Boxaroo – The Storyteller's Secret [Review]

Once upon a puzzle…

Location:  Boston, MA

Date Played: December 14, 2019

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

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $40-47 per player

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Intimate, mellow, and heartwarming. This combination is one of the least explored territories in the escape game world. Boxaroo set off on an adventure to chart this mysterious land and struck gold.

The set was elegant, compact, and truly impressive, especially when you realize just how small it actually was.

Boxaroo’s engineering was top-notch.

In-game: A beautiful old writer's desk with a journal and a quill pen.

Then there’s the gameplay. A friend said to me that The Storyteller’s Secret felt kind of like playing a really good point and click adventure game; I can confirm that. The way this experience unfolded honestly felt like playing a tangible Lucas Arts game. If you have ever played one, I think you’ll realize how high a compliment that is.

We loved this game. It’s as great a game for first time players as it is for seasoned escape room fanatics. If you’re anywhere near Boston, The Storyteller’s Secret is a must-play escape game.

In-game: Closeup of a pully against some vegitation.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The game was beautifully executed on every level
  • Playful and heartwarming story
  • An incredible feat of engineering
  • It almost feels like playing an old Lucas Arts game in real life

Story

We paid a visit to the cabin of best-selling adventure novelist Emily Carter to learn the secret origins of her incredible stories.

In-game: the wooden wall of a cabin with small shalves and hooks displaying many different trinkets.

Setting

We entered a quaint and elegant writer’s nook. On one side was an adorable desk; on the other side were massive, larger-than-life books. From there, our adventure was entirely up to the storytelling of Emily Carter.

The set was beautiful and playful, filled with vivid details. The technology underpinning The Storyteller’s Secret was ingenious and ever-present, but never showy.

In-game: A corner bench seat with a pillow that reads, "Bee my honey" depicting two bees.

Gameplay

Boxaroo’s The Storyteller’s Secret was a narrative-focused escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a fish caught ina net.

Analysis

➕ The Storyteller’s Secret told a complete story. It was beautiful and intimate. It didn’t put a lot of pressure on us. This was a mellow experience, but not without exciting moments.

➕ This was a game about a writer. It managed to pull that off with fewer than 2 lines of written text.

➖ The opening moments of The Storyteller’s Secret had a potentially cool interaction that went nowhere. It felt like opportunity was knocking and no one answered.

➕ Boxaroo created a wonderful difficulty curve. They focused player attention on relevant content through use of light and sound. They’d designed the game such that as it progressed, we felt like we had grown our skills and achieved mastery over the game’s challenges.

In-game: A wall mounting with two tribal masks hanging.

➕ This game represented our view of what escape room technology ought to be. The engineering was incredible, but most would rarely even notice it. It was just magic.

➕ The hint system was an integrated part of the experience. We never touched it, but we imagine it blending into the story.

➖/➕ The physical construction of the final puzzle was noticeably lackluster. The puzzle itself was quite clever in context, but I’m completely confident that Boxaroo could implement it better because they did so everywhere else in this game.

The Storyteller’s Secret had smart backtracking and reuse.

➕ Boxaroo only allows appropriately sized teams into this game. What a bizarre and novel concept?

Tips For Visiting

  • Boxaroo is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.
  • At least 1 teammate needs to be able to duck into a small space.

Book your hour with Boxaroo’s The Storyteller’s Secret, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Boxaroo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Goat – The Quest [Review]

Rolled a natural 20

Location:  Winter Garden, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape Goat’s The Quest channeled a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to breathe life into a high fantasy world where a dragon needed defeating. I love this theme and I truly enjoyed Escape Goat’s execution of the concept.

The puzzles felt chunky and tangible. The challenges were thematic. The world had personality… and that last piece seems like Escape Goat’s superpower. They imbue simple things with life and charm that far exceeds what you’d expect.

If you’re near Orlando, I highly recommend visiting Escape Goat and rolling the dice with The Quest.

In-game: The mounted head of a dragon.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Dungeons & Dragons fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A delightful D&D-esque story and setting
  • Fun tangible puzzles
  • Loads of charm – this game has high charisma

Story

The village of Oakenshire had been living under the threat of a great Garzon dragon. We set out on a quest for the knowledge or weapons needed to save the town.

In-game: Wide view of the Quest's set, a wizard's study.

Setting

The Quest looked very Dungeons & Dragons. I can hear a dungeon master describing this wizard’s laboratory filled with books, potions, magical ingredients, and enchanted weapons.

