Club Drosselmeyer 1941 [Review]

We can do it!

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 16, 2018

Team size: we recommend 2-8 depending on the experience you’re looking for

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $49-85 per ticket

Ticketing: Public event

REA Reaction

Club Drosselmeyer was a magnificent mirage. For a few hours, an idyllic night club filled with swing dancers, jazz musicians, histrionic characters, and challenging puzzles appeared out of the cold Boston air to host a distorted World War II rendition of The Nutcracker… and disappeared just as clock struck 11pm. 

There is no event in the puzzle or immersive theatre world that I eagerly anticipate more than this annual confluence of puzzles, swing dancing, music, and theatrics. It’s all of the entertainment that I love wrapped up for Christmas and tied with a bow.

Club Drosselmeyer banner and microphone.

Each year it has been a little different and a bit improved, but still Club Drosselmeyer. This time around, it was noticeably harder to earn our win (it will be less one puzzle for the rest of the run). Old villains turned into allies and new foes emerged. Above all, they’d streamlined the flow of the experience.

Club Drosselmeyer was glorious because there were so many ways to savor it. For those of us who wished to devour everything it had to offer, the one drawback was the bittersweetness of realizing that just wasn’t possible. There’s something real and immersive about that as well.

As our time at Club Drosselmeyer concluded once again, one of our teammates (an avid escape room player) who was attending for the first time remarked, “I feel high…” That’s certainly how I felt.

Tickets for Club Drosselmeyer are nearly sold-out. If you can get your hands on one for this Wednesday or Thursday night, I’d strongly urge you to do so immediately… otherwise you’ll have to wait until 1942. 

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jazz fans
  • Swing dancers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who are fine with crowds
  • People who don’t need to be part of every interaction
  • Any experience level … for puzzlers or dancers

Why play?

  • Puzzle hunt-style puzzles
  • Spectacle
  • Dance, acrobatic, and magical performances
  • An amazing jazz band
  • Roleplaying
  • 1941-themed party

Story

It was Christmas in 1941. We’d been attending Herr Drosselmeyer’s annual Christmas since 1939. With each passing year the threat of war loomed larger. With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor, the war had finally found us. It was time for all Americans to put aside their differences and fight the good fight. 

As in the previous years, we’d heard that Drosselmeyer Industries would reveal the latest work from Project Nutcracker: version Delta. We had a feeling that Herr Drosselmeyer was going to find himself in another pickle and need our help. 

This year we were hunting for a mole. 

Club Drosselmeyer band

Setting

We returned to the glamorous 1941 night club of Club Drosselmeyer. The bandstands were back along with their musicians. The dancers tore up the floor and the singers belted tunes. Everything felt the same, with a couple of improvements:

First, Herr Drosselmeyer had moved from his second floor perch overlooking the festivities to a large table at stage right. This remedied one of the bottlenecks of past years. 

Second, the massive Army and Navy banners looked great. I found them catching my eye multiple times throughout the evening… which is saying something because there was a lot to see. 

Our team puzzling hard.
(Left to right) Lisa’s parents Alan & Eva, Lisa, Theresa

Gameplay

Each year Club Drosselmeyer’s creators put a new spin on their gameplay. 

The core of the event remains the same: participants could puzzle, swing dance, drink, socialize, interact, or simply watch everything play-out. 

The shift in 1941 came from the overall structure of the puzzle game. This year there were three distinct paths to follow and an assortment of side quests. This shift maintained the overall feel of Club Drosselmeyer, while streamlining the flow of the gameplay. 

Analysis

➕ The singing, dancing, music, and vibe of Club Drosselmeyer was as wonderful as it had ever been. 

➕ The puzzles played well, resolved cleanly, and presented a challenging puzzle-hunt style game that made us earn whatever intel we received. 

❓ This year’s puzzle game was considerably more challenging than those of previous years. The upcoming performances run will drop one of the more difficult puzzles to make the game more competitive. This is the right call, in my opinion. 

➕ Club Drosselmeyer’s unique and unopinionated “take in the experience however you wish” approach is a beautiful thing. There’s something for just about anyone.

