Some closing thoughts on the nature of Kickstarter:

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment shipped roughly 7 months late and some folks have expressed resentment to Lisa and me over this. Not directed at us, but in our direction.

I’d like to take a moment to praise Julianna and Ariel for shipping within a year of their expected ship date and handling their Kickstarter with professionalism and grace. They kept in regular contact with their backers and focused on delivering a quality product. They did just that.

Lateness and Kickstarter go together like steel toilets and hidden keys. I backed something in November of 2014 and it was supposed to ship in March of 2015… and in October 2017, the dude is still working on it.

Backing something on Kickstarter is like paying someone in advance to keep a pinky swear. When a Kickstarter ships within a year of its expected date and turns out to be what was promised in the initial description, that’s a win.

While we’re on the subject of Kickstarter, have a look at our analysis of escape room crowdfunding efforts:

Should you Crowdfund an Escape Room? A Data-Driven Look

The Room – The Lost Treasure [Review]

Lived up to the hype.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 4, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 35€ per ticket for 2 players to 24€ per ticket for 5 players

Story & setting

A construction crew repairing a Humboldt University building had found a mysterious vault that was not in the blueprints. The government had tapped our archeology team to uncover the secrets contained within its depths.

Our Indiana Jones meets Warehouse 13 meets The Goonies adventure ensued after we navigated our way through a narrow maze and entering a mysterious ancient chamber.

In-game: an assortment of steam punkish items, the Philosopher's Stone, and a glowing bowl of purple orbs.

The Lost Treasure’s set was world-class. It was detailed and gorgeous with hidden nooks and interactions laced throughout the gamespace.

In-game: A light passing through a number of focal points and then reflecting off of a mirror as a beautiful hazy beam.

Puzzles

The Lost Treasure was a fantastic puzzle game. We had plenty to solve and the challenges were real, but fair. Additionally, the puzzles were born of the environment and the adventure.

In-game: An ancient chamber with a large ruined turn table, and assorted animal samples, documents, and books.
I wish this came out a little sharper, but the light fog in the space made wider shots a little difficult.

Most puzzles required or encouraged at least 2 players’ cooperation to resolve.

The Room didn’t beat us over the head with exposition and story. They did, however, enable us to feel our own narrative arc as we worked through the experience.

Standouts

Almost everything…

As mentioned above, the set design was world-class. It was hyper-detailed, but it never felt confusing or burdened with red herrings.

In-game: A collection of beautiful crystals, and stones.

The puzzles were challenging, fair, and well executed.

The interactions, reveals, and general use of technology were phenomenal.

The sound design was among the best that we’ve heard… not that there are all that many companies even striving to include top tier audio.

With a small exception below, the lighting was dramatic and useful.

The use of space, select use of darkness, set transitions, and the overall layout of The Lost Treasure were brilliant.

In-game: an ancient map beside a golden bell.

The historical, mythological, and pop cultural Easter eggs in The Lost Treasure were entertaining and fit well in the game.

The entire final act of The Lost Treasure was fantastic. You are going to want to win this game because the sequence of events at the end blew us away.

Shortcomings

There was one interaction that triggered its feedback a little too early. As a result, I didn’t fully complete the interaction which made for a minor complication that Lisa was petite enough to sneak past. If the feedback came upon the absolute completion of the interaction, this would eliminate the issue entirely.

Our flashlight was a little funky and difficult to control in The Lost Treasure. It’s difficult to discuss without minor spoilers, most of which you learn in the game’s briefing:

Minor flashlight spoiler

We had a sort of haunted flashlight that would disable in certain areas of the game and stay dead for a little while. The effect was cool, but when we wanted a flashlight, it almost never worked, and we never truly needed one anyway. We simply abandoned it.

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The Room’s The Lost Treasure cannot be enjoyed by all players. The game has many tight spaces and you physically have to pass through a narrow passageway to even enter the game. Their booking website is up-front about this stating:

“All players must

  • pass through narrow passages
  • be fit and healthy
  • not have a fear of darkness
  • not suffer from claustrophobia and asthma”

The sizing issue is real and the narrow passageway at the beginning ensures that people who will get stuck in the game cannot even begin it. There are a lot of great things that happen in The Lost Treasure as a direct result of these design decisions, but it’s also a shame that there are some escape room players who simply will never be able to play it.

Should I play The Room’s The Lost Treasure?

If you can fit into The Lost Treasure and aren’t claustrophobic, then without a doubt, you should go play this escape room.

In-game: An assortment of animal samples with a large stuffed bird staring into the camera.

You’ll need at least one or two players who can crawl and are not afraid of the dark to make it through this adventure.

The Lost Treasure was one of the most hyped games that we’ve played to date; it resoundingly beat our expectations.

Lisa and I played this on our own and we methodically tag-teamed nearly every puzzle, taking our time and milking it for all it was worth. When we won in the final minutes, we didn’t want to leave.

I can comfortably declare that to date, I have never had this much fun in an escape room… and this was my 405th escape game.

If you’re near Berlin, please go play The Lost Treasure.

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

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: The Room comped our tickets for this game.

TOMB RAIDER (2018) – The Movie That Escape Rooms Will Loot

The trailer for the new TOMB RAIDER adaptation hit YouTube a few weeks back. It certainly looks a lot more interesting than Angelina Jolie’s turn in Lara Croft’s boots.

I’m calling it now: this movie is going to have an impact on escape room design. I’m not talking about the IP plundering of the inevitable knockoff rooms where players are searching an ancient tomb for missing adventurer Cara Loft. I’m referring to the endless remixing that goes on in culture.

After giving the 2-minute trailer a gander, I was struck by the number of featured interactions that looked like existing escape room puzzles… or things that could certainly become escape room puzzles. Here are the highlights:

Steampunk cryptex

A wood and stone locking mechanism with symboled cylinders that twist to adjust metal gears.

I don’t know exactly what this thing does, but it sure does look cool. It bears a striking resemblance to the high-end cryptex of Justin Nevins.

Rotating pillar

Lara Croft twisting a large stone pillar into place.
Remember Lara, “finger strength only.”

This is already a mainstay in ancient tomb and mystical alchemy escape rooms. This is simply an adjusted take on the concept.

Puzzle box

Hands manipulating a strange wooden puzzle box.

That’s a nifty looking puzzle box.

Mausoleum trap door

A key unlocking a hidden lock in a mausoleum, and releasing a trap door.

The mausoleum trap door is going to become a thing… and I’m going to be ok with it because it isn’t a bookcase.

Menacing bar of spikes

Lara Croft leaping over a fast moving bar of spikes then sliding under another as it grazes her cheek.

Ok… we won’t see this thing in the United States, but I wouldn’t be shocked if someone created some interaction inspired by it.

You never know what some of the extreme rooms in Russia may do.