The VOID – Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire [Review]

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 9, 2019

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: from $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was a technological step up for THE VOID from the Ghostbusters game that we experienced a few years back. The tech felt better and there was more and stronger physical feedback. Plus, it was Star Wars… and Star Wars is the cultural equivalent of comfort food.

The cover art for Star Wars Secrets of the Empire. A team of stormtroopers on a skiff above a molten planet.

The big catch with THE VOID was the price point. At $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay it was a big ask.

I loved a lot of what was going on in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire; I highly recommend it to Star Wars fans. It drops you in that familiar world and just feels right. At the same time, I left really wishing that I was playing as a Jedi, not a Rebel in stormtrooper armor.

THE VOID did a lot of really smart things when they designed this game and it worked damn well. If you think that you want to play it, and you can afford to do so, I absolutely recommend it.

Who is this for?

  • Star Wars fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You love Star Wars
  • It’s an engaging high quality VR shooter
  • Fantastic immersive detailing

Story

Spies for the Rebellion had reported that an item vital to the war effort had been uncovered by the Empire on the molten planet Mustafar. Our mission was to recover the item from the Imperial installation in a stolen ship, disguised as stormtroopers.

THE VOID in the middle of the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The architecture is massive and imposing. It looks like you're inside of a whale.
Image via THE VOID

Setting

Upon arrival at our start time, we were ushered into a briefing room, given the story, and then brought into a gear room where we suited up. The kit included a:

  • VR headset with a visor and earphones
  • haptic vest that vibrated when our avatar was shot, shaken, or otherwise impacted by something in the game world
  • a blaster
A group putting on their VOID gear.
Image via THE VOID

Once we put on all of the gear and tightened all of the straps, we were brought into the game.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was beautifully rendered and felt familiar in all of the right ways. We were free to walk about the world without cables or cords restricting us. If a wall was in the game, it was there in real life. If a chair was in the game, it was present in real life.

The world was further accented by scents, blowing fans, and other real-life stimuli that pulled the game purely out of the digital realm.

Gameplay

The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was an approachable VR shooter experience.

Core gameplay revolved around taking in the world, shooting bad guys, and one puzzle.

A group suiting up, wearing the full VOID gear set.
Image via THE VOID

Analysis

➕ The gear was comfortable, balanced, and easy to put on and take off. Additionally, this was the first time that I was able to put on a VR headset and not once think about how to position my glasses. It just worked. I actually forgot about this entirely and only remembered when I was taking a look at my old review of THE VOID’s Ghostbusters experience where my glasses were a problem.

➕ It was Star Wars. I knew what I was getting into. There was a look, a feel, and a sound to the world and storytelling that just pushed the right nostalgic buttons. If you are or ever were into Star Wars, then there will be something here for you.

➕ The addition of physical sensations was wonderful. It added a tactile depth that is often missing from VR experiences.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There was a light puzzle. It was a thing. My teammates Dani and Bill from Escape this Podcast (we loved being on their show!) solved it, but we all agreed that I had more fun shooting stormtroopers while they solved it.

➖ There was a minute or so early in the experience where the world just seemed to freeze. My teammates and I could move, see one another, and speak, but the cut scene we were watching felt paused. I don’t know what happened, but I doubt that it was supposed to go down that way. The saving grace was that it wasn’t during a combat sequence or at a climactic moment.

➖ Maybe it’s just me, but my Star Wars fantasies never involved dressing as a stormtrooper. I know that it solves a lot of avatar problems. I’m also aware that it’s supported canonically by the Death Star scenes in A New Hope. And having players clutch a rifle with two hands is a lot safer than having them flailing about with a lightsaber. I see the pragmatism, thought, and cleverness in all of this.

None of that changes the fact that my inner 9-year-old wants to be a damn Jedi when he’s inside of a Star Wars game… especially at $2.66 per minute.