It had a great look and feel about it with the occasional modern combination lock being the only overtly out of place item in the space.

In-game: Closeup of a wizard's potion desk.

Gameplay

Escape Goat’s The Quest was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A book of magical creatures.

Analysis

➕ Escape Goat used voice-over narration and an in-character gamemaster to set the scene and emphasize their fantasy Dungeons & Dragons-esque world. These helped us connect to our role as adventurers.

➕ The set, props, and technology supported the fantasy world. The gamespace looked good and the technology felt magical. Escape Goat used all these tools to enhance the gamespace.

➕ There was a lot of content in The Quest, but the gameplay flowed well and the volume of puzzles never felt overwhelming. Many of the puzzles had layered solutions. They were placed in different tracks and gated in a manner that kept things organized and approachable.

➖ While most of the puzzles solved cleanly, The Quest presented a few opportunities for additional tweaking. One puzzle seemed to solve primarily through trial and error. In another, the cluing wasn’t clear enough within the props themselves. Additionally, the game bottlenecked slightly in one area of the room where a lot of gameplay was crammed into a small space.

➕ The puzzles varied enormously and required different types of thinking. We especially enjoyed the inclusion of a Survivor-style puzzle.

➖ There was a lot of reading in The Quest. Given the other types of storytelling built into this game, there would be an opportunity to incorporate the lengthy written story or cluing into other mediums.

➕/➖ One late-game puzzle required us to wait on a prop to complete an action, which was neat, and belonged in the world, but could easily be frustrating, considering there were no other actions available to us at this point. It would have been excruciating to lose during this segment.

The Quest concluded with a well-designed decision. Our options all felt appropriate and triumphant.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Goat’s The Quest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Goat comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escape Divas – 106 – REA & A RECON 2020 Announcement

‘Tis the season for our annual Room Escape Divas appearance.

Room Escape Divas Logo, a cartoon representation of the four hosts.

Room Escape Divas Episode 106 – Room Escape Artist and the Escape Room Industry

Announcing Nick Moran at RECON

If you listen to the episode, or scan the timestamps below, you’ll learn that Nick Moran will be speaking at RECON.

RECON eye & penrose triangle logo.

The brilliant, funny, and talented Nick Moran (please, nobody tell him we said that) was Creative Director of Time Run and Game Director of Sherlock: The Game Is Now, in collaboration with Hartswood Films. Don’t miss out on hearing him speak!

Timestamps

As always, we covered a lot of ground. A few highlights include:

  • 00:00 – An escape room parody rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas performed by the big guy himself, Benito Suppa of Durham Escape Rooms.
  • 06:20 – Our new convention, the Reality Escape Convention (RECON) – including the announcement of Nick Moran as a speaker.
  • 19: 50 – My work on the Create the Escape TV pilot.
  • 24:33 – Behind the scenes of our CBS Sunday Morning TV appearance!
  • 27:22 – Speaking to the media about escape rooms.
  • 33:24 – Looking forward at the escape room industry
  • 37:19 – How we choose to give immediate feedback?
  • 53:34 – What’s your escape room kryptonite? (Building horror teams)
  • 55:16 – The rebrand of the Golden Lock Award
  • 58:23 – Our various escape room injuries
  • 1:00:36 – REA 5 Years Later
  • 1:02:00 – Our 2020 Montreal Tour
  • 1:04:26 – Escape Enthusiast Meetups (our next NYC meetup)
  • 1:05:30 – Starting REA
  • 1:09:30 – David is really good at breaking Manda during her signoff

It’s kind of amazing to me how far we and the Divas have come over the past half decade. They are truly putting out their best content these days. It’s delightful to listen to (and occasionally participate in.)

Finally, my favorite quote of the episode is Errol saying, “Oh… coming to me is not a safe place.”

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Red Sled Redemption [Review]

When Santa crashed into New Joysey

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 18, 2019

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

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $29.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Red Sled Redemption was the most genius inexpensive and small escape room build that we’ve ever seen.

In-game: Wide view of the sleigh repair shop with Santa's red sled in the middle.

It was small. 70% of the props were repurposed toys. We have to imagine that every escape room creator who plays it will walk out wondering why they didn’t build this game… and the answer to why they didn’t build it is because they aren’t Doldrick’s.

A unique blend of humor, storytelling, and craft goes into Doldrick’s productions… and it’s topped off with a dollop of insanity. They are making magic over there. In this case, it was Christmas magic.