➕/➖ The acting was greatly improved from the previous years. There were still moments that didn’t land quite right, but the hit/miss ratio was shifted significantly since last year. 

➕ The new structure simplified the story and gameflow and shrunk character wait-times to a more than acceptable minimum. 

➕/➖ For your own good, I’m blurting out a vague spoiler here for anyone who has played in past years: Just as the structure was different, so was the alignment of one major character who I had no desire to work with due to his past behavior. I didn’t fully appreciate how significantly his character had changed until the end of the experience. Someone deserves a second third chance. I disliked the guy so much in past years that I couldn’t see his character development happening until hindsight had kicked in. 

❓ In actor-driven games, we frequently feel conflicted between paying attention to a performer and solving puzzles. That struggle was more present this year because we had more to solve. As much as I love the challenge of Club Drosselmeyer, there’s a part of me that wishes that I could spend a little more time dancing and taking in the show while playing competitively. 

➕ The expansion of side quests added an additional lower-stakes, lower-difficulty series of challenges. 

➖ I couldn’t tell the difference between side quests and main quests until I was deep in the game. 

➕ The introduction of the Boston Police Commissioner as a character was fantastic. He opened up a whole new gameplay thread for less-puzzley players who wanted to focus on actor interactions. 

➕ I really enjoyed the concluding sequence. It felt right for the story and was well-acted. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: I encourage taking mass transit, taxi, or ride sharing.
  • Food: There are ample food options in the neighborhood.

Grab one of the few remaining tickets to this week’s Club Drosselmeyer 1941, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Download Free, Famous, & High Resolution Art

The Art Institute of Chicago’s website now offers an online gallery of downloadable art… and a ton of it is easily recognizable.

Rustic blue walled bedroom painted in van Gogh's signature impressionistic style.

Use In Escape Rooms

Whether you’re looking to create an art heist, hide a message in a painting, or simply add art to the space, there are plenty of uses for this gallery in escape room design.

Notable Works

There are a lot of iconic works in this gallery including:

Copyright

Much of the work is in the public domain, so you’re completely free to print, edit, or do anything you like, even for commercial purposes. That said, not all of it has crossed the public domain threshold, so check the copyright notice on each work of art.

To make things easier, I applied the “Public Domain” search filter to this link.

Or you can view the full gallery; it is lovely.

Via Lifehacker

Listen Online: Talking Escape Rooms on Cincinnati Public Radio, WVXU

Cincinnati Edition

We’re heading to Cincinnati at the end of the month to visit family and play escape rooms (in that order). 

91.7 WVXU Cincinnati logo

On The Air

In advance of the trip, we had the opportunity to record an interview with Dan Hurley of Cincinnati Public Radio, WVXU. We teased the interview before it aired. Here is the link to listen.

This conversation opened up with the basics, but ended up covering some serious subjects.

Escape Rooms: Why All The Hype?

Interview

We’ve been giving our new audio recording rig a serious workout by putting out a bunch more podcast-y content. To make it easier to take it in, we’ve provided timestamp breakdowns of the discussion. 

We hope you enjoy.

00:00 – Dan Hurley’s introduction

00:51 – What’s an escape room? 

01:48 – Escape room history and evolution  

02:35 – Escape room tourism 

03:28 – US escape room industry scale 

04:15 – Escape rooms are about playing. Can you learn through them?

04:44 – Corporate and family groups… what do these group dynamics reveal?

07:35 – How often do we lose and why do we lose?

08:47 – What makes for a good game?

10:02 –  One of Lisa’s favorite escape room experiences (Escape My Room, New Orleans, LA)

11:23 – What is a puzzle in an escape room context?

13:15 – The importance of diversity of thought in escape room success

14:50 – One of David’s favorite escape room experiences (Strange Bird Immersive, Houston, TX)

16:30 – How does local culture effect escape room design?

18:50 – Are there escape rooms that pull from history and explore concepts like slavery? 

22:00 – Who is the audience for escape rooms?

From the Same Episode

The same episode of the Cincinnati Edition also included a piece on Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling, as well as a new book about him: 

Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination

I adore Serling’s work, so I’m pretty interested in this book. 