❓ $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay was expensive. I’m glad that I played, but I can also empathize with anyone who rejects it on price alone; Lisa sat this one out for that very reason.

➕ You can’t really ask for an easier, more picturesque location than the center of the World Trade Center Oculus. It was lovely getting off the train and being at the venue. We tend to find Immersive experiences hidden in strange, difficult to find locations. This was a lovely change of pace.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s NYC; take mass transit. THE VOID is sitting dead center in the middle of one of the city’s largest transit hubs.
  • Food: There are food options in the mall, but I recommend taking a short walk to The Wooly Public.
  • Accessibility: Check the “Accessibility” category in THE VOID’s FAQ.
  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim, Glendale, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Plano, New York (all US), Edmonton, Mississauga, Toronto (all Canada), and Genting (Malaysia).

Book your session with The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Designing Escape Room Crawlspaces

Tunnels and crawlspaces are fun. They poke that same childhood nostalgia button as ball pits do.

They are a strong scene divider because they require players to stop, change body posture, and proceed forward in a different fashion.

As with so many different aspects of escape room design, there are some good, bad, and potentially dangerous ways to design crawlspaces. Let’s explore them.

A cat with striking blue eyes inside of a tube.

Padding Please

I love a good crawl… my knees? Not so much.

Frankly, I and so so so many other players are thrilled to trade a little realism for some comfort. Pad the floor of your crawlspace.

Also it’s not a bad idea to round off or pad the corners of the crawlspace entryway and exit. Speaking of head injuries…

Consistent Dimensions

Your tunnel should be the same size on both ends. Keep the crawlspace height consistent throughout the tunnel (unless there is a climb or some other deliberately designed obstacle that is clear and visible).

Recently I had to scurry through a dark crawlspace that had height variation. It was fine going one way…

Animation of David entering a tunnel.

Going back, however, I missed a critical detail of the tunnel’s design:

Animation of David hitting his head on an unexpected corner and falling to the floor.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses some brain cells.

No Rushing

Transitioning scenes under pressure can be good fun. That said, I strongly dissuade you from adding artificial tension during a crawling segment.

Adults can really hurt knees, backs, and heads if they aren’t accustomed to crawling or are required to do so in a hurry. It’s also worth noting that not everyone is up for it.

Bypasses

You should have a way for some players to bypass crawling segments.

In the United States, if you don’t have a way of bypassing crawling sections, you’re probably in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Take this one seriously.

The easy bypass technique: have a door that can be immediately opened once one person has crawled through to the other side. This is an elegant solution because anyone who wants to crawl can do so and anyone who isn’t into crawling or cannot crawl doesn’t miss out on much.

The Other Tales – The Anomaly [Review]

Not as it seemed…

Location:  Hawthorne, NJ

Date Played: October 17, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I really like The Other Tales. When my mom wanted to play an escape room with her friends, I sent her to play their first game, The Forgotten Room. The Anomaly was a big step up on every level: puzzle design, game design, intrigue, set design, and interaction design. And it accomplished this while staying true to the handcrafted, made-with-love vibe of The Forgotten Room.

We also appreciated the detailed story conveyed by The Anomaly even if it felt a little too bogged down with reading.

Our biggest worry for The Anomaly was that it was showing wear, and some of the materials really ought to be beefed up. This game is too fun to fall apart.

In-game: A wall with furniture stuck within it.

The Other Tales is a gem in the northern New Jersey escape room market. Although their experiences aren’t the most impressive builds in the region, they combine puzzles and story with memorable moments, and they provide a gentle touch that we highly recommend for players of any experience level.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Unusual story
  • Interesting puzzles
  • Intrigue curve
  • Cool props and surprises

Story

We were part of a special task force investigating a scientific lab. After some strange happenings and a disappeared person, it seemed this lab might not be exactly what it seemed. We needed to set things right before the Feds arrived.

In-game: a computer on a desk with a Verge Ventures login screen.

