Stream the Themed Entertainment – National Design Competition

Last month I had the chance to run a private webcast for some of the college students participating in the Themed Entertainment Association’s National Design Competition.

These students were given 7 weeks to design and build an original 500-square-foot escape room… and they could only work in teams of 1 or 2.

TEA NextGen's multi-colored logo.

During the conversation, they asked many great questions. I had set aside 45 minutes to talk to them and we ended up talking shop for 90 minutes.

Stream the Event

The presentations will happen on Friday, April 26th at noon Pacific (3pm Eastern). The awards are scheduled for 3:30pm Pacific.

You’ll be able to stream this on YouTube Live:

I genuinely have no idea what to expect, as based on their questions I only have vague ideas of what some of these students were hoping to create… but I am excited to see what they have produced.

What’s TEA NextGen?

According the organization’s website, “The NextGen Initiative of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) helps students and recent graduates find their way into the themed entertainment/ visitor attractions industry and facilitates TEA member companies’ ability to recruit from this fresh talent pool.”

For more information, check out TEA’s website.

Enchambered – Containment Breach [Review]

Concrete, steel, and puzzles.

Location:  Sacramento, California

Date Played: February 24, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Containment Breach was Enchambered’s first foray into escape rooms. It was a strong initial outing.

A solid, fairly traditional puzzle game, Containment Breach offered some good group solves in a detailed but dim set. The lighting was especially low, and we couldn’t really do anything without a flashlight… which grew old.

In-game: a large piece of metal machinery in a heavily worn concrete bunker.

Since creating this game, Enchambered has produced some truly outstanding experiences in The Whispering Halls and The Legend of the Skull Witch. Those games are the reason to visit Enchambered. Containment Breach, by comparison, was an optional add-on.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A detailed set
  • Some interesting puzzles and interactions

Story

Decades ago, Doctor Henry Rosenburg had built a device that instantly teleported matter. During his first attempt at demonstrating his creation, it had malfunctioned and Rosenburg had disappeared after the ensuing radiation leak rendered his lab uninhabitable.

Now that the radiation levels had dropped to tolerable levels, we went in to investigate what had happened.

In-game: A PA mounted near the ceiling of the bunker. There's a sign warning of surveillance.

Setting 

Enchambered’s first escape game was a bunker.

The dimly lit set was filled with the kind of texture and weathering details that showed the environment was created by someone who cared.

In-game: closeup of a desk with strange schematics beside a large piece of equipment

Gameplay

Enchambered’s Containment Breach was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: a large, weathered, yellow metal door with a strange locking mechanism.

Analysis

➕ The dim, detailed, and weathered set looked like a convincing lab/ bunker hybrid.

➖ We spent a lot of time searching in low light. It was annoying to play the entire game with a flashlight in hand.

➕ The props felt bulky and real. The gameplay was tangible. It frequently encouraged collaborative solves.

➖ There were tons of papers that we didn’t need and would likely be needless red herrings to less experienced players.

➕ In one instance, Containment Breach taught use how to use a prop through the gameplay. In a game with solid, yet standard puzzle play, this puzzle was especially well thought out so that players would build mastery and have a sense of accomplishment.

➖ All solves led to a 4-digit lock. There were a lot of locks and they weren’t correlated to the puzzles. We ended up trying every derived code in lots of places, which slowed momentum, especially early on.

➖ While there clearly was a story, we struggled to follow it. The story got lost amid puzzles.

➕ We particularly enjoyed the solves that required teamwork.

➕ We truly respect Enchambered’s tiered pricing. Containment Breach was their oldest game, and tickets for it were less expensive than tickets for their newer games. This improved the value of the experience. More escape room companies should adopt this approach to pricing.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Thai Terrace for a meal before/after your game.

Book your hour with Enchambered’s Containment Breach , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enchambered provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Family – Castle Adventure [Review]

Fun for all ages.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played: February 25, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23.43 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We had a ball in Castle Adventure. This family-friendly game worked for all ages and experience levels.

We energetically worked through puzzles to earn balls that we had to toss into a goal to earn points. Our objective wasn’t to win or lose, but to earn enough points to land ourselves a medal. (We won gold!)

Escape Room Family provides fun for all ages. The challenges in Castle Adventure varied widely in difficulty… which was great because there was so much to do.

In-game: An assortment of puzzles and armaments in Defend The Castle.