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation Dive [Review]

Dive into the deep end.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: November 27, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $38 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private options

REA Reaction

Exit Escape Room NYC’s third game, Operation Dive, had a small yet detailed set, and strong challenging puzzles. 

We had access to almost all of the game’s mechanisms from the first moment. We enjoyed unraveling the mystery that was how to operate the submarine, but the incredible level of access also came at a price: this new game showed a lot of wear. I hope that Exit Escape Room NYC is up to the challenge of maintaining it. It’s a lovely game. 

Operation Dive is a wonderful game to play if you feel comfortable playing escape rooms. If you’re a newbie, this one will be a bit bewildering; play High Speed NYC first. Both are high quality games, but the earlier one is quite a bit more forgiving. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A sonar station and periscope are in view.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Puzzles that reveal themselves as you play
  • Satisfying physical interactions
  • Fun submarine environment

Story

With a hostile submarine attempting to attack New York City, the Pentagon had called upon us to fire up a decommissioned World War II-era submarine, identify the target, and destroy it. 

In-game: Main electrical panel, disabled.

Setting

We entered a small submarine set filled with pipes, gauges, maps, and bunks.  The set was compact, but detailed. Some parts looked great. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A map glows green.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

The challenge stemmed from a nonlinear design where the puzzle components were mounted into the set and available from the opening moments of play.

In-game: Ballast Tank gauge.

Analysis

➕ The set looked nifty. It was detailed. It had a submarine vibe, complete with gadgets that were interactive, but not overwhelming.

➕ Exit Escape Room NYC hid the puzzles in plain sight. Once we discovered how items intertwined, the level of difficulty dropped a bit. The challenge was largely in understanding how to interact with the game, which we enjoyed.

➖ We couldn’t always tell whether we’d completed an interaction. The addition of more puzzle feedback, to help players understand whether or not they’ve completely solved a puzzle, would significantly improve for Operation Dive.

➖ The set and props showed too much wear. This included some finicky tech and disappointing prop breakage. I suspect that giving players immediate access to a lot of interactions and no knowledge of how to approach the puzzles means that a lot of players are hard on this escape room. Operation Dive hadn’t been open very long when we visited and we couldn’t help but think it was really banged up.

 Operation Dive was well themed. The set and puzzles were submarine-esque.

➕ The small and narrow set worked because it was a submarine. This was a smart setting selection given Exit Escape Room NYC’s spatial constraints. 

➕ There were some lovely thematic puzzles in this Operation Dive. They were tangible, satisfying solves.

➕/➖  Operation Dive attempted to tell a story. This delivered some fun and thematic moments. While some of the nuance of the story came through clearly as we were playing, the most interesting bits only became apparent when we were analyzing the game after we’d escaped. Operation Dive felt more like a thematic adventure than a story-driven experience. Overall, the narrative was of mixed quality, but generally better than most. 

➕ With timed use of tech, Exit Escape Room NYC trigged great moments. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Do Not Touch: Why These Stickers Are Flawed

I stumbled up on a video that explored the creation of the radiation and biohazard symbols.

In addition to some compelling history, this video posed an interesting question: 

Can we create a universal warning symbol that will last forever?

Personally I think that the answer is no… but that’s besides the point. 

All of this got me thinking about danger symbols in escape rooms and the common “do not touch” sticker.

Common Danger Symbols

Context is everything… and universality isn’t a thing with symbols. 

In an escape room, symbols for radiation, biohazard, high voltage, or the classic Jolly Roger communicate nothing but setting.

If someone were to put actually hazardous materials in an escape room and label them appropriately… everyone who played the game would die. There is an assumed safety. It’s normal to assume that anything threatening is there for immersion’s sake…

Unless that symbol is a “do not touch” symbol. 

A mixing board that is messily labeled, "DO NOT TOUCH OR SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN TO YOU."
I’ve been hanging onto this photo for years.

Do Not Touch!

Do not touch stickers are a fairly common escape room mechanic where a sticker applied to a prop signifies that the item is in one way or another out of play.