Setting

At first glance, The Anomaly looked pretty standard – maybe even subpar – with white walls, assorted cabinets, and a table in the center of the room.

As the game progressed, however, The Anomaly revealed its secrets; the nature of the game and space transformed.

In-game: An unusual coil-like device sitting atop a locked cabinet.

Gameplay

The Other Tales’ The Anomaly was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: an unusual metal crate with all manner of machinery on it.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles flowed beautifully through an appropriate difficulty curve. They started out approachable and built up in challenge and complexity before backing off again in the conclusion.

➕ The Other Tales used a variety of interaction types in this game. They combined physical locks with tech-driven opens. The puzzles and interactions were largely tangible and inviting.

➕ The Anomaly told an unusual story. As we played, we learned about a character, his motivation, and his plight. We were invested in the game not only to solve puzzles, but to play through the story.

➖ As much as we enjoyed the story, it was sometimes burdensome to follow. While some of it evolved through play, it also required substantial reading. There was opportunity to show – rather than tell – more of the story beats.

➕ Although The Anomaly didn’t look impressive at the onset, as we solved puzzles, it offered more intrigue in the form of new props and available interactions. With each new open, we were increasingly impressed by what the room had to offer.

➖ The Anomaly hadn’t been open long when we visited and some of the materials, props, and set pieces were already showing wear. The Other Tales would be better served with some stronger, more interesting construction material.

The Anomaly included memorable moments that linked the physical props and the story.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is a parking lot.
  • Food: There are numerous casual restaurants nearby.

Book your hour with The Other Tales’ The Anomaly, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Other Tales comped our tickets for this game.

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms – Plight of the Margo Part 2 [Review]

The 3 Hour Escape Game: Part 2

Location:  Fort Collins, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $38 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In Plight of the Margo Part 2, the real challenges emerged.

At this point we knew the setting, we were immersed within the story, we understood how the ship worked, and we had learned how to play the game. It was time for some cerebral heroics.

In-game: A tall metal Antimatter drive system. It's made entirely of metal and looks imposing.

Over this second 90-minute segment, the value of depth became clear. ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms was able to explore their world and add complexity and challenge that no escape room can create in 60 minutes. It left me with the realization that the value of extended game length isn’t simply that you get more.

The magic of the 3-hour game was that it could demand far more of us as players, adventurers, teammates, and thinkers.

As I said in the reaction to Plight of the Margo Part 1, this is a must-play game for experienced players. Looking back on it, I feel like it was a gift created for me and people like me.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Technophiles
  • Experienced players in search of a challenging game
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The set was unique and badass
  • Challenging puzzles
  • The tech was impressively engineered
  • The story had depth
  • It was essentially a 3-hour escape game

Story

Plight of the Margo Part 2 picked up exactly where Part 1 had left off. I won’t spoil it beyond saying the obvious: something was wrong with the Margo and we had to resolve a Star Trek-style paradox to save the day.

In-game: The steel grated floor and control systems of the ship.

Setting

The setting was identical to Plight of the Margo Part 1, except that during our break the gamemaster had added a few key props that enabled us to solve new puzzles.

In-game: A reflective wall of red hexagons.

Gameplay

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 2 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In Part 2, we picked up exactly where we’d left at the end of Part 1. The game saved our team’s previous state. (You can play these chapters in completely different visits to ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms, but I recommend doing it in 1 session if you have the stamina.)

From this point forward, we were playing for the win.

In-game: an iris door with a mechanical automation system.

Analysis

➕ All of the positives from Part 1 still applied in Part 2. The set, puzzles, technology, effects, and atmosphere were all epic.

➖ Going into Part 2, we received a lot of pre-game instruction. It felt like the instruction was an attempt to compensate for concepts that didn’t come across clearly enough in-game.

➕ The interaction design in Part 2 was killer.

