15 Locks – Escape the Manor [Review]

Haunting darkness.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Elrich, a polite and friendly ghost, had been cursed and trapped in his manor. We had to work our way through the darkness, armed with just a few flashlights, to free him from his imprisonment.

Set in a Victorian-esque office, Escape the Manor’s defining characteristic was darkness. It was mildly creepy, but not frightening or threatening. With 6 players, we found fewer light sources than we had teammates.

In-game: A dimly lit room with a large victorian desk.
Objects in image are better lit than in-game.

Puzzles

The greatest challenge we faced was lighting, particularly scavenging without it. The puzzling felt more like a secondary obstacle. That said, most of the puzzles were fun to work through… once we found them.

A fair amount of Escape the Manor was technology-driven, which is 15 Locks’ focus. Those interactions were the most satisfying parts of the game.

Standouts

The opening moments of the game were innovative.

The atmosphere worked well and accomplished its mission.

The tech was satisfying.

An in-character hinting system added ambiance and fun to the Escape the Manor.

Shortcomings

Lighting was a problem. Having to find our light sources, and then not having enough throughout the game, brought down the energy of the entire team. Players with lights felt like they were robbing others of a good time. Players without lights struggled to feel useful. In the end, it led to a lot of light exchanging which prevented anyone from achieving a solid flow state.

One particularly misleading puzzle looked like a logic puzzle, but was not. It seemed like a great opportunity to offer two different paths to a solution.

Should I play 15 Locks’ Escape the Manor?

Escape the Manor nailed so much. The setup and opening of the game, in particular, were exceptional.

The trouble with Escape the Manor was that it became pretty player unfriendly at times, especially with 6 people in the room. I cannot even imagine how frustrated we would have been at the game’s ticket capacity of 8.

Escape the Manor was at its best when it leaned on technology-driven puzzling and the atmosphere created by the set. I think it would have been incredible if the lighting challenges were greatly reduced and another serious puzzle or two were introduced.

In its current state, I recommend it to beginners and experienced players alike… so long as the team is small. There’s a smart game in Escape the Manor, but it cannot adequately support a large group.

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

Full disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Commando Lock – Marine Brass 38 [Padlock Review]

This Commando is a killer lock.

Manufacturer: Commando Locks

Lock Type: Keyed padlock

Price: $24.75 (prices may vary based on seller and configuration)

Why test this lock?

tl;dr (too long; didn’t read): Escape rooms are a difficult environment for locks, and the Marine Brass 38 was designed harsh environments.

Padlocks aren’t typically designed to be opened a dozen times a day. They tend to age quickly and seize up from the overuse of an escape room.

The Marine Brass 38 was designed specifically for use on boats and docks, a different harsh environment. Between the moisture and salt, locks don’t usually fare well near water. This is why I decided to grab one to test for escape room usage.

Commando Lock Marine Brass closeup of the lock, visible through the shackle is the key blurred in the backround.

Aesthetics

tl;dr: The Marine Brass 38 has a simple, lightly branded, largely timeless look.

The Marine Brass 38 is built from thin interlocking pieces of laminated brass. Its body is dense and solid. Its shackle is a boron steel alloy. The lock has barely any branding on it.

It has a simple, clean, and classic look. Out of the box, it is bright and shiny, but it will quickly darken with handling.

The brass aesthetic makes it easily visible in a room. It doesn’t suffer from the in-your-face branding that makes many of the more common locks feel out of place in historical rooms. It doesn’t look ancient, but it doesn’t look overtly modern either.

The brass keys look like they belong with the lock.

The Commando Lock Marine Brass and it's key in comparison to a quarter.

Mechanism

tl;dr: The Marine Brass 38 works smoothly. It is less likely to break than most of your common escape room locks.

The lock’s dead core means that the cylinder holds no spring tension. Similarly, the shackle and locking mechanism have no spring tension. As a result, the key takes nearly no pressure to turn. Once unlocked, the lock simply falls open. Everything is smooth.

This lack of tension reduces the amount of kinetic energy being transferred between the various lock components. Additionally, with fewer moving parts in the lock, there is less that can go wrong.

The Commando Lock Marine Brass unlocked. The shackle has the curved cutouts that indicate that it locks with ball bearings.

Security

You can skip this section if you’re only interested in escape room usage.

The Marine Brass 38 is a 5-pin lock. All of the pins are security pins (alternating serrated / spool pins). The keyway is narrow and paracentric (curved) like a European keyway. I can pick and rake it open (because the lock I have has fairly level pinning), but it certainly takes a lot more effort than any other lock I have found in the price range.