If you’ve ever uttered “I hate single room games” or “I need more than a traditional puzzley escape room” go try Red Sled Redemption to see what this looks like at the top of the craft. Is this game as intense, innovative, or over-the-top as Captain Spoopy Bones or Super Bombsquad (review coming soon)? No, but that’s a high bar. Is it a fantastic escape room? Absolutely.

If you’re anywhere near Orlando, Doldrick’s Escape Room is a must visit escape room company. As far as we’re concerned, if they’ve made it, you should play it. 3 games in, they’ve earned our trust.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • It was equal parts adorable and hilarious
  • A fantastic take on the classic escape room format

Story

It was Christmas Eve and Santa had crash landed his sleigh into the The Holly Jolly Holiday Hubcap Repair.

We had to help Richie and Mikey, the world’s worst sleigh repair elves, get the big man airborne in time for him to complete his deliveries.

In-game: a red pegboard with green toy tools hanging from it.

Setting

Red Sled Redemption was set within an auto sleigh repair shop run by lazy elves on Christmas Eve. The tools were toys… because of course the tools were toys.

Everything about the set was deliberate, silly, and spot-on.

This was a small single-room, old-school escape game done right. It had intrigue, character, and surprise born of the props.

In-game: A toy gas pump painted like a cow.

Gameplay

Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Red Sled Redemption was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a golden raindeer hood ornament.

Analysis

 Red Sled Redemption was jovial, whimsical, and fun. It was ridiculous, and we jingled and laughed all the way.

➕ The intro video was bonkers and set the tone for the experience. We were fully engaged from the moment the video started.

➕ Doldrick’s Escape Room repurposed plastic toys into escape room props. They modified the toys, integrating tech and fitting them into a playful repair shop aesthetic. While the build materials were inexpensive, the overall experience was high quality.

In-game: a toy workbench.

➕ The gameplay flowed well. Although there were a lot of puzzles within a small physical footprint, the signposting kept us on track.

➖ One puzzle had us spinning around, struggling against a little too much precision.

Red Sled Redemption included many layered solves that required coordinated teamwork. One was especially scrumptious. Another jacked up our excitement. Doldrick’s Escape Rooms got a lot of mileage out of their main set piece, as we continued to unwrap fun interactions.

➖ The workshop lighting made it hard to read small fonts. We struggled when tight areas of the set were especially dim. Stringing up a few more lights would add more holiday cheer and improve the usability of the space.

➕ One of the toy-based puzzles was an impressive feat of engineering. We’d love to know how they made it work consistently.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least one player needs to be relatively agile.

Book your hour with Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Red Sled Redemption, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doldrick’s Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Murder in the West Wing [Review]

Government jobs are murder.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 15, 2019

Team size: requires exactly 6

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Murder in the West Wing was our third journey with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries. We aren’t huge fans of murder mysteries in general, but we love doing them with Ghost Ship. Interestingly, we all took Murder in the West Wing very seriously and the result was that we kind of broke the game in an amusing and strangely fun way.

We played these characters realistically by present-day American politics standards. We were all laughably partisan and not a %^&*ing one of us ever openly admitted to wrongdoing (even when confronted with evidence). We all dodged, denied, and generally employed the Shaggy defense (which has a well-developed Wikipedia page).

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking silly.
Yes, I did in fact commission that painting… and it is a brutally accurate description of what went down.

The world was burning and we were all protecting our reputations and interests. Each one of us was far more concerned with our own careers and saw the murder as more of an inconvenience. None of us cared about the victim (which was the only significant flaw with the script). It was legitimately weird when we all claimed to know nothing, but we were all so busy covering our own asses and hoarding one another’s secrets to ever confront truth. By the end of the game we had all unwittingly turned Murder in the West Wing into a giant prisoner’s dilemma, and collectively lost in spectacular fashion… which was kind of amazing.

I think that there is a much tighter game within Murder in the West Wing than we allowed, had we followed the prompts more directly. That said, I love that we unintentionally turned this immersive game into an on-the-nose nihilistic microcosm of present-day politics.

If you like the idea of hosting an intimate murder mystery for 6 people, Murder in the West Wing is great… and I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have a different experience than we had – probably because your friends will take this a little less seriously than we did.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Sorkin fans
  • Aspiring detectives
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Ghost Ship takes all of the labor and annoyance out of hosting a murder mystery gathering
  • To experience an unusual tale of political intrigue
  • Fantastic facilitation that pushes just the right amount to keep things moving

Story

Five government officials – each embroiled in their own scandals – and a mysterious stranger were summoned to the West Wing to meet with the President.