➖/➕ It was too easy to make a grave mistake within the narrative. (Luckily, there was a re-do for this and it didn’t detonate our game.) This happened because we were never entirely sure what we were doing, but in an escape room the gut instinct is to just advance and keep doing things. In escape rooms, forward momentum is always good… except in this one instance. While playing, it was difficult to truly comprehend this distinction.

❓ ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms cast us in the roles of people with years of advanced training, but we had to figure out absolutely everything about our vessel while solving the missions. This is a typical escape room narrative paradox and a hard one to overcome.

➕ The hint system was really smart. It was embedded in a computer system. It was difficult to tell the hints from the regular game prompts. This allowed our gamemaster to normalize the difficulty through hinting without making it feel like we were underperforming.

➖ The final challenge was confounding. It felt too complicated. We followed that instinct and overthought it. In the end, we solved it, but we weren’t sure that we had won. There was opportunity to tighten up this conclusion and make it feel more definitive and triumphant.

➕ The overall experience of Plight of the Margo was breathtaking. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least 1 player needs to crawl.
  • Play both parts back to back if you can.

Book your hour with ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 2, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms – Plight of the Margo Part 1 [Review]

The 3 Hour Escape Game: Part 1

Location:  Fort Collins, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $38 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Plight of the Margo felt epic. Part of this was the length; we played it back-to-back in 2 90-minute segments. However, it was so much more than the game clock.

The puzzles and gameplay were deep, challenging, and rewarding. It felt almost like a really good puzzle hunt in that it was fun and a little stressful.

In-game: The ships helm beside and iris door.

The set was unique and beautiful. The technology was solid and craftily engineered. This was one of the geekiest games we’ve encountered and it was devoid of overt pop culture references… which meant that we weren’t breaking world to appreciate cultural callbacks.

Then there was the story, which felt inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation. It wasn’t particularly violent or bloodthirsty. It was thoughtful and grappled with ideas and paradoxes.

I loved this game.

In my opinion, if you’re doing this right, you’re playing both segments back-to-back as one big 3-hour escape room adventure (with a short break in the middle).

For newbies, this is the kind of game that is worth training for. Build your stamina. Once you can comfortably play 3 60-minute escape games back-to-back-to-back, take on Plight of the Margo.

If you’re an experienced player, Plight of the Margo is a must-play. If you are anywhere near Fort Collins, Colorado, make the pilgrimage and test yourself against this magnificent beast.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Technophiles
  • Experienced players in search of a challenging game
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The set was unique and badass
  • Challenging puzzles
  • The tech was impressively engineered
  • The story had depth
  • It was essentially a 3-hour escape game

Story

Our crew had received a distress call from the spaceship Margo. We had to identify its location, journey through the stars to find the wayward ship, and learn what had disrupted its journey.

In-game: an unusual device with glowing buttons and large tube protruding from it.

Setting

The beauty, durability, and uniqueness of Plight of the Margo was instantaneously apparent. ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms built a spaceship set unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Two things struck us about this set:

First, near as I can tell, it wasn’t really riffing off of pop-culture spaceship aesthetics… or at least any that I’m aware of. The reflective gold walls, steel grate flooring, and industrial components felt unique to this game world.

In-game: A strange mechanical device in the middle of the ship, the walls are gold and reflective.

Second, the build quality and the components used within this set seemed genuine. The game didn’t feel like an escape room or even an amusement; it felt like an industrial construction.

Everything was so solid… like it might just blast off… or if you wanted to try to break this set, it might break you instead. (Please don’t try to break anything.)

Gameplay

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 1 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling

The key difference was that instead playing to win, we were striving to achieve at least 38% completion to position ourselves for success in Plight of the Margo Part 2.

In-game: ship's helm with screens in front of it.

Analysis

➕ ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms built an impressive spaceship. This was an industrial grade set. There was no facade. It was robust enough to wear well and it might even look cooler with wear.

➕ The technology powering Plight of the Margo was as real as the set.

➕ So many of the interactions were real. Pneumatic tubes were pneumatic tubes. If our spaceship did a thing, it usually wasn’t simulated.