The shackle is held shut with ball bearings that prevent shimming.

The back of the keyway is shielded. I could not find any methods of bypassing, nor did I find anyone publishing information about possible bypasses.

Knowing that Master Lock No.1 – 4 can take a bullet, I have no doubt that this similarly designed Commando Lock can as well.

Dimensions

Lock Dimensions: 3 x 1.625 x 0.875 (inches)

Shackle Diameter: 0.5 (inches)

Shackle Height: 1.5 (inches)

Key Dimensions: 1.75 x 0.875 (inches)

The Commando Lock Marine Brass's keyway is tight and paracentric.

Should I buy Commando Lock’s Marine Brass 38?

Manufacturing in Michigan, Commando Lock Company does a mindbogglingly good job of producing a high-quality, low-cost product. I keep hearing that it can’t be done in America, but damn it, they did it.

I’ve picked and opened this Marine Brass 38 somewhere in the realm of 500 times and it still opens like the day I pulled it from the box. This is not the case with the Master Locks that I own, which stick and seize up with regular use.

I feel confident recommending this lock for escape rooms because it truly feels up to the task.

Additionally, for this price, this is a strong lock to secure your belongings. While the Marine Brass 38 cannot compare to true high security locks which will run $150.00 at the very least, this Commando Lock is a bargain at ~$25.00. Buy one today.

(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).

Niagara / Buffalo, NY: Room Escape Recommendations

Latest update: 26 March 2017

This list will be updated whenever we travel to Buffalo/Niagara Falls.

We know that a lot of folks are looking for the “best” escape rooms to play. While we think that best is relative, we also realize that people want firm recommendations.

Here are our recommendations for games in the Buffalo, NY and the Niagara Falls region. Since we like nuance, they are broken out into categories.

Mosaic photo of 6 buffalo wings sitting atop an ornately decorated plate upon a wood table.

Standouts

These are the escape rooms that are raising the bar for the region.

Intensity

These will get your blood pumping.

Set and scenery driven

These escape rooms take you to another world.

Puzzle-y

These escape rooms demonstrate a puzzling focus.

Beginner-friendly

Bring your inexperienced friends to these welcoming room escapes with solid game-flow and approachable puzzles.

Large Team

This room escape will keep an entire team involved throughout.

Things to know before visiting

Ride share

While Uber/Lyft do operate in Niagara Falls Canada, ride share apps are not available in Buffalo. You will need a car to get around.

Passport

If you’re planning to cross the border between the United States and Canada, you need a valid passport or enhanced drivers license (if you aren’t sure if you have one, you don’t).

Buffalo wings

… they are legitimately better in Buffalo than they are throughout the rest of the country. Hit up Anchor Bar or Duffs.

Captive – Dracula’s Library [Review]

Draining.

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Date played: January 22, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: 25 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

Set in 1862, we were a team of investigators on the hunt for the most famous of vampires in New Orleans. Could we find the proof we needed to expose Dracula before he learned of our intrusion and ended our story?

The set looked like the vague idea of New Orleans had collided with an Ikea catalogue.

Captive's stylized "C" logo.

Puzzles

The main thrust of Dracula’s Library was hunting and searching. Both times we called for hints, it was because of an obscure search failure. We spent the bulk of our 45-minute time in the room escape hunting for minute details. I think we escaped with 15 seconds to spare.

There wasn’t a lot to find, but it was hard to find everything.

Standouts

Our gamemaster had a wonderful delivery of the rules and story. She was engaging and excellent at her job.

Shortcomings

We had to fully interact with some large pieces of furniture. None of the furniture that required heavy interaction was sturdy, on wheels, or properly secured.

With no in-game monitoring, in order to give us a hint, our lovely gamemaster had to climb a set of stairs and have a conversation with us about our progress.

There weren’t enough handheld lights to go around for the moments that needed them. We found ourselves working harder to choreograph the passing of lights than we did working through puzzles.

The puzzling wasn’t compelling or fun.

Should I play Captive’s Dracula’s Library?

Dracula’s Library seemed great before we entered:

An energetic and engaged gamemaster: ✔

A historical setting in America’s true Sin City: ✔

An mythic mystery to unravel: ✔

High stakes: ✔

Unfortunately Dracula’s Library collapsed within the first few minutes. There was a stunning lack of depth and some bizarre design choices that bordered on safety concerns. Dracula’s Library wasn’t an easy game, but it was hard in all the wrong ways.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Last Minute Escape – The Submarine [Review]

It might have been a bit of a dive, but much was hidden in its depths.

