Legends of the Hidden Temple Shirts (or Halloween Costume Idea)

Depending upon your age… and whether or not you had cable in the mid ’90s, this is either amazing or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . I happened upon a collection of t-shirts from the various teams that competed on the Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple, one of the forerunners to escape games.

T-shirts!

You can choose from all of the teams: (Clearly the Blue Barracudas are the right choice.)

Go Full Halloween Costume

Halloween is right around the corner. If you’re looking for an easy couple or group costume, all you have to do is toss in a gold helmet, elbow/ kneepads, and a Legends of the Hidden Temple nametag… and you have a nostalgic, fun, and easy Halloween costume.

The Laboratory [Review]

So puzzle. Much solve.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 24, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-8*

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per ticket Tuesday – Thursday, $32 per ticket Friday – Sunday

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Laboratory was an unusual escape room, especially in Los Angeles. It was entirely puzzle solving from start to finish. Its unusual structure of multiple, linear puzzle tracks delivered a lot of puzzle content and a largely individual experience as part of a larger group effort. The Laboratory sacrificed environment, narrative, and adventure in favor of puzzle content, much of which was tangible, varied, and interesting.

Puzzles comprised the entirety of the gameplay. If you’re looking for puzzles, play The Laboratory; you’ll be thrilled. If you want adventure, narrative, or really anything else… your princess is in another castle.

In-game: a sealed box filled with glowing green material and mounted gloves.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle focused players
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Pure puzzle play
  • Puzzle progression

Story

This was a puzzle-filled laboratory with a ticking time bomb in the middle. We had 60 minutes to solve all the puzzles and disarm the bomb.

In-game: a sealed bomb beside some puzzles in a green walled room.

Setting

The Laboratory was a largely plain, two-room set. We had complete access to both rooms from the opening moments of the game. Tables and shelves held various puzzle props, most of which were handcrafted.

A board on one wall laid out the puzzle progression to follow including each individual puzzle, its components, and where to input its solution.

In-game: closeup of a bomb with clipped wires.

Gameplay

The Laboratory was an atypical escape room with a variable level of difficulty.

The Laboratory presented multiple, clearly-defined linear puzzle paths that all converged at the final puzzle.

*The number of puzzle paths – and thus the volume of puzzle content – will be based on team size and experience level. We recommend you bring enough players to play a game with at least 4 puzzle tracks. This will ensure that you have access to the most interesting puzzles.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling.

In-game: 4 human skulls beside a metal device.

Analysis

+The Laboratory was an entertaining puzzle orgy.

– The Laboratory didn’t have a set beyond a standard office space and some quirky props. The gamespace didn’t add anything to the experience. (It didn’t really detract either. It just existed to hold puzzles.)

+ We could see the puzzle paths laid out on a board, delineating our progress through the escape room. This board gave us a feeling of control. We always knew what to work on next. We could also track our progress against the gameclock. This mechanism ensured that we never had to trial-and-error our solutions in different locks.

– Many of the lock codes were guessable even without deriving all the information. It would be easy to shortcut these puzzles to pop the locks.

The Laboratory was customizable by group size and puzzle experience. They can add or remove puzzle tracks to give each team a fair puzzle opponent for a 60-minute game clock.

? If you aren’t playing at least 4 puzzle tracks, you’re missing out on some of the more interesting content.

+ One of our favorite puzzles hooked us with some nifty tech.

– One puzzle path was primarily paper-based. This didn’t make use of the physical space at all.

+ We enjoyed how as each puzzle path moved forward, it built on a concept. Props we picked up along the way frequently stayed relevant as the puzzle path progressed.

– Most of the puzzles could be solved individually. The Laboratory felt collaborative only in so far as the entire team was working and of all the puzzles got solved. Most of us felt like we were puzzling solo. The puzzles didn’t facilitate natural collaboration.

+ The puzzle tracks converged on the final puzzle: bomb disarmament. Although we’d each solved the other puzzles individually or sometimes in small groups, we came together for the final sequence.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring a large enough team to play with at least 4 puzzle tracks. The 4th track was great.
  • There is street parking.
  • We enjoyed Earth Bean Coffee.

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

Disclosure: The Laboratory provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express [Review]

“My name is Achilles Pussot and I am probably the second greatest detective in the world.”