➕ ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms balanced the difficulty curve. The most challenging puzzles were in the middle of the games.

➖ The first puzzle was the weakest segment of Part 1. We’d been briefed on our mission, but the first puzzle was 100% escape room-y. It didn’t make sense in the world. After this, most everything else was justified by the narrative, which made this an especially confusing start. It didn’t teach us how to play the rest of the game.

➕/➖ The puzzles were challenging. Solving them tended to feel chaotic. We weren’t always entirely sure what we were doing, even as we were solving. This made for choppy flow. Atmospherically, and given the narrative, the chaos worked. We weren’t bothered by feeling a bit in over our head.

➖ We encountered some long bricks of text. This stalled forward momentum.

➕ The puzzles were challenging, interactive solves. Our favorite puzzles required us to interact with different contraptions aboard our ship.

➕/➖ There were some surprising, slick effects. Although they added a lot at the onset, they overstayed their welcome.

➕ Three words: automated iris doors.

Transition to Part 2

➕/➖ We’d never played an escape room where our progress after Part 1 was saved and we could pick up in Part 2 and continue. This was really cool. The downside in this instance was that Part 1 had no climax; it just stopped.

Come back tomorrow to learn about the exciting second chapter of this massive game.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least 1 player needs to crawl.
  • Play both parts back-to back if you can.

Book your hour with ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 1, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The Curious Case of the Hatch Escapes Kickstarter

We’re big fans of Hatch Escapes in Los Angeles, California. Their first game Lab Rat won a 2018 Golden Lock-In award.

Hatch Escapes recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of their largely built next game, The Ladder.

I’ll open by saying that I backed this campaign… and I’m watching it closely because nearly 3 years ago we declared the crowdfunding of escape rooms (more or less) dead.

kickstarter logo

2017 Escape Room Crowdfunding Study

At the beginning of 2017 we pulled data on all of the escape room-related Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns that we could dredge up and analyzed it year over year.

The results were pretty grim, showing that most escape room crowdfunding efforts failed. Those that succeeded had low goals.

The study went into a lot more detail; you should read it.

We’ve been meaning to revisit this and likely will in the not-so-distant future.

Why the Hatch Campaign is Interesting

This Hatch Escapes campaign is intriguing for a few reasons:

  • The $25,000 goal is ambitious.
    • The most successful Kickstarter that we had identified in our 2017 study was Oubliette Escape Rooms and Adventure Society out of the United Kingdom. In 2015 it raised $16,674.
  • Hatch Escapes has an amazing reputation and a strong following.
  • The campaign, like Hatch Escapes’ games, is well written.
    • The video and writing in the campaign far exceed what we’ve seen from most other escape room crowdfunding efforts.

Implications

The big question is: can Hatch Escapes buck the trends and raise enough to meet their goal?

I am truly rooting for them.

As top-tier escape room builds become more complicated and expensive, it is important for new funding methods to emerge. I would love to see a future where escape room creators with proven track records are supported in kind by the community of players.

Check out Hatch Escapes’ Kickstarter and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

And on the subject of crowdfunding and supporting creators…

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Puzzah! – KAZAM! [Review]

Automagical

Location:  Denver, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

KAZAM! was a puzzle-driven escape game with a collection of generally high-quality challenges.

Additionally, Puzzah! had an interesting approach to automation that seamlessly injected bonus content into the experience, based on team performance.

In-game: another view of Kazam's study, the wall is covered in clocks and a strange mechanism is mounted to the wall.

That said, we felt the limitations of hint automation rear their head from time to time. Also, a recurring visibility obstacle was cool at first, but grew way too old by the end of the game.

As puzzlers we really enjoyed KAZAM! and absolutely recommend it to puzzle- and tech-minded players.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technophiles
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting automated puzzles
  • Strong team-based gameplay
  • Adaptive difficulty

Story

We entered the attic of famed and missing stage magician Kellar Kazam. The question at hand: where did his final disappearing act take him?