No one knows why they are all present.

Closeup of an Old Fashion with an orange.
If you’re looking for the right drink to pair with calamitous political decisions, the Old Fashioned is the drink.

Setting

Murder in the West Wing was set and structured exactly as Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers. You can take a look back at that review to learn how they went about bringing a crime to our home.

This time, instead of dressing as space cowboys and space wizards, we wore suits.

Gameplay

As with the setting, you can reference our past review to get a handle on how Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries works.

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking very serious.
Serious face.

Analysis

➕ The tale of political intrigue was a fun, approachable theme with easy costuming.

Murder in the West Wing was a 6-player game (no more, no less). This was noticeably smaller than the other games we had played with Ghost Ship. As a result, it felt a lot more intimate. The trade-off was that it didn’t have the same scope, scale, and chaos of the other mysteries we had experienced.

➕ The first act was a gentle lead-in. It was a soft, approachable scene that let us all get comfortable.

➖ For us, the biggest flaw was that none of the characters had a great reason to care about the victim as a human being. The stakes were misaligned. We all had intrinsic motivations that felt generally greater than the murder in question.

➖ Too much of the hidden information was found too early and by the wrong people. This led to character breaks and some general holes in the story.

➕ Our facilitator did a great job of prompting and gently pushing for scenes to unfold… which was good because each and every one of us was slippery and evil. In our case, we didn’t do what was expected of us given those prompts.

➖ In our game, the information just didn’t flow. We didn’t necessarily know when to reveal certain information, and we were all so busy blackmailing or leveraging one another that we were tight-lipped about each other’s secrets even when they were revealed.

➖ Every handwritten note looked like a woman’s handwriting, which threw us for a loop.

➕ The use of cell phones in the game was great.

Tips For Visiting

  • This can be played in a small space. A larger space is better but not necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to tidy up your home before hosting.
  • A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in terms of loosening people up.
  • It’s fine to invite people who aren’t outgoing, but don’t invite people who are too cool to play.
  • Your home needs adequate cellular service to play Murder in the West Wing.

Book your hour with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Murder in the West Wing, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Case in Escape Room Tech

CaSE, iT MAttErs.

We live in a civilized society with rules. Respecting case is one of them. The utility of letter case is rarely discussed… and we’re not going to get into any of that today.

We are going to dig into how case regularly breaks puzzle inputs in stupid, avoidable ways.

Close up stylized image of the shift and caps lock keys on a Mac keyboard.

What Escape Room Designers Must Know About Case

Everyone knows that there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, right?

Well to a computer, there are not 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 52. Unless a computer is told otherwise, it will treat upper case letters and lower case letters as different entities.

When, as players, we find ourselves inputting a puzzle solution into a digital interface, case frequently presents a silly, easily avoidable, joy-killing barrier.

Solutions & Case Sensitivity

My team just solved a puzzle. The solution is “sherlock.” We are confident that we have to input this solution into a computer… so we type it in… and it’s rejected.

In most instances where a password is typed into a digital interface, there are 3 different options for case:

  • sherlock
  • Sherlock
  • SHERLOCK

As a player I can confidently tell you that I don’t give a $#!% which one works. I do care, however, when my right answer fails because I used a lower case “s” when I needed an upper case “S” or vice versa.

This problem is magnified when a team doesn’t stop to think about the implications of case. They might just walk away from a correct answer and dive down some useless rabbit hole. It happens. I’ve seen it.

Keyboards, Shift, & Caps Lock

These problems are often exacerbated by the shift and caps lock keys on a keyboard. Often, when a password is inputted into a computer, the display looks like this:

******** or ●●●●●●●●

UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES I MIGHT NOT NOTICE THAT MY TEAMMATE POKED AT THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON EARLIER… AND NOW I AM SHOUTING MY SOLUTION AT THE COMPUTER LIKE A CRAZY UNCLE FORWARDING A 10-YEAR-OLD POLITICAL CHAIN EMAIL!!!!!!!!

Solutions

There are a few easy solutions to these problems. The right combination of solutions will change based on the game’s individual circumstances.

Program Different Cases

If you’ve custom built the software that accepts your password, you can likely code it to accept multiple responses.