These stickers come in different varieties including colored dot stickers, the company’s logo, the classic hand in a circle icon, and tape that has the words “Do Not Touch” on it. 

Since these stickers first started appearing in early escape rooms, these symbols have been fraught with problems.

An electrical outlet with a blue do not touch sticker.

Fuzzy Meaning

Does “do not touch” mean, this item is completely out of play? Or does it contain visual information, but I do not need to touch it to find that information?

After playing some 700 escape rooms, I still ask to clarify the meaning of a “do not touch symbol” in an escape room. The meaning changes from company to company and sometimes even from game to game within one location. 

For those of us who actively try to follow the rules, sometimes this is difficult to do. 

A sharp torture implement hanging from a wooden wall, with blood painted onto the edge.
In this game, “the blood means ‘do not touch.'”

Visual Identification 

Sometimes these symbols are easy to miss. Maybe they are a tiny blip on a large object. Maybe I’m thoroughly in the zone and I don’t see it. 

On multiple occasions, I’ve been guilty of not seeing a “do not touch” symbol until after I’ve already touched. (I always feel bad.)

Similarly, I’ve been in rooms where most of the wall hangings have “do not touch” stickers on them, but one or two don’t (because they are in play)… but I looked at the ones that I could interact with first and then assumed that all of the wall hangings were in play. 

One thing to remember when gamemastering for “do not touch” violations is tone and word choice. It sucks when a gamemaster assumes that the player touching something with a “do not touch” sticker is dumb or deliberately breaking the rules. There’s a difference between a player deliberately prying something open and player confusion.

A prop with a with a blue do not touch sticker.
The sticker almost gets lost among the screws.

Immersive Damage

On the flip side, if the “do not touch” symbols are too big, too numerous, or too ugly, they can damage the aesthetic appeal of the game. 

Sure, there’s no excuse for missing the symbol… but at what cost? 

Inconsistency

I’ve been in games where a red dot sticker signified do not touch, but once I started playing, I saw an entire rainbow of dot stickers. Did they all mean “do not touch” or was it just the red ones? Is this a puzzle? A test? Or shoddy craftsmanship? 

The answer is almost always the latter… but nevertheless it’s confusing and it undermines the intent behind the symbol. 

Suggested Solutions

I have a few suggestions to mitigate these problems: 

Build Stronger

It’s easy to say, but hard to do. Build it better… especially if it is a core piece of game functionality. 

It’s baffling when the most interesting and important interactions are also the ones that we’re not supposed to handle. Escape rooms are a tactile adventure… or at least they are supposed to be. 

Hide the wires and anything else that we might be able to unplug, disconnect, or break. 

If your local code will allow you to cover outlets, do it. 

Draw Attention Deliberately

A lot of the “do not touch” stickers that we find are on props that are only in the game for ambiance. 

One sure sign of a weak game is useless decor that looks more interesting than the actual game mechanisms. It’s games like these that are usually overflowing with “do not touch” symbols because the things that we players want to touch and fiddle with are useless… and it’s easier to accidentally break a curious object that has no purpose than one that clearly has intent. 

Be Clear

If you need to use a “do not touch” symbol, use it sparingly and clearly. Define specifically what it means.

I personally prefer these symbols to mean that the flagged item is completely out of play because it means that players aren’t forced to parse meaning at all. 

Red Master Lock 410 beside its brass key and a quarter for size reference.

If you’re going to use a lock for reset or gamemaster access purposes, consider a lock that looks nothing like anything else in play. I am a fan of these Master Lock 410s.

I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with flagging something, but do it smartly, do it cleanly, and make sure that it’s effective.

As a thank you to our Patreon backers, we shared this post with them early and asked for their input! Please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Ludology Episode on Puzzle Design

This week, the wonderful tabletop game design podcast Ludology interviewed Mike Selinker on the relationship between puzzles and games.

Mosaic photo of a pile of books. "Puzzle Craft" is front and center.
Puzzle Craft is the puzzle design bible, if you can get your hands on a copy.

If that name seems familiar, it’s because Selinker is a prolific game and puzzle designer. He is also the author of Puzzlecraft, which is a puzzle design bible… that is finally going into a third printing next month. 