Escape Room Family was a testament to the power of structure. By splitting the game into 2 30-minute segments, shifting the objective, and putting a us in a bright and friendly environment, Castle Adventure felt like an entirely different experience… even though it was very much an escape room.

If you’re anywhere near Cincinnati, Escape Room Family’s Castle Adventure is a must play, whether or not you’re with your family.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Approachable, interactive puzzles
  • Tangible interactions
  • The scoring mechanism
  • To win a medal

Story

Castle Adventure was a two-part game. In one segment, we defended a castle from within its walls; in the other we attacked a castle from the outside.

These two acts could be played in either order.

In-game: A shot of Attack The Castle's set, a painted castle wall behind a tent.

Setting

Castle Adventure consisted of two different 30-minute escape games: Attack The Castle & Defend The Castle. We had a short break between the two to grab a cup of water or buy candy and juice boxes in the lobby.

Both castle environments were bright and friendly containers for puzzles and challenges. The sets were covered in props and set dressing that abstractly and non-threateningly conveyed the notion that we were playing a medieval castle game.

In-game: Some of Attack The Castle's colorful physically tangible puzzles.

Gameplay

Escape Room Family’s Castle Adventure was an atypical escape room. The two-part staging with the break in the middle – designed to cater to children and families – was unusual.

It had a score-based system. Teams don’t need to complete all the puzzles to succeed at Castle Adventure. It’s less about winning and losing and more about achieving a high enough score to earn a medal.

Solving puzzles earned us foam balls that we had to then toss into the scoring basket.

In-game: The score track with a large basket at the top between two thrones.

Castle Adventure had a varied level of difficulty. While there were certainly challenging puzzles, there were also fun tasks that weren’t hard at all.

In-game: Closeup of the score track filled to 500 points with balls.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, unlocking, and tossing balls into the goal.

Analysis

Castle Adventure was bright, open, and welcoming. It had minimal set decor, but it was definitely a castle. The abstract look worked well.

➕ The puzzles in Castle Adventure encouraged teamwork. We usually needed or wanted multiple people to work together on a puzzle. Escape Room Family built some unusual mechanisms to facilitate this.

➖ Escape Room Family built a lot of custom props and set pieces for Castle Adventure. Some of these lacked durability. Higher build quality would go a long way to making sure these games continue to look good and play well over time.

➕ It was fun to unlock a solve in Castle Adventure with the beautiful, hefty keys. We loved this unlocking mechanic. With each key open, we could experience the excitement of solving a puzzle twice.

➕ We increased our score as we solved puzzles. The scoring mechanic added physicality for high energy kids and a familiarity for kids who might be shy to approach the escape room puzzles. We could track our progress as we played.

➕ When you win at Escape Room Family, you get a medal. You can return and play again to try to win a medal of another color. These prizes were a nice touch.

In-game: Closeup of the schore track showing how many points we needed to earn a silver or gold medal.

❓ Escape Room Family was a part of The Seven Forces, which also operates Cincinnati Escape Room and The Summons. Some puzzle types repeated across the different games we played at these companies. While the solutions may be different, the aha moment didn’t exist a second time. Since The Seven Forces targets different audiences at their different locations, most players won’t encounter this issue.

Castle Adventure was almost entirely non-linear. We could approach almost any puzzle at any time. Escape Room Family didn’t offer hints, but they didn’t need to. There was always plenty to work on and teams don’t need to solve every puzzle to win a medal. (We didn’t solve one puzzle and its corresponding metapuzzle).

➖ We found a particular portion of Defend The Castle especially challenging and would have preferred to play it as our second round.

➕ We loved the frantic moments that Castle Adventure dropped on us. It was frenetic, silly, and a delightful way to close out each round.

➕ The break between the 30-minute rooms made a lot of sense. A hour can be a long time for kids. Escape Room Family games build in a snack and bathroom break. This structure also enables Escape Room Family to entertain larger groups, such as birthday parties, by splitting the group between the two episodes and then swapping them for the second half. Escape Room Family also has a video feed of the games in their lobby so that additional family and friends can watch from outside the room. I imagine it’s exciting to be hanging out in the lobby as a group plays the final minute of Castle Adventure.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • While Escape Room Family is geared toward kids and families, we played as 4 adults and we had a ton of fun. You don’t need to be a family to enjoy this style of escape room.

Book your hour with Escape Room Family’s Castle Adventure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Room Family comped our tickets for this game.

Chained: A Victorian Nightmare – [Review]

The Ghost of Dickens’ Future.