Allowing your software to accept “sherlock” OR “Sherlock” OR “SHERLOCK” nullifies the problem.

Normalize or Ignore Case

Again, if we’re talking custom software, you can usually drop a line of code into the program that either normalizes case or ignores it entirely.

Normalization is probably my favorite solution because when you start typing, it always types in the case that the system wants. I type in “Sherlock” but what displays is “SHERLOCK” and there is zero room for confusion on my part or the computer’s.

Ignoring case is useful as well because I can type “ShErLoCk” or any other permutation of case and the computer accepts it. It’s not limited to the pre-programmed solutions.

Programmatically Disable Shift & Caps Lock

Depending upon the computer you have and software you’re running, you may be able to programmatically disable the shift and caps lock keys so that they do not function.

This could be useful under circumstances where you have full control over the computer, but not the software that needs to accept the password.

Physically Disable Shift & Caps Lock

Finally, if all else fails, you can go nuclear and crack open the keyboard and break the shift and caps lock keys so that they cannot function on a mechanical level.

The Bottom Line

Whichever route you go, the net benefit is that you’ll eliminate a point of needless confusion and friction for your players.

This will also eliminate an entire category of hints and completely streamline a segment of your game that really isn’t supposed to be a challenge in the first place.

Everybody wins.

Double Inputting in Escape Room Tech

Double inputting is a silly source of player confusion in escape room tech, but it’s easy to eliminate.

Double inputting is a silly source of player confusion in escape room tech, but it’s easy to eliminate.

Stylized image of a horizon with two rainbows.

What is Double Inputting?

I’ll set a scene:

I’m at an altar with my team. It’s the end of the game. We have collected a series of magical items and we must place them on the altar, then remove them in a particular order. If we do it correctly we will summon the all-powerful God of Interface Design and win the game.

We place our objects one by one in the correct order… and nothing happens. We were right, but it didn’t work.

It turned out that when placing one item my hand shook just a little.

Stylized image of a birthday a with a "2" candle on it.

What happened? The RFID chip in the object moved in and out and then back in range of the reader. The result is that it read as the same object twice. Thus the entire sequence was considered incorrect.

There are a lot of circumstances where signals or inputs can be duplicated quickly and without the player realizing that it has happened.

When this happens, the result is always the same: the solution is incorrect and it’s frustrating.

In some instances this happens so frequently on a particular puzzle that the gamemaster pops onto the hint system to say, “It’s ok guys. You have the right answer. It happens to everyone. Just be really quick and deliberate… and it will work. If you can’t get it, I’ll come in and do it for you.”

Stylized image of a double decker bus in London.

Solution: Read Delay

There’s a pretty easy software fix for this problem:

Add a “read delay.” After an input is accepted, put a few second delay on reading another signal. That way if someone’s a bit shaky or fumbles the pieces, the computer won’t get confused by the action.

Exactly how long that delay ought to be is going to vary based on the individual interaction. Take your best guess. Then test it with real players and adapt accordingly. The goal of the timing should be that it doesn’t slow down their pace, but it should prevent double inputs.

Pushbuttons and switches have a similar problem, called “bounce.”

When a read delay is used for buttons, it is called “debouncing.”

Solution: State Machine

Another fix is a “state machine.” A state machine is a list of states and a list of transitions that take you from one state to another. This allows you to control exactly what is/ isn’t considered an input in the sequence.

More Technical Details

The following explanation is thanks to Brett Kuehner:

For example, let’s say you have 5 props: A, B, C, D, and E. You want them placed on a single pedestal, one at a time, in that sequence. If the players make a mistake (i.e. A, B, D) you want them to have to start over from the beginning. The diagram below shows a state machine with 6 states (circles), and transitions (lines) between them:

State machine explaination diagram.

Where there is a line between states, it indicates that the program should move between states if that condition is true.

This gives you complete control over what happens for each input. Each correct input moves the players from Start towards Finish. Each incorrect input sends them back to Start. A duplicate input does nothing because there is no transition. In the example, there is no transition from state 2 when the players place B on the pedestal. They can place B on and off as many times as they want, and the puzzle stays in state 2. When the players get to Finish, the system can unlock the lock, play the fanfare, and flash the lights. You know the only way it can get to Finish is if the exact sequence was followed.

State machines are a robust way to describe puzzle behavior because you can draw a diagram of exactly what you want and to turn it into rules for your control system to follow. Once you have a generic state machine routine, you can easily describe complex puzzles with minimal code or without any code at all. It is just data describing the states and transitions.