Over the course of the episode, the hosts discussed a ton of interesting things with Selinker… with a substantive conversation on escape rooms thrown in. In addition to being a talented board game designer, co-host Gil Hova is a former gamemaster at one of the escape rooms that we frequent. He knows the business. 

In this episode: 

  • Our friend and Room Escape Diva Errol got a lovely shoutout (and they humorously amended his definition of the job of puzzle designer).
  • We got a shoutout for our philosophy on hints in escape rooms.
  • Selinker made it clear that he has no intention of making a run at the Escape Room Guinness World Record

Flattery aside, this episode was incredibly interesting. (The podcast as a whole is very well-done.) 

Give it a listen: Ludology Episode 189 – Missing Selinker

This episode has also inspired a research project that I am now undertaking. I’m not sure how long it will take to complete. I’ll post the results.

Master Lock 410 LOTO Padlock [Review]

The “Do Not Touch Sticker” of padlocks. 

Lock Type: Keyed Padlock

Dimensions: Body, 1.75 inch (4.5cm) wide 1.5 inch (4 cm), shackle height 1.5 inch (3.9cm), shackle width 0.25 inch (0.6 cm)

Price: $10-25 (depending on the color)

Manufacturer:  Master Lock

REA Reaction

What the Master Lock 410 lacks in durability it makes up for in aesthetics… at least for escape room design purposes. 

For the right escape room theme, this is a clever lock to use in place of “do not touch” stickers. It could also work well just as an eye-catching lock. 

Red Master Lock 410 beside its brass key and a quarter for size reference.

Operation

From a user standpoint, this is a keyed padlock. There is nothing unique about its operation. 

The back of a Red Master Lock 410.
Master Lock 410 without a “Danger” sticker.

Construction

From a construction standpoint, the Master Lock 410 is an utterly bizarre lock. Its body is made of plastic and its shackle is not hardened… but it has the most pick-resistant core that Master Lock produces. 

The Lockpicking Lawyer did a humorous analysis of the paradox that is the Master Lock 410: 

Use in Escape Rooms

There are two clear uses for the Master Lock 410 within escape rooms. 

Do Not Touch Indicator

The Master Lock 410’s aesthetic makes it jump out as a natural “do not touch” indicator. 

Its unique look and feel – compared to other locks – makes it obvious and memorable.

Additionally, the plastic body means that while its durability may be questionable, it is unlikely to damage anything on your set if it swings against props. 

Depending upon the game environment, the Master Lock 410 could look like a natural part of the set while still standing out. The same cannot be said for most “do not touch” stickers.

Standard Padlock

The Master Lock 410’s interesting aesthetic means that it could play a unique role as an active padlock within an escape room. 

My big concern for this padlock as an active prop is durability. 

Background

The unusual Master Lock 410 is a Lockout/ Tagout lock (LOTO). 

Lockout/ Tagout is an industrial safety precaution whereby all of the workers involved with a dangerous piece of machinery place a lock on the device that prevents it from working until all of them remove their locks. 

This ensures that no one is stuck in a dangerous position when the machinery is activated. These locks come in multiple colors and have labels so that individual workers can identify their own locks. 

A lockout tagout hasp next to a red Master Lock 410.
LOTO Hasp

Incidentally, the Master Lock Hasp that occasionally shows up in escape rooms is a different LOTO device… but that contraption is a story for another day. 

You can read about LOTO in brutal bureaucratic detail on the OSHA website if that’s your thing, or if you’re struggling to get some sleep.

Analysis

➕ Master Lock 410’s plastic body means that this lock will not damage anything that it is hanging on or near. 

➕ The soft shackle of the Master Lock 410 means that an escape room operator could easily cut this lock open with bolt cutters in an emergency. 

➕ The unique aesthetic of the Master Lock 410 could make this lock look at home in certain escape room environments. 

➕ There are many color options for the Master Lock 410 including red, black, green, orange, purple, yellow, and blue. Prices may vary for different colors.

➖ The plastic body calls the durability of this padlock into question. Its body is far more likely to suffer serious damage than most other padlocks. 