Location: at home

Date Played: September 13, 2018

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $15 per box

REA Reaction

As a fan of the Exit: The Game series, Dead Man on the Orient Express has been one of my favorite installments. I enjoyed the puzzles and the way the difficulty mounted to an especially challenging final puzzle. This game deviated from some of the predictability of the past games.

At the same time, Dead Man on the Orient Express will not change anyone’s opinions on the series… and I’m hoping the creators will break more significantly from their patterns.

If you’re a fan of Exit: The Game, this is a must-buy. It’s one of their stronger installments. If you don’t like the series already, take a pass. If you’ve never played, I’d suggest getting started on one of their earlier games, as this one is tough.

Game box for Dead Man on the Orient Express, depicts a spilled wine glass in a fancy train compartment.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Logic puzzlers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Some of the cleverest puzzles we’ve seen from Exit: The Game
  • A fair difficulty curve
  • A higher level of difficulty

Story

Based not so loosely on the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient ExpressDead Man on the Orient Express cast us in the role of world-famous detective, Achilles Pussot. A man had been killed on the train and there were eight suspects. We needed to identify the killer before the train reached its destination in Constantinople.

The riddle cards, answer cards, and help cards decks.

Setup

Dead Man on the Orient Express was structurally identical to all of the previous Exit: The Game installments that we have reviewed.

This was a paper-based game with a booklet, a few decks of cards, a solution wheel, and a pair of card stock “strange items.”

Exit: The Game installments are destructible. I’m sure it would be possible to preserve the game for replay by other players, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort.

For a more in-depth explanation of the game mechanics of the Exit: The Game series, give our original review a read:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s Dead Man on the Orient Express was a typical play-at-home escape game with a murder mystery twist.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, detailed observation, deduction, and puzzling.

The notebook of Achilles Pussot, an answer wheel, and three train compartment components.

Analysis

+ The puzzles in Dead Man on the Orient Express were generally satisfying. They had a comfortable difficulty curve and became pretty challenging.

+ This game captured the Agatha Christie murder mystery vibe while keeping the gameplay firmly in puzzle-game territory. We were puzzlers, not detectives.

– Because so much of the game was in a booklet, the gameplay bottlenecked. The cabin cards and puzzle cards helped to distribute the gameplay, but the booklet still boxed players out of the fun. (Teams of 1 or 2 people won’t have this issue.)

? The final logic puzzle was especially challenging. We were impressed with the twist on traditional logic puzzling cluing. This puzzle also required an attention to detail that exceeded the level of commitment that we were mentally prepared for. If you haven’t paid attention throughout the entire gameplay, this will be brutal. In our opinion, this was the most complicated puzzle that we’ve seen from the series. Whether this is great or terrible is up to you.

– The final puzzle hinged on some details that were a little too difficult to perceive with confidence. This was on-theme for the material, but also felt a little unfair.

+ The art and style of Dead Man on the Orient Express was consistent and elegant.

– Speaking as a fan of the Exit: The Game series, I respect that they deviate slightly from their formula in each game. With 9 installments in-market, however, I find myself wishing that they would change things up a lot more.

+ The hint system was useful and predictable. I would like a bit more granularity, but Exit: The Game’s hint system is still the most comprehensive of the multi-installment series released by large game publishers.

Tips for Playing

  • You have to destroy the components to play this game. Embrace it.
  • The train cabin components are double sided. Be aware of that.
  • The final puzzle was, in our opinion, the toughest puzzle in the Exit: The Game series. Take that one seriously.

Pickup your copy of Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos 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.)

60 Out – Cartel: DEA Undercover [Review]

I am the danger.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 24, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from starting at $40 per ticket for 2 players, to starting at $26.66 per ticket for 6 players

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Cartel: DEA Undercover was at its best when it asked us to MacGyver our way through unfortunate circumstances, using situational clues. Although it sometimes felt hokey, 60 Out built tension through immersive design and delivered an exciting adventure.

If you play escape rooms for the adventure and you enjoy circumstantial puzzling, visit Cartel: DEA Undercover. Know that the scenario has some adult themes including drugs, violence, and torture.

In-game: a white van that protrudes from a steel wall.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Breaking Bad fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Sense of adventure
  • Badass moments

Story

We were undercover agents who had built a partnership with the Juarez Cartel. The Cartel took a liking to the product that we were supplying them, and wanted to meet. Things went… poorly.