Here’s what the code might look like:

AddState(“start”, { DoStuffToResetThePuzzle(); });
AddState(“solved”, { UnlockTheDoorAndSoundTheTrumpets(); });

AddTransition(“start”, { return CheckTheSwitches(); }, “solved”);
SetState(“start”);

There are just 2 states: start and solved. The system continuously checks the current state of every puzzle, and sees if any of the transition conditions are true, which makes that puzzle move to another state. When the system goes to start, it resets the puzzle. (Doing this in start guarantees that every way you reset the puzzle will do exactly the same thing.) If “CheckTheSwitches” becomes true, the state machine goes to solved, which triggers the door to unlock to the trumpets to sound.

[collapse]
Black & white stylized image of two large birds flying overhead.

The Bottom Line

These kinds of details matter a lot. They are the difference between the technology being invisible and the moment triumphant… and the tech being obvious, broken, and the moment frustrating.

Q The Live Escape Experience – Area Q [Review]

Puzzle Gear

Location:  Loveland, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $24.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Area Q was a unique experience. Some of it was brilliant and some of it was a mess (literally and figuratively).

The crux of the game was built around a heist. We were stealing something and needed to navigate the security system as well as the guard. In a lot of ways, it felt a lot like a Metal Gear game.

In-game: A person sneaking around a wooden crage in a dark room.
Image via Q The Live Escape Experience

The cool thing about Area Q was that there were a lot of different ways to play it. If you played Area Q as a straight puzzle room, however, I think that you would find it pretty dull; the puzzles were decidedly subpar. That said, you don’t have to play it that way. It can be what you make of it.

I’m really glad that we played this game because it was different. Q The Live Escape Experience tried some interesting concepts… and they nailed the actor interactions. The catch here was that the puzzles, cleanliness, and finer points of set design felt all but ignored.

If you’re open to a unique experience that is equal parts exciting and flawed, then this is worth checking out. However, if you’re looking for something that is more grounded in escape room tradition and functions more smoothly, The Conjuror was a stronger all-around game.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Actor interactors
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The guard actor was fantastic and gave the character a ton of personality
  • The scenario built a lot of tension

Story

A meteor had crashed into Earth and had been retrieved by a criminal organization. Their scientists had extracted alien bacteria and used it to engineer a plague. Now they planned to auction it to the highest bidder.

Our assignment: infiltrate the facility under cover of darkness, avoid being caught by the guard, steal the plague sample, and plant a bomb to destroy the remaining samples.

Setting

Area Q sent us down into a rustic research lab. The reality of this staging was a game in a large, dusty, and dark warehouse space. Most of the set pieces were large wooden crates behind a chain-link fence. The laboratory portions felt hacked together.

It was spartan.

In-game: A glowing green exit sign over a door viewed through a chainlink fence.
Image via Q The Live Escape Experience

Every 10 minutes, like clockwork, a security guard patrolled the space. The actor was fantastic and really imbued this character with a personality.

Gameplay

Q The Live Escape Experience’s Area Q was an actor-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, hiding, and engaging with the actor.

Analysis

➕ Area Q was an escape room in principle, but the gameplay was open ended. We could play it straight by solving puzzles, or go for a more dramatic, improvisational approach with the actor.

➕ The guard gave this game intrigue. He walked with personality. He was imposing and threatening, but also amusing. He was adaptive too. He would play the type of game that the players wanted to play. When we chose to mess with him, he gave it right back to us. This was a ton of fun.

➖ The puzzles were downright boring. They felt like tedious work we had to slog through. It didn’t help that we had to abandon them and hide every time the guard approached.

➖ The gameplay was largely search-focused. Search was frustrating because the set was large and dark. Although we weren’t bumping into things, we weren’t keen on blind searching, considering the dirt and splintery props.

➕ Although Area Q was a dark space, it needed to be for the premise of the game. We had enough flashlights for each teammate. The space was also devoid of clutter and tripping hazards. We weren’t going to miss these props.

There is a difference between a dirty-looking set and an actually dirty set. Area Q was filthy. After hiding in this set, we were covered in dirt and dust.

➕ Area Q had a laissez-faire approach to solving. There was no definitive way to accomplish something. We could solve the puzzles or find our own means to accomplish our heist. In fact, they’d designed different paths to get teams to the same ending. Depending on how a team approached the game, different things could happen, but none of them would be game-ending. Instead, they would set the team on a different path to a successful ending.