➖ From a security standpoint, the Master Lock 410 is utterly insufficient as it has no hardening to physical attack. This is a product that makes more sense in an escape room than in most real life situations. 

➕ The shockingly robust core of the Master Lock 410 makes it an ideal practice lock for pickers. It’s a really tough pick compared to just about everything else that Master Lock sells. 

Tips For Using

  • You may want to apply some lacquer or resin on top of the sticker to prevent it from peeling off. 

Buy your copy of Master Lock’s 410, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(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.)

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game [Review]

Arguably the finest mullet that the 80s had to offer.

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2018

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

Duration: five 60-minute chapters

Price: $30

Publisher: Pressman

REA Reaction

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was created by the folks behind the ThinkFun games Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor and Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat. As fans of those games (particularly Stargazer’s), we were psyched to see a 5-part, licensed MacGyver escape game from the same creative team. MacGyver was a natural and an exciting character to adapt into an escape room game.

In MacGyver: The Escape Room Game, we found an uneven jumble of great ideas and missed opportunities. In this puzzle-focused game,  we uncovered some wonderful puzzles and other obtuse ones that relied on unusual quirks. 

MacGyver The Escape Room Game box, featuring a photo of MacGyver.

There were fixable bugs in the software that prevented us from playing as we had intended. (Out of the gate, this diminished our trust in the game.) 

There was a lot to enjoy, but a little more polish and a greater emphasis on the MacGyvering over purely puzzling would have made this into a must-buy.

In its current state, it’s worth playing for tabletop escape game fans, but I can’t recommend that MacGyver fans pick this up as their first exposure to escape games (tabletop or real life). I really wanted to love this one. 

The chapter 2 Airplane's case, features a cockpit and a depressurizing plane with panicking passengers.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Value – There are 5 hour-long games in this box
  • Some really creative and fun puzzles

Story

Each chapter took MacGyver, the secret agent who is opposed to violence, on a unique mission. We had to use our problem-solving skills to hack our way through the following places:

  1. Underground Lab
  2. The Airplane
  3. The Factory 
  4. Missile Silo
  5. The Grand Finale

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game  featured the original 1985 Richard Dean Anderson version of MacGyver. 

All 5 chapter envelopes along with the utility bag.

Setup

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game’s 5 chapters were standalone missions that required us to play them in sequential order. In each game we acquired items to store in our “utility bag” until we needed them for a future mission.

Each chapter followed a similar structure: 

The assorted contents of the chapter 1, Underground Lab includes: 4 smaller colored envelopes, a mirror, and a sticker sealed mission.
  • We went to the [URL] and started the chapter. 
  • We received a mission file sealed with red and green stickers along with multiple sealed envelopes. 
  • We read the materials presented to us, solved the puzzle, and entered the solution into the website (or used the website to take a hint before solving).
  • The website told tell us which sticker or envelope to unseal next. 
  • Repeated until finished.
  • At the end of the chapter, we stored whatever item the game suggested we might need in the future in our utility bag. 
In-game: MacGyver's utility bag.

Gameplay

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was a typical tabletop escape room with a variable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, interpreting the intention behind the puzzle, and figuring out how to input the solution into the website. 

Chapter 2, The Airplane's assorted contents.

Analysis

➕ MacGyver was a great hook. The box art was direct and eye-catching. The concept of a MacGyver escape game was natural and rational. This is the kind of intellectual property that should be adapted into escape games; it serves all involved.

➕/➖ The materials and print quality were solid. The product generally looked good… except for some hokey imagery. 

In-game: Close-up image of MacGyver looking at a computer.

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was gated fantastically. At each stage of the game, we focused our attention on a limited number of elements. Even if we couldn’t solve the puzzle, we were always confident that we were looking in the correct place.

➕/➖ The puzzles were a mixed bag. A lot of them felt great to solve and advanced the game’s narrative. Some felt too opaque, as if some of the clues that should have been discoverable in the puzzles themselves were tucked away within the hint system.

➖ As we played through all 5 missions, we encountered a lot of puzzle constructions that mirrored each other.