Location: Montclair, NJ

Date played: February 27, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $100 per team during the week with additional costs for larger teams & $30.50 per person on weekends

Story & setting

It was 194-blah in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our submarine was under attack and all of the personnel who actually knew how to operate the critical systems were incapacitated. It was up to our ragtag group of know-nothings to figure out how to operate the boat, sink a Japanese ship, and save our crewmen. The story didn’t make a lot of sense, but Last Minute Escape didn’t take the story too seriously either.

In-game: A submarine door with a radiation warning. Through the porthole is a depth controller.

The set design had its up and downs. Everything was handmade and a little hacked together. Many individual interactions looked good, but the rooms themselves didn’t always feel cohesive or part of a submarine. A lot of it was clever… even when it wasn’t convincing.

The Submarine had a great logo.

The Submarine logo has the name in a heavy font with the silhouette of a submarine.

Puzzles

Last Minute Escape truly shined in the puzzling . They assembled a challenging collection of team-oriented escape room puzzles.

Some puzzles were analog while others were tech-driven. Nearly every puzzle demanded multiple people to solve. This is a difficult to achieve and too often overlooked facet of escape room design that Last Minute Escape nailed.

Standouts

The Submarine was built for collaborative puzzling and it truly achieved that.

The puzzles were satisfying, challenging, and fun. Everyone on our team had at least one moment of triumph.

While the room escape didn’t always look amazing or make a ton of sense, Last Minute Escape used what they had to create some honestly triumphant moments.

In-game: The depth controller, a door, with a car steering wheel painted silver.

Epiphany in puzzle design is a tough thing to create, especially in the escape room format. However, I found that The Submarine repeatedly achieved it. Early in the room escape we found so many things that simply didn’t make sense that I actually started off a little frustrated. As the game progressed, however, we started to make the connections. It felt so rewarding to solve these little mysteries that had originally made no sense whatsoever and then in a flash became incredibly clear.

Shortcomings

The Submarine’s soundtrack was loud enough that it interfered with the gameplay.

There were tons of details in The Submarine and managing them relied heavily on labeling, which wasn’t always clear; in one instance it simply wasn’t there.

We encountered a little bit of prop failure, which added a fair amount of confusion into the late-game experience.

In once section of the room escape, we needed to derive a series of answers and administer them all at once. Frequently, there was no way to verify them, short of the gamemaster hinting which one was incorrect. This didn’t present an issue for us, but I can easily imagine a number of scenarios where it could seriously hamper gameplay.

The story didn’t make much sense and there was no attempt to ground the game in any historical reality. The room escape was set on a nuclear sub (which didn’t exist in WWII) and the props were a hodgepodge of anachronistic naval/military items.

Should I play Last Minute Escape’s The Submarine?

The Submarine was fun, weird, and challenging. It was an energizing game for our experienced players. It offered a level of puzzling that we don’t often encounter and that puzzling was implemented with nuance and finesse.

For these same reasons, I do not recommend The Submarine for newbies. The emphasis on challenging puzzles that require careful observation and clever connections could lead to an especially frustrating experience for those who aren’t at least a little comfortable in an escape room environment. Additionally, the lack of focus on story and environmental design would make it more difficult for newbies to even see the brilliance of The Submarine, and there was a lot of brilliance.

Escape room enthusiasts: If you’re in it for the puzzling, I highly recommend you pay Last Minute Escape a visit and see how deep you can dive.

Book your hour with Last Minute Escape’s The Submarine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Last Minute Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Haus – Game Suite [Review]

Hey! Uncle Milton! Thanks for the free parking!

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

Our tabletop game-creating Uncle Milton has passed away. If we can win one final game that he has left for us, he will bequeath his board game fortune to us. If we lose, his estate will be donated to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Built entirely around tabletop and casino games, Game Suite was less visually impactful than the other offerings at Escape Haus. It was cute but pretty sparse.

In game: A one armed bandit slot machine rests in the foreground. A massive chess board is built into the floor.

Puzzles

Game Suite was not the puzzliest of games. There was a fair amount of searching, some deciphering, and quite a bit of counting.

One puzzle was seriously clever; solving it felt like a triumph.

Standouts

Escape Haus did a great job of incorporating a lot of tabletop games into Game Suite. Nearly every puzzle was born of a game.

In game: a card table with a game of poker in progress sits in the foreground, assorted games and gaming related things reside in the background.

Everything was clearly clued and cleanly executed, even when it wasn’t immediately obvious.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster reference was an exceptional detail.