In-game: A computer with a white screen on a desk in a strange old study.

Setting

KAZAM! was built as a quirky space. It was an office. It was decorated and themed against the golden age of stage magic… and there was a modern computer. I have no idea what year it was supposed to be in the game world.

Now all of that might sound negative, but it wasn’t; it worked. I attribute this to the fact that Puzzah! clearly put a lot of effort into the space. That was evident from the unusual ceiling as well as the integrated tech.

As with all of the Puzzah! games we played on this trip, Kazam! had tech-driven adaptive difficulty piloting the game.

In-game: a bird cage with a glasses wearing skull.

Gameplay

Puzzah!’s KAZAM! was a linear escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It was unusual in that a computer interface gated all the puzzles.

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

In-game: wide view the Kazam's study, clocks, and other items hang on the walls.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles were the star of KAZAM! Puzzah! took familiar concepts and added clever twists.

➕ KAZAM! had one of our favorite searching puzzles of all time. Puzzah! used riddles and puns to clue a finite amount of searching.

➕ While ciphers can drag on in escape rooms, Puzzah! dodged this in KAZAM! by integrating an entertaining mechanism into an alternating cipher.

➖ As much as we enjoyed the puzzles, at times we felt that Puzzah! could have added cleaner cluing.

➕ KAZAM! had an enticing magical study vibe to it. It was a fun place to explore.

➖ For a game set in the golden age of magic, it relied heavily on a computer. This seemed out of place. (I’m not sure what year it was supposed to be.) It also slowed the pace of gameplay.

➕/➖ KAZAM! opened with a gimmick that added intrigue to the opening moments of the game. We expect this will be novel for most players. We appreciated how this forced teamwork. We felt, however, that as the game progressed, this mechanic overstayed its welcome and became annoying.

➕ Puzzah!’s games are automated. KAZAM! will present more puzzles to players who move through the game quickly. We appreciated the “bonus” content. It seemed integrated well enough that players who aren’t presented with it won’t miss it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is nearby street parking and public parking lots.

Book your hour with Puzzah!’s KAZAM!, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Puzzah! comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Trap Door Escape Room – Cure Z: Quarantine [Review]

Bigger, longer…

Location:  Bartonsville, PA

Date Played: August 25, 2019

Team size: up to 16; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $49.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Trap Door Escape Room builds big, strange, narrative-driven escape games. They have a style all their own and I’m into it.

Cure Z: Quarantine, the sequel to their retired second game Cure Z, was massive. It ran 120 minutes and took up a ridiculous amount of square footage. I cannot think of another escape game in the Northeastern US that’s anywhere near this big.

In-game: A test subject with dead eyes in a containment chamber.
Image via Trap Door.

What became clear over the 120 minutes was that what Trap Door Escape Room does well, they do really well: size, scale, narrative, effects, atmosphere. Trap Door Escape Room falls short in puzzle design and hinting.

The hinting seemed optimized around keeping us in the game for as close to 120 minutes as possible. This led to choppy gameplay. We found ourselves frustrated and wanting hints with no way of receiving them during much of the game… and then a flood of solutions wrapped as hints in the late game.

The puzzle quality was inconsistent with a few dreadful challenges. I have long believed that Trap Door Escape Room is a puzzle designer away from greatness. I think that now, more than ever.

Overall, I find myself coming back to the same feelings about Trap Door Escape Room. There is so much genius in their work… even when their puzzle play leaves me wondering, “was that even a puzzle?”

Trap Door Escape Room is all about spectacle and physicality and Cure Z: Quarantine brings what we’ve come to expect. If you’re near the Poconos, it’s well worth exploring; there isn’t anything else like it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Zombie fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s physically massive
  • 2-hour game clock
  • Fun interactions

Story

One year after the original zombie virus outbreak was contained, a large portion of the population takes Quiet Z by Quieten Pharma to suppress the disease.