Our backup was too far away to help us. We had to escape.

In-game: A blood-soaked sheet beside a steel wall with blood and a water spigot.

Setting

Our first impression of Cartel: DEA Undercover was a van that was protruding through a wall in 60 Out’s lobby.

We found ourselves in a large and visually impactful outpost of the Cartel. This was one of those games where the reveals really mattered, so spoiling them would do a disservice to the player.

What you need to know is that it looked great… and in case you can’t tell based on the photos that we took, the subject matter of this game won’t be for everyone.

In-game: coke on a balance.

Gameplay

60 Out’s Cartel: DEA Undercover was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, reaction time, and “hacking” our way through the problems we encountered. Most of the challenges were presented as real-life problems in need of a fix, rather than puzzles in need of a solution.

In-game: a steel door with a series of valves.

Analysis

Cartel: DEA Undercover surprised us early.

+ The adventure-style gameplay required us to make connections as we would in a real-life danger scenario. In these instances, gameplay was at its best.

– The more standard escape room puzzle gameplay was weaker. In one instance we experienced misleading cluing.

– One finicky piece of tech wasted a lot of our time even though we understood the goals of the interaction.

+ One late-game interaction built tension and upped the immersion of the experience as it added a feeling of desperation.

– Cartel: DEA Undercover needed a longer late-game audio track. Each time we heard it loop, it diminished the intensity built by the other interactions in the space. The mood flipped from tense to hokey… and the more we thought about what we were hearing, the worse the stereotype caricature sounded.

Cartel: DEA Undercover concluded with us as the heroes in a remarkably cinematic shot.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a small parking lot.
  • Cartel: DEA Undercover involved adult themes including drugs, violence, and torture. If you can handle a modern cable TV crime drama, then you’ll be fine with this game.

Book your hour with 60 Out’s Cartel: DEA Undercover, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 60 Out comped our tickets for this game.

Crux Club – Oddfellow’s Secret [Review]

A set that money can’t buy.

Location: Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Date Played: September 16, 2018

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

Duration: about 2.5 hours

Price: $65 per team of 2, $78 per team of 3

Ticketing: Private

Distance: about 1.5 miles walking

REA Reaction

Oddfellow’s Secret toured us through Greenwich village on a mission to search, solve, and save the world. Although we never felt connected to the grand narrative of world destruction, we enjoyed the gameplay that combined scavenger hunt with puzzle solving.

If you’re looking for an outside puzzle activity in a beautiful Manhattan neighborhood, choose a nice day to explore Oddfellow’s Secret.

In-game: Lisa and our teammate Kellian getting started on Crux Club. An assortment of locked boxes lay on a table between them.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scavenger hunters
  • Players who enjoy walking
  • Folks who want to enjoy New York City’s Greenwich Village
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • To stroll through Greenwich Village with an objective
  • The combination of scavenger hunt and puzzle play

Story

When the grandmaster of our secret society was taken hostage, it was up to us to open the 5 boxes he’d left behind. His fate, and the fate of New York City, were in our hands.

In-game: Oddfellow's Secret backpack.

Setting

Oddfellow’s Secret was set on the streets on Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan’s most picturesque neighborhoods.

We carried a collection of small locked boxes and assorted supplies in a backpack provided by Crux Club.

Over the course of Oddfellow’s Secret we walked about 1.5 miles, winding our way through this iconic Manhattan neighborhood.

In-game: 5 locked boxes.

Gameplay

Crux Club’s Oddfellow’s Secret was a scavenger hunt with puzzles. It had a lower level of difficulty.

Similar to escape rooms, it worked puzzles into settings, tangible props, and paper props.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, searching, puzzling, following directions, and navigating the streets of Greenwich Village. (This is one of New York’s more confusing neighborhoods.)

Analysis

+ As we played Oddfellow’s Secret, we observed Greenwich Village. We enjoying looking closely at architectural details as we wound through the neighborhood. Crux Club brought us to interesting landmarks including one of my favorite Manhattan oddities.

– Although we enjoyed strolling through Greenwich Village on a beautiful summer day, the neighborhood felt underused. Greenwich Village landmarks have so many stories to tell, but instead Oddfellow’s Secret told a different, grandiose tale of world domination. The gameplay didn’t reflect the intensity of the story, and we felt dissonance leisurely puzzling and strolling through a mission that was supposed to have life and death stakes.