Shortcomings

The puzzling wasn’t particularly strong. Some of the more task-based interactions overstayed their welcome.

A large set piece wasn’t relevant to the game.

Game Suite didn’t look or feel like it had much gravity.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Game Suite?

Cute and entertaining, Game Suite’s setup had us laughing.

While it wasn’t Escape Haus’ best looking, most challenging, or most compelling game, it was still fun to play.

Game Suite was a solid beginner game; it was player-friendly and unintimidating. Experienced players could sit this one out.

That said, Game Suite would be an exceptional game for families with children. Many of the tasks that turned me off would be perfect for kids.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Game Suite, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Premier Escape Rooms – Table 4 2 [Review]

A glass of wine and a cigar.

Location: San Antonio, TX

Date played: January 7, 2017

Team size: 2; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $63.60 per team

Story & setting

It’s your typical love story: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl go out on a date to the local Italian restaurant. Ants cut the restaurant’s power, locking them in. It happens all the time.

Played in part in darkness, Table 4 2 was about the size of a small walk-in closet and lightly decorated to look like an intimate Italian restaurant. Visually, there wasn’t a lot going on.

In-game: A table with a red & white checkered table cloth and two chairs. A bowl of fruit and cheese along with a pair of candle sticks rest atop the table.

Puzzles

Designed for two players, Table 4 2 wasn’t overflowing with puzzles, but it didn’t need to be.

It had a typical escape room feel with scavenging, deductive connection building, and a bit of reasoning.

The first half of the game was a lot more cohesive than the latter portion.

Standouts

We rarely find games designed for two players; I love that Premier Escape Rooms created one with some leftover space.

The first half of the game was straightforward and enjoyable.

There was a simple physical interaction that was well built and far more satisfying to complete than it probably should have been.

Shortcomings

The second half of the game wasn’t as cohesive as the first half. The clue structure became a little more haphazard and it built to an ending that didn’t feel particularly satisfying.

Aesthetically, the space felt like an Italian restaurant only in the most abstract way.

Premier Escape Rooms built a solid tech interaction into Table 4 2. However this interaction was tied to a puzzle that didn’t feel anywhere near as satisfying as it could have.

This last bit of criticism wasn’t really Premier Escape Rooms’ fault: Table 4 2’s far wall butts up against a neighboring cigar shop and the game smelled of cigar smoke. I know some folks enjoy that smell, but we’re not among that group. Maybe a HEPA filter would help?

Should I play Premier Escape Rooms Table 4 2?

I cannot claim that Table 4 2 brought a lot of excitement. Its draw is the 2-player, private experience. For a pair of less experienced players, I think it’s a good, intimate room escape.

If you’re experienced players, take a pass unless you’re really keen on playing something small with a partner.

Book your hour with Premier Escape Rooms Table 4 2, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Join us at the Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference

We’re giving Tuesday’s only free seminar at the Transworld Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference. And that’s not all…

Transworld Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference Logo

There are going to be a ton of great speakers including:

  • Matthew DuPlessie, 5Wits
  • Dave Ferrier, Trapped PHL
  • Shawn Fischtein, Escape Games Canada
  • Elisabeth Garson, Steel Owl Productions
  • Nate Martin, Puzzle Break
  • Anthony Purzycki, Trap Door
  • Room Escape Divas

There are many more whom I haven’t heard speak, but I think will have something interesting to say, including:

  • Nicole Ginsburg, Escape The Estate
  • Marty Parker, Room Escape Adventures
  • Brian Warner, Evilusions

Buffalo / Niagara reviews

If you’re planning to attend, check out our in depth coverage of the Buffalo / Niagara region escape rooms.

A reminder to all: You need a passport or enhanced license (if you aren’t sure if you have one, you don’t) to cross the border into Canada (or the US). This is worth noting because the escape rooms in Niagara Falls, Canada are very close to the conference.

Our talk

Goldi-lock-ing Your Escape Room Business: Learn the Difference between Magnificent, Average, and Tragic Escape Room Design

We want to help you understand the tangible differences in execution between escape rooms.

We’re going to do this by looking at common interactions in escape room design and walk you through some of the differences that set apart the best and worst that we’ve seen in our approximately 300 games as reviewers.

We’re going to talk about all of the greatest hits:

  • Locks
  • Blacklights
  • Gamemastering
  • Books
  • Trap doors
  • Customer service
  • … and more

Bring your questions and an open mind. We’re here to help.

The panel we’re moderating

Co-Working, Co-Existing… and THRIVING!