➖ There were opportunities to make the props more interesting. For example, the plague sample we needed to steal could have looked like something we wanted to get our hands on.

Area Q built a ton of tension with the constant hiding and the actor dramatics. Given this build up, the ending fell flat. Our exit from the gamespace was anticlimactic in comparison.

Tips For Visiting

  • Wear closed-toed shoes and clothing that can get dirty.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Q The Live Escape Experience’s Area Q, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Q The Live Escape Experience comped our tickets for this game.

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

Locked In Escapes – Rock Star: The Final Curtain [Review]

Playing old hit.

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Rock Star: The Final Curtain was a challenging puzzle-centric game that had a cute intro and stronger final act. The middle was a bit shaky.

This game didn’t need to be as hard and grindy as it was. So much of the difficulty stemmed from the volume of partial puzzle content that we had access to. It could have been smoother and more energetic.

In-game: A microphone viewed from on-stage, the auditorium beyond it.

We think that this is a heavily modified version of the N.E.R.D. game of a similar name. Our teammate who had played the original was pleasantly surprised that he recognized a few puzzles.

Rock Star: The Final Curtain had some bright spots and we were glad to play them. However, you need to fight through the early-game to find the stuff that’s special. If you’re up for that, absolutely give it a try. Otherwise, we strongly recommend Locked In Escapes’ The Infected; that game was lovely.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A fun mid-game transition
  • It was challenging
  • Amusing introduction and conclusion moments

Story

Our favorite band since high school US THEM OR DEAN was on their farewell tour. We’d managed to score backstage passes to meet them (OMG!).

As we’d made our way through security and to the dressing room, we learned that a pop music-hating madman had planted a bomb in the arena. We became trapped inside with no other option than to disarm his destructive device.

In-game: The entry to Rock Star, a velvet rope before the doorway.

Setting

After an adorable in-character introduction, we were led into a dressing room that looked pretty spartan and rough. There were some strong details, but the overall look of the space didn’t give us the sense that we were in a big rock star’s dressing room.

In-game: a view out of a window of the Las Vegas Strip.

From the props to the interactions, the second act staging looked and felt a lot stronger.

Gameplay

Locked In Escapes’ Rock Star: The Final Curtain was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and keeping organized.

In-game: a locked guitar case on the floor of a purple dressing room.

Analysis

➖ We were physically locked in this game with an emergency key hung near the exit door. This was less than ideal, but fine. The problem that we had with this particular setup was that the exit door was in a dark, cramped area of the game. I understand why this game’s setup called for a lock-in, but it would be far safer with a maglock instead of a keyed lock.

➕ Locked In Escapes built excitement with their presentation of the game. Our in-character gamemaster set an energetic tone. This sold the introduction.

➖ The set for the first act wasn’t particularly interesting. It was a bit cramped and didn’t really sell Rock Star’s dressing room.

➕ As we solved through Rock Star: The Final Curtain, we’d be interrupted now and again by newscast videos, which reminded us of our situation and added to the drama of our plight. These were fun interludes.

➖ In the first act, we had access to too many unsolvable puzzles too early. These gating issues slowed the gameplay and caused us to spend a lot of time working on things that we couldn’t solve. Because of this, Rock Star: The Final Curtain was more challenging than it needed to be (or probably should be).

➖ We found an iPad in the dressing room, which we used in a few different ways throughout the first act. While this worked to facilitate gameplay, it bottlenecked like a runbook. We would have preferred less on the iPad and more in the room.

➕ Locked in Escapes justified consumable in-game refreshments. The refreshments and their justification were unusual and appreciated.

➕ We loved the mid-game transition. The second act was also staged quite well. Any sliding energy levels abated.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Locked In Escapes’ Rock Star: The Final Curtain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locked In Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

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

My Mechanics Machines a Bolt Into a Combination Lock

🤯 Here is an incredible mixture of the right tools, a ton of skill… and a lot of thought.

3 Thoughts

  • You can tell that this person is skilled, not just by the quality of the finished product, but also by the lack of hand damage.
  • I can’t tell if those divots were false gates machined onto each disk or if they are just there to make it click when twisted.
  • If I could add one more thing, it would be an indicator line for the code.
A beautiful hand machined steel and brass 5 disck combination lock.

This beauty really should find its way to the LockPickingLawyer for testing.