+ The puzzles worked well. We enjoyed how the scavenger hunt components fed into more layered puzzles with a solution extraction.

– One segment asked us to repeat an identical mechanic at many different locations. Since there was no opportunity to build mastery, this devolved into a long process puzzle. Given that it wasn’t necessary to visit all of these places to solve the extraction at the end of this sequence, whittling this portion down to only the most interesting locales would improve it.

Oddfellow’s Secret was entirely self-contained. We carried our own puzzle materials, supplied by Crux Club. (We needed only our own phone.) The materials added a few more tangible solves without becoming burdensome as we walked.

+ There was a structured, self-service hint system available via mobile phone.

+ Crux Club provided a few business cards to hand out to anyone who stopped us on the street to enquire about what we were doing. We were happy to advertise for them as this simple mechanic kept us from having to seriously explain ourselves to strangers.

Tips for Playing

  • Crux Club operates a seasonal and weather-dependent business. They aren’t always operating and bad weather could result in your game being canceled.
  • You need a charged smartphone with a web browser and data capabilities. An extra battery might not be the worst thing to carry.

  • You will carry a backpack containing puzzle components, provided by Crux Club.

  • Dress appropriately for the weather. Carry your own water, umbrellas, sunscreen, etc.

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. You will walk about 1.5 miles.
  • We recommend il laboratorio del gelato or Amorino for gelato at the end of your adventure.
  • At the completion of your mission, Crux Club hands out a card that recommends a number of other neighborhood eating/drinking establishments.

Book your slot with Crux Club’s Oddfellow’s Secret, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crux Club comped our tickets for this game.

Enigma Emporium – Wish You Were Here [Review]

A good thing in a small package.

Location: at home

Date Played: September 6, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 1-4

Duration: 2-3 hours

Price: $12 for Kickstarter backers in the US, $15 for international backers

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here took us by surprise. Although the small package of five postcards initially seemed unimpressive, as we began to solve it, we realized how much love and care went into cramming these cards with quality puzzle content. It felt like there was always another thing to solve on the cards.

While some of the puzzles turned a little too process-focused in order to have us extract more narrative, most of this game revolved around ah-ha moments.

If you’re into puzzles, we wholeheartedly recommend backing Enigma Emporium on Kickstarter. We eagerly await their next product.

The Enigma Emporium envelope and a UN postcard.

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

We received five encoded postcards from a fugitive accused of stealing a valuable piece of art. We had to peel back the layers of obfuscation from his messages to solve the mystery of his crimes.

The assortment of Enigma Emporium cards and the envelope.

Setting

The entire mystery was presented on five 6 x 4 inch postcards. Each card had a distinctive theme and contained a slew of puzzles.

The cards looked like postcards that you’d expect to find in any tourist trap… with some puzzley additions.

There were some additional discoverable materials and a structured hint system, all available via a web browser.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here played like a mini puzzle hunt. It had a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games… but a low degree of difficulty relative to puzzle hunts.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ I’m still shocked by how much puzzle play Enigma Emporium crammed into 5 standard postcards. They made just about everything matter.

+ The puzzle quality was generally stellar. We liked some more than others, but overall, the consistency was impressive.

+ Each card had a consistent theme and vibe.

+ The US Presidents postcard contained a brilliant cipher.

– The literature postcard dragged relative to the rest of the game.

+/- We pulled a fair amount of cohesive story from these puzzles. That said, if you’re the type of player who seeks narrative, this story won’t surprise anyone.

Earth Shaking Story Spoiler

He’s not really a bad guy. I know… it’s shocking.

[collapse]

– After an aha moment, some of these puzzles turned into hefty process puzzles to facilitate the extraction of story.

+ The structured hint system was easy to use and generally helpful.

– One puzzle didn’t seem like a puzzle… it just seemed faded and broken. We ended up circumventing it, and only realized the right way to solve it after we finished the game and dug into the hint system.

? Outside of the hint system, the game didn’t really provide a means of verifying answers and checking progression as we went. We always knew when we had a puzzle solved because it resolved cleanly… but we didn’t know if we had found everything that there was to solve on a card. Ultimately everything came together all at once at the end.