➖ Too often, MacGyver: The Escape Room Game opened without a proper on-ramp. Many chapters’ initial puzzles frustrated us and prevented us from building momentum and confidence in the game’s systems before cranking up the difficulty. More often than not, we struggled to get started, but had an easier time beyond that point.

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game took many typographic liberties that made it difficult to get the answer, even when we had the correct solution. Our feelings on this varied – by player, typographical choice, and puzzle.

➕Each chapter presented one more involved layered or logic puzzle. This helped balance the missions.

➖ We encountered many bugs in the digital hint system. The hints that were taller than one monitor length would not scroll on our Macs (it worked fine on iOS). This was an unacceptable bug… but it is solvable. 

The chapter one envelope has a green fluid and erlenmeyer flask.

➖ Our least favorite installment was the second chapter. We almost quit after this one because of the demoralizing confluence of an early aggressive aha puzzle, janky mechanics, and software bugs. I am glad that we didn’t quit because later missions improved greatly.

➕ We enjoyed the fifth and final mission most. Some of this may have been because it put a greater emphasis on the puzzles and because by then we had a strong sense of how this game wanted to be played. That said, even the final mission had one late-game quirk that frustrated us. It ultimately justified itself (but only after I looked up a MacGyver character).

➕ I liked the continuity of the Utility Bag. It allowed the game to build on itself a little, without forcing us to backtrack through a ton of materials. 

In-game: Image of MacGyver looking at a a candy vending machine.

❓ I’ve seen a few episodes of MacGyver, but I’m not well versed on the show. We played a few missions with true fans and they all had the same impression: with rare exceptions, it didn’t feel like we were MacGyvering our way through the game. It felt like we were puzzling through a tabletop escape game. This is fine if you’re looking for a tabletop escape game. I’m not certain that it will scratch the itch that MacGyver fans are looking for. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Space Requirements: a small table or floor space
  • Required Gear: An internet-connected device, preferably a phone or tablet. We ran into bugs on our laptop. 

Buy your copy of Pressman’s MacGyver: The Escape Room Game, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Pressman 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.)

From Quake to Fortnite to Escape Room: Learning From Your Players

I pretty much grew up with video games. I mean that in both senses of the phrase: 

  • I grew up playing video games
  • Video games grew up as I did

Obvious Controls

When I first started playing first person shooters (and suffering through them while they made me motion sick because they were choppy as hell), the arrow keys on the keyboard were the movement standard.

The arrow keys made sense. They were the obvious input mechanism for controlling motion. That was, until “WASD” came along. 

Close up of glowing WASD keys on an keyboard.

“Thresh” Hold

From Half Life and Counterstrike, to Portal and Fortnite, the movement control standard for first person games has been the “WASD” keys on the left side of the keyboard. This button mapping wasn’t obvious… and it didn’t come from a video game designer. It came from a player. 

Dennis “Thresh” Fong was the top Quake player back in game’s heyday of the mid 1990s. WASD was his button mapping; he went undefeated with it. Thersh was basically a folk hero among gamers back then. This layout caught on, partially because of his notoriety, but mostly because it worked. 

I remember being super skeptical of WASD as a button mapping, but it made everything more fluid and easier. Those keys were laid-out perfectly and the hand position gave access to plenty of other buttons, enabling complex actions that simply weren’t possible when your fingers were isolated over by the arrow keys. 

This story is beautifully told in this video: 

Why is this relevant to escape rooms?

Good escape rooms are built on top of decades of knowledge from other industries. Video games are certainly one of the biggest influences. 

I’ve encountered plenty of companies that learn from watching their players. Some learn from aggregate player behavior, using their games as large experiments and iterating on them based on player trends. 

I’ve heard of other designers taking inspiration for new puzzles or puzzle iterations by listening to the wrong ideas that players cook up while attempting to solve a challenge. 

As a player, I’ve adopted plenty of tactics from other players… and I’ve invented a few of my own. 

Two Questions

Players: What tactics have you learned from other players? 

Owners: What have you seen your players do that you think would make for great standards? 

I think that there is a lot to learn from great players, both in terms of improving one’s abilities to play, and as in the case with WASD, improving the way that games are designed.