Location:  New York City, NY

Date Played: March 14, 2019

Team size: 1

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $60 for Chained or $150 for Chained + The Story Arcade

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Chained: A Victorian Nightmare was an elegant mixed-reality experience that blended live acting and VR into a personalized reimagining of A Christmas Carol.

I really enjoyed it. I’ve thought about it a lot since experiencing it (evidence can be found in my dramatic overthinking of one portion, which you’ll find scrawled across the tail end of the Analysis section.)

The promo art for Chained: A Victorian Nightmare features an ornate door with a wolf's head knocker.

This experience ran right along the edge of what we cover here on Room Escape Artist. It didn’t involve puzzles or gameplay… but I did have agency, and the experience was different because I was the participant versus someone else. Those differences were small or exclusively existed in my own head… but I was the sole participant, so we’re going to count it.

My biggest knock against Chained was the price. At $60 for 15 minutes, I’m not sure that it’s worth it for most people… which is a shame, because it really was a beautiful, intimate, and personal experience. Solo experiences can get expensive.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for people who like their experiences packed with feels
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic live acting
  • Wonderful VR
  • It was thought- and feeling- provoking

Story

I stepped into my own Dickensian nightmare in the spirit of A Christmas Carol.

Setting

Chained: A Victorian Nightmare was a mixed reality experience that opened and closed in a small, beautifully designed real world set. The bulk of the experience took place in VR.

I think that there were 2 actors involved (although I’d be lying if I said that I knew for certain how many people were in the space with me). The actors were fantastic.

Gameplay

Chained: A Victorian Nightmare didn’t really have gameplay. It asked questions, demanded responses, and then left me to figure out what it meant to me.

Analysis

Chained: A Victorian Nightmare was a stellar representation of mixed reality. The use of real life and digital spaces was about as strong as anything that I’ve ever seen.

➕/➖ The transition points – where the VR headset was put on and removed – were about as smooth as possible. It’s not really possible, given current technology, to do this elegantly, but they made it as simple as I can imagine strapping a television and speakers to my head can be.

➕ The acting was phenomenal. The performances were sincere and haunting.

➕ The choice of source material and subject matter was really smart. Casting the participant in the position of Scrooge and then creating nightmares to force reflection was a clever way to quickly take me on an emotional journey.

❓ They asked some seriously personal questions. While I’m sure that they had a way to deal with a participant not answering, it really felt like I had to give a response. This didn’t bother me, but I know some people who would be uncomfortable or perturbed by this.

❓ Spoiler Warning: In the experience, they posed the question “What do you miss most about being a child?” This question has been nagging at me, because I think that I lied… but I also don’t know what the true answer to it is. It’s possible that it’s just me, but this one question feels really difficult to pin down a single answer to.

“Childhood” is a really long span of time to choose one thing from. I’m also not sure when childhood begins and ends. I can think of a dozen different moments where I could say that “I stopped being a child” and none of them are completely true or false. It’s a gradual thing. While I’m certain that I’m an adult today, I don’t know when it happened or what it even means.

➖ Chained: A Victorian Nightmare was really expensive. $60 is a lot to ask for a 15-20 minute experience.

➕ There was a lovely post-experience cool down, which was a great addition because things got a bit heavy.

Tips For Visiting

Booking is not always available. I experienced Chained: A Victorian Nightmare at its FoST exhibit at the New York City Story Arcade Pop-Up. I don’t know when or where it will be available next..

If it comes to your city, book your session with Chained: A Victorian Nightmare, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you

Disclosure: Chained: A Victorian Nightmare comped our tickets for this game.

What Does REA Cover?

Where is the line between what we will and won’t cover on Room Escape Artist?

We’ve grappled with this quite a bit over the years. Sometimes it’s really simple and straightforward. Sometimes it has required a lot more thought.

Many umbrellas open and hovering between buildings.

Escape Rooms

Ok, this one is a no-brainer. If it’s an escape room or relevant news about the industry, it’s our bread and butter.

I’m not going to belabor this.

Experiences

We love immersive theatre, conventional theatre, and magic. We don’t write up these experiences, however, unless they meet some specific criteria.

The questions that we ask ourselves are:

  • Did we have agency?
  • Was the experience different because one of us was in it, instead of if someone else had bought that ticket?
  • Should the escape room community be aware of it?

If we don’t have agency and the experience was so on rails that substituting different participants would have zero impact on the show, then it’s not for us… unless we feel that the experience is doing something that escape room people should know about.