+ The solution submission process was a neat concept, even if it was a little cumbersome.

+ At $13, Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here is more than affordable.

Tips for Playing

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer, but a mobile device will work fine.
  • 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.

Back Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a copy for review.

Reason – Reactor Escape [Review]

Mini Mini Maker Faire

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 10-16; we recommend less than 10*

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $500 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Reason tag-lined Reactor Room “test drive the future.” It was a fitting bit of marketing as the experience felt like a tech demo for a variety of gadgets. Some of these made for interesting gameplay moments. Many of them felt like an opportunity to see some expensive tech in action.

At $500 per private group, the staggeringly expensive Reactor Room was targeted towards corporate groups. With its large capacity and focus on gadgetry, I think it could make for an interesting outing on a corporate credit card. If you’re a regular escape room-playing civilian, you’ll likely want to pass on this game. Reason did something different, but the gameplay and puzzles fell short of what we’d expect at such an exclusive price point.

In-game: a pair of monitors mounted to a wall.

Who is this for?

  • Corporate groups
  • Technology aficionados
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The gadgets

Story

We had been in the control room of our spaceship when the reactor was sabotaged. Now we were trapped there. We needed to puzzle through the tech-laden control room to shut the thing down.

In-game: a doorway between two rooms.

Setting

Reactor Escape was a dramatically lit environment with an assortment of gadgets, buttons, switches, screens, and the like lining the walls of the gamespace.

It had a space-travel science-fiction vibe. Many of the props and set pieces felt like they belonged; others felt anachronistic or otherwise out of place.

In-game: A wall with buttons.

Gameplay

Reason’s Reactor Escape was an atypical escape room with a heavy reliance on techie gadgets and a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections, puzzling, and operating gadgets.

Analysis

? Reason tag-lined Reactor Escape “test drive the future.” The escape room incorporated VR, drones, a 3D printer, a hologram, and a terminal, among other devices. This escape room felt like a collection of guided tech demos. It was atypical for an escape room. Whether this is good, bad, or neutral will be in the eyes of the player.

Reactor Escape was puzzle-dense. There was a lot to accomplish, spread throughout the gamespace. The puzzle types and difficulties varied enormously.

– Labeling was inconsistent. While we appreciated additional connective tissue to keep puzzle paths straight and streamline gameflow, it wasn’t evenly incorporated. It appeared slapped on as an afterthought rather than integrated into the set and props.

– It was rarely clear when a puzzle had been solved.

+ The most cerebral puzzle had some incredibly clever aha moments that we loved.

Reactor Escape incorporated elements we’d never before seen in an escape room. Some of these lent themselves to puzzling and enhanced the experience.

– The more interesting the tech, the less interesting the puzzle. In one instance, the puzzle consisted of pushing a button to start a machine. In another, the puzzle consisted of viewing a piece of information. These weren’t particularly inspired ways to incorporate these devices into a puzzle game.

– One gadget required hands-on teaching. Our gamemaster appeared in the room to walk one player through how to operate the device. The puzzle for it had clearly been scaled back due to the challenge of the gadget and was hardly a puzzle at all anymore. While nifty, this gadget didn’t make sense in a timed puzzle game. It wasn’t satisfying for the player, who felt dragged through using it. Using this thing detracted from playing the game.

+ We enjoyed Reason’s spin on how to open a padlock.

– The tech was finicky. We had one nifty component fail to accept correct solutions for a good while.

+ The puzzle paths came together in a satisfying endgame.

– This was the most expensive escape room that we’ve ever visited. At $500 per team, most normal non-corporate groups will be priced out of even entertaining the notion of visiting Reason.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • We recommend a short walk to SOMA StrEat Food Park.
  • You must be able to walk upstairs to get to the escape room.

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

Escapades LA – It’s a Doggy Dog World [Review]

Who’s a good room? Who’s a good room?

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

It’s a Doggy Dog World was a playful, whimsical, entertaining escape room that didn’t take itself too seriously. At its best, the set design zeroed in on a dog’s perspective and the puzzles asked us to think like dogs. While the build quality varied and sometimes lacked polish, Escapades LA created an adorably entertaining world that was a joy to dig around in.

If you’re in Los Angeles and looking for a game to play with your family… or you still have an inner child, consider this a strong recommendation for It’s a Doggy Dog World. 