Speakers:

  • Mindy & Davy Plaisance, Rise Escape Rooms
  • Dwayne Sanburn, 13th Gate Escape
  • Megan Mouton, Clue Carre
  • Moderators: David & Lisa Spira

A panel of top room escape companies talk about co-existing, working together and operating nationally-renowned escape room games.

This panel will cost $50 per person if you pre-register or $55 per person if you register at the conference.

Our booth

We don’t yet have the details, but we’ll have a booth.

Come find us, we’d love to chat.

Get your tickets for the Niagara Room Escape Conference, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Perplexity – Perplexity Lab #42 [Review]

The answer to the universe?

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per ticket

Story & setting

Our lab partner called in sick on the very day that emergency decontamination triggered. We had an hour to find his half of our research and escape before the incinerator toasted our lab.

Perplexity Lab #42 was a sterile, white, lab-ish environment filled with puzzles of a science-y nature.

A glove holding a vial of yellow liquid.
Image via Perplexity.

Puzzles

Puzzles were the focus of Perplexity Lab #42.

With a little physics, a little bio, and a little chemistry, there were a lot of tangible grade school science-based puzzles to solve.

Standouts

With a bit of science magic, Perplexity Lab #42 had a great puzzling moment. It was a simple solve, but excellent execution.

Perplexity did a good job of keeping things tactile.

Perplexity Lab #42 had a number of strong implementations of more typical escape room style puzzles.

Shortcomings

Among the specimens kept in the lab, the selection of red herrings was breathtaking.

There was quite a bit of unnecessary reading material included in the name of realism. We had one person burn a lot of time exploring this redundant and largely useless material.

The set looked like purgatory. It was flat white and while it did have a lab feel to it, it wasn’t inspiring.

One rather clever puzzle suffered from some issues of readability and orientation.

The conclusion wasn’t particularly satisfying.

Should I play Perplexity’s Perplexity Lab #42?

If you’re looking for a puzzle-centric game, Perplexity Lab #42 has some excellent puzzle offerings. Tangible and creative, there’s plenty of challenge worth exploring.

The catch with Perplexity Lab #42 was that its red herrings, usability issues, bland environment, and reading material merged to create some tedium that hamstrung the experience.

While it wasn’t easy, it was certainly beginner-friendly and also offered enough puzzle intrigue to keep experienced folks entertained.

Book your hour with Perplexity’s Perplexity Lab #42, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Perplexity comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Escape the Estate – The Hideout [Review]

Those mobsters and their puzzles.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: January 20, 2017

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $15 per ticket

Story & setting

In a cabin behind the Hotel Whitmore (the fictional setting of all Escape the Estate games), Prohibition-era mobsters have hidden their loot. We had 20 minutes to find the valuables before the police or the gangsters returned.

The set was a small wood cabin in the back of the Escape Estate’s former Petco retail space. We had to break into the cabin and then puzzle our way to the loot.

It was an adorable, little space.

In-game: The exterior of a wood cabin. The door is chained shut, and the window blackened. A sign reads,

Puzzles

While The Hideout was a short game in a tight space, it required a surprising amount of searching. It was amazing how much could be hidden in such a small area.

There were only a few puzzles, but one of them took a little bit of doing.

Standouts

The Hideout, like all other games at Escape the Estate , was gamemastered by an in-character and in-costume bellhop. Our gamemaster was never in the way. The character was used to introduce the game and as a general presence outside of the cabin, adding a wonderfully whimsical flavor to the experience.

Breaking into the cabin to get the game going was an excellent way to start the adventure.

The exterior of the cabin looked great.

Escape the Estate managed to do a lot with a small space.

Shortcomings

The Hideout was a little heavy on searching and light on puzzling for my taste.

The technology used in the game telegraphed some of the puzzle solutions. While this won’t be evident to newbies, experienced players and techies could reverse engineer some puzzle solutions.

Some of the important props lacked heft and felt like toys in an environment that was otherwise robust. Granted, given their original location in the cabin, more heft might have been dangerous. I’d recommend reworking one segment so that The Hideout‘s props can all feel like they belong there.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Hideout?

I love when an escape room company looks at a small corner and decides to turn it into an intimate little game.

The Hideout was small, but dynamic. It had two sets, searching, and puzzles. It looked good. While I think a small space is more conducive to a more puzzley experience than a searching one, I cannot argue with the results.

Escape the Estate’s The Hideout was small, challenging, and fun. I wouldn’t visit them explicitly to play it, but if you’re already playing one of their other full-length games, you’d be wise to tack on this 20-minute adventure.

Book your session with Escape the Estate’s The Hideout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.