If it’s purely immersive theatre, then it’s the territory of our friends over at No Proscenium.

Puzzles

If it’s puzzley, we’re interested. We might not cover it, however, because there are lots of puzzles in the world, but we’re down to investigate it.

That said, we tend to steer clear of some of the more extreme or specialized puzzles and experiences. We might occasionally write about this kind of stuff, but there are more knowledgeable and experienced people writing about crossword puzzles or puzzle hunts like The MIT Mystery Hunt.

Tabletop Games

We’ll cover tabletop puzzle experiences… or tabletop games that really feel like puzzles. We also cover tabletop escape games, a growing category of tabletop games.

We’re big board gamers, but we don’t write about them often unless they meet the criteria above.

Video Games

Video games are great… but whether or not we will cover them comes down to how much puzzle content is in them.

Sensory Mysteries

We started reviewing mystery flavor stuff mostly as a joke… but people seem to enjoy the content. While we usually hate the flavors of this stuff, we do have a lot of fun writing about them.

All Subject To Change

We’ll continue covering what we enjoy writing about and what people seem to respond to when we publish it.

We’ve evolved quite a bit over the past few years. I’m quite confident that much of this will change over the coming years.

It’s important to define what we are and what we aren’t. This is where we are today (1,222 blog posts over 4.5 years).

Speaking at the Escape Summit in Ontario, Canada

👋 Canadians.

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be delivering a talk on day 2 of The Escape Summit, a conference for escape room professionals.

Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling alone as Lisa has other commitments… so I’ll only be speaking with half of our collective brain.

Escape Summit logo featuring a key in two conversation bubbles.

Details

  • Fleming College
  • 599 Brealey Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B1, Canada
  • May 27-28, 2019

My Talk

The Player Perspective

“In this talk, David Spira of RoomEscapeArtist.com will provide context and recommendations for anyone opening or operating an escape room business in 2019. People enter escape rooms from a diverse array of backgrounds. This talk will cover how the bar has been raised in this industry and pitfalls you need to look out for. It will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds; painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go. “

Other Speakers

Our dear friends Errol and Manda of the Room Escape Divas will each deliver talks. (If Errol doesn’t sing something, I’ll be disappointed.)

One of my favorite escape game designers, Rob Leveille from The Crux Escape Rooms, will be giving a talk as well. I’m a bit sad that we’re scheduled for the same slot because I would have liked to hear his talk… such is conference life.

There are a number of other knowledgeable folks speaking as well. It should be a great time.

Call For Teammates?

I’m trying to put together a dense schedule of games in the greater Toronto area on Sunday, May 26th.

If teaming up with me sounds like something that you’d be interested in… drop a comment or send me a message.

I hope to see you next month.

Ravensburger – Submarine Escape Puzzle [Review]

Puzzle shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

With a vibrant look, Submarine stood out aesthetically among the first wave of Ravensburger Escape Puzzles.

From a puzzle solving standpoint, this installment pretty much nailed it… except for one noteworthy issue: a puzzle that didn’t quite resolve correctly. While this didn’t break the game, if this were your first attempt at an Escape Puzzle, it would be a harsh and confounding ending.

If you’ve already enjoyed an Escape Puzzles or 2, Submarine would be fantastic. Just watch out for a bit of confusion near the conclusion and you’ll have a good time.

An assortment of unconnected jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Ravensburger Escape Puzzle Overview.

Story

While wandering the harbor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we’d happened upon an old man and his submarine. He’d previously used the boat to explore wrecks, but he’d grown too old for sea adventures and had offered the sub to us. We’d accepted and he explained its inner workings to us… but we’d been bored by this.

As soon as we’d pulled away from the dock, something broke and we sank to the bottom of the sea. We had to figure out what to do to survive.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a shark, and fish swimming around a wreck.
Submarine

Analysis

➕ The jigsaw puzzle was vibrant. It featured great art.

➕ It was a moderately challenging, but fair assembly. There was a lot of blue, but there were also lots of fish and details to help pull everything together.

Ravensburger's Submarine Escape Puzzle box art. depicts the 759 piece count and an undersea view filled with fish and a shark.

❓ We found most of the “escape room” puzzles to be a touch easier than those in the other Escape Puzzles released in Ravensburger’s first wave.

➖ The story in the instructions featured a choppy English translation.

➖ One of the puzzle solutions was at best lacking a significant clue… but it was probably just an incorrect inversion of the numbers. This was disappointing, but it wasn’t game-breaking… especially if you’ve played other Escape Puzzles and have a sense of how they work.