In-game: an oversized doghouse.

Who is this for?

  • All ages
  • Dogs at heart
  • Active adventurers
  • Playful puzzlers
  • Scenery sniffers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t take themselves too seriously

Why play?

  • The amazing playful concept
  • Wonderful dog-inspired moments
  • A brilliant ending

Story

The mailman, our arch nemesis, had stolen our favorite ball. With our humans away, nothing could stop us from retrieving it.

In-game: a dog's view of a wood fence.

Setting

We were dogs escaping our home and yard. Everything was staged from a dog’s perspective, putting emphasis on the kinds of things a dog would fixate on.

The set itself had a homemade feel. Some parts looked unfinished; others looked dead-on.

Gameplay

Escapades LA’s It’s a Doggy Dog World was a standard escape room with an playful premise and a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ Escapades LA nailed whimsey in It’s a Doggy Dog World. The game was welcoming and playful. It was easy to get in character and know our role in the world.

It’s a Doggy Dog World was at its best when we were taking dog-like actions for dog reasons.

+ The scale and perspective of the set was smart.

– Some of the game shifted focus away from pure dog play. These moments were fine, but didn’t feel as inspired as when It’s a Doggy Dog World was laser-focused on what it was and who we were in the game.

+/- The set was uneven. Parts of it looked great. Parts looked unfinished. If felt like there were opportunities that weren’t fully realized.

– Some of Escapades LA’s tech was exposed and needed housing.

+ The ending was brilliant.

Tips for Visiting

  • Escapades LA has no relation to Escapade Games in Anaheim (the makers of the horror game, Zoe). These companies really couldn’t be more different if they tried.
  • There is street parking.
  • For food we recommend Republic of Pie.

Book your hour with Escapades LA’s It’s a Doggy Dog World, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapades LA comped our tickets for this game.

Interesting & Boring Escape Room Themes [Design Tips]

Put too many escape room enthusiasts in one place for too long and inevitably someone asks:

What escape room themes are you tired of seeing?

Recurring themes

There’s no shortage of common escape room themes:

  • Zombie apocalypse
  • Stop the bomb
  • Stop the disease or virus
  • Sherlock Holmes / generic detective
  • Bunker
  • Prison break
  • Spycraft something-or-other
  • Prohibition speakeasy
  • Ancient tomb raid
  • Surprise Satanism

This list can go on, but it doesn’t need to.

In-game a photo of a mundane set with a pair of white dressers. A globe and a lockbox rest atop the dressers.
There was nothing special about this.

Common themes aren’t the problem. There are good and bad executions of all of these themes. A great zombie escape room is still a great escape room even if I’m disappointed with how prevalent and persistent mindless hordes are in popular culture at large.

Eliminate the mundane

The themes that I’ve found inherently disappointing are the easily executed, humdrum, everyday life themes:

  • Apartments
  • Offices
  • College dorms
  • Hotel rooms

These are often themes of convenience and laziness. These themes give a creator license to buy crappy used furniture, tape posters on the wall, dump in a few puzzles, and start charging money.

Do the mundane creatively

If you want to create a dorm, do something creative with it. Build a world. 

Set it in the 1890s. Make it look authentic. Put the players in a secret society initiation where your group must puzzle out how to make an offering.

A shortcut to creating something interesting: combine two different ideas so that you aren’t executing one in a cliched manner. To illustrate the point, think of Star Wars as warrior monks in space.

Drawing of a centaur, half man, half horse.

Dead Air was a rock & roll radio station in the zombie apocalypse. The mixture of two different concepts paired with good execution gave birth to a creative, unique, and fantastic escape game.

Craft an experience

Your players are paying for an experience. Give them one.

Don’t throw them in a space that looks like a regular home. They live in one of those already.

Don’t ask them to pay to play in a space that looks like an office. They just left work.

Don’t sell the mundane priced as extraordinary.

Choose to provide your players with an amazing adventure in a cohesive and exciting world. Mind the details. Your puzzles, set, hint system, and story should all be part of this fantastic world and make sense within it.

Damn near any theme can be made interesting as long as you’re willing to put in the creative effort.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.

I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.

The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.

A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.

Analysis

+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.

– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.

+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.

+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.

– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.

– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.

+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.

+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)

– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.

– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.