With the world beginning to pull itself back from the brink, a new attack from a terrorist organization named 1 World Alliance could push society into collapse if we couldn’t contain the threat.

In-game: a strange coiled device glowing green.
Image via Trap Door.

Setting

Trap Door Escape Room likes building big… and Cure Z: Quarantine was among the largest escape rooms we’ve encountered in terms of square footage. There were many different rooms, each with a unique aesthetic and purpose.

The general quality of the build was fairly high. There was some variation in quality, complexity and intrigue from scene to scene, but Cure Z: Quarantine had a lot to love in the set department.

In-game: an old and rundown travel agency.
Image via Trap Door.

The game itself had an unusual opening sequence. I could call it theatrical, but not in the sense that you’re probably thinking. Trap Door Escape Rooms opened their game with a ~10-minute coming attractions reel for their other experiences before pivoting into a video briefing. This was really clever, although its runtime was excessive.

Finally, the first set – a police station – was the weakest in the game. It was just barely designed and it wasn’t an inspiring first impression. The good news was that things rapidly improved from there.

In-game: an alleyway with "zombies = people" painted on the wall.
Image via Trap Door.

Gameplay

Trap Door Escape Room’s Cure Z: Quarantine was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a red faux rotary pay phone.
Image via Trap Door.

Analysis

➕ Cure Z: Quarantine was an adventure. Foreboding, but not horror, this escape room had us racing through a large gamespace, exploring, solving, and interacting. It was exhilarating.

➕ The story of Cure Z: Quarantine worked. As we played, we learned more about the characters and the extent of the goings-on in this space. We understood the scenario and our role within it.

In-game: a dead body on the floor in the foreground, a zombie lurking in the background.
Image via Trap Door.

➕ As we played Cure Z: Quarantine, we were continually opening up new spaces. The floor plan was sizable and unusual. It was exciting to open up a new place. Trap Door Escape Room built some wonderful sets and drops. These were detailed and interesting. We had a continual sense of exploration and discovery throughout the experience.

➖ We played the entire game with flashlights. Although this could be justified by the staging, it was inhibiting as a player. We would have really liked spotlighting or a puzzle that revealed better light in key areas. 120 minutes by flashlight was too much.

➖ The puzzles needed additional refinement. Most puzzles seemed to be almost – but not quite entirely – clued. In one instance, we had the wrong tools to solve the puzzle. In another, the UI didn’t accept reasonable variation. At one point, the clues didn’t give us order. The puzzle-play dragged; it was the least exciting part of the experience.

➕ Trap Door Escape Room gated gameplay by illuminating the next input. In a game with such a large footprint and so many opportunities, this worked well to keep us on task.

➖ The hints weren’t hints; they were solutions. Trap Door Escape Room pushed us hints as they felt we needed them, based on our timing, but these hints came far later than we would have wanted them, long after we’d stopped enjoying solving a puzzle. When hints arrived, we could move forward again, but not in a satisfying way. We would have had stronger momentum with gentle nudges earlier in the game.

➕ The plot culminated with a nifty prop. The UI worked great. It delivered satisfying successes and humorous failures. It was fun to use. 

In-game: A dead person on an operating table in a green lit room, their organs are exposed.
Image via Trap Door.

➕/➖ Before our adventure began, we watched the previews… for Trap Door Escape Room’s other experiences at their other locations in New Jersey. We respect the hustle. It’s a smart move… if it were half the length, it would have been genius.

➕ The scope and size of Cure Z: Quarantine was admirable. Trap Door Escape Room isn’t afraid of throwing an incredible volume of square footage at a game; that’s pretty cool.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trap Door Escape Room is located at the back of the plaza. Drive behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • We highly recommend Pho Saigon II for a meal before or after your game. They are located in the same plaza.

Book your hour with Trap Door Escape Room’s Cure Z: Quarantine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.