Closeup of a puzzle element depicting three different types of fish.
If you’re struggling on this puzzle… you’re probably right and the game is wrong.
Broken Puzzle:

The actually correct answer to the above fish puzzle is 846.

For unclear reasons, the game reports the correct solution as 462. We stared at this thing with a few really experienced puzzlers (including 2009 US Sudoku National Champion, Tammy McLeod) and we couldn’t imagine a way to get 462. I have to believe that this was a typo.

[collapse]

➕ The concluding meta-puzzle was another clever solution. Ravensburger pushed this game mechanic considerably farther than we’d expected.

BUY IT NOW

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Submarine Escape Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ravensburger provided a sample for review.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Enchambered – The Legend of the Skull Witch [Review]

The Wicked Witch of the West Coast

Location:  Sacramento, California

Date Played: February 24, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Few games open as strongly as The Legend of the Skull Witch. Enchambered’s cabin of magic and evil was fueled with strong puzzles and just enough frights to make it intense and exciting without feeling terrifying.

A couple of gameflow issues notwithstanding, this was an incredible game from a strong company. The Legend of the Skull Witch was a remarkable world to puzzle through.

We highly recommend The Legend of the Skull Witch. If you’re anywhere in the region, take a trip to play it. We did; we were thrilled with that decision.

In-game: an effigy hanging from the wall with fire projected onto it.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Magical interactions
  • Detailed and immersive gamespace to explore
  • Use of effects

Story

Legend had it that a vile witch lived in the swamps outside of New Orleans. The tale told of her luring bewildered partygoers away… a mistake that they paid for with their lives.

We hadn’t bought into the stories, but two of our friends had disappeared during Mardi Gras. We’d tracked them to a rundown cabin in the middle of the swamp.

In-game: A tree with glowing tubes hanging from that function as the game's clock.

Setting

The Legend of the Skull Witch made an immediate impression. The multi-level set, staggering volume of details, animations, and how it all came together were arresting. Normally when I enter an escape room I immediately look for where to start. In The Legend of the Skull Witch, I stood there and looked at what Enchambered had built, not to start solving, but simply to take it all in.

Enchambered maintained that level of detail throughout the entire experience. The Legend of the Skull Witch was a little scarier than Enchambered’s The Whispering Halls. That intensity carried through to some of their set design and effects choices.

In-game: A wooden shelf containing magical ingredients.

Gameplay

Enchambered’s The Legend of the Skull Witch was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a small creature holding a talisman.

Analysis

The Legend of the Skull Witch began with an imposing projection. It set the tone beautifully.

➕ From the get-go, The Legend of the Skull Witch offered a lot of options for exploration, from the gamespace to the details.

➖ The Legend of the Skull Witch relied too heavily on explanation. There would be an opportunity to make the puzzles more immediately approachable, letting players discover how to work the mechanisms through play.

➕ In place of locks – combination or magnetic – Enchambered built other input mechanisms. These interactive inputs also felt magical, and appropriate for the space.

➖ Too many puzzles resolved to the same digit structure. While this was mitigated by interesting inputs, we spent a bit too much time trying the same combination in multiple different locks. Small variation in digit structure would have smoothed over the game flow.

➖ We struggled with one puzzle that combined a lot of disparate information. It seemed we activated components out of order. It was frustrating when we couldn’t re-trigger information.

➕ The puzzles generally solved cleanly and were tangible. Although one overstayed its welcome, we enjoyed its mechanic. Many of the puzzles encouraged teamwork.

In-game: A wall of wooden masks and totems.

➕ Enchambered built effects that helped us feel the story – the desperate plight of the witch’s victims – as we played. It was haunting and impressive.

➕/➖ We appreciate a thematic and integrated gameclock. This one was beautifully worked into the set. Unfortunately, we didn’t understand the gameclock for what it was until after we’d won the game. That may have been on us… I’m really not sure.

➕ We visited Enchambered while part of their facility was under construction. Due to construction regulations, they couldn’t allow players into the final gamespace for The Legend of the Skull Witch. They created an elegant workaround that enabled them to run our game through to the end despite this inconvenience. Although we would have loved a hands-on experience for this portion, we respect their concern for safety and regulations, and their ingenuity.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Thai Terrace for a meal before/after your game.

Book your hour with Enchambered’s The Legend of the Skull Witch, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enchambered provided media discounted tickets for this game.