Field Report: Greek Escape Rooms

Every strong escape room market has its own flavor, norms, and style. This is especially true of the top tier games in a given region.

Of all of the cities that we’ve visited, Athens, Greece, had the most pronounced style that we’ve ever seen. Of the 10 games that we played, every one exhibited a collection of traits that were unique to the Greek escape room scene.

There were 6 different traits that were on display in many, if not most, of the escape rooms that we played in Athens:

  • Length
  • Scale
  • Storytelling
  • Mode Setting
  • Safety
  • Water

Length

Greek games are long.

The shortest games we played in Athens were 90 minutes. In most other places, 90 minutes would be quite a lengthy game.

The longest game that we played was upwards of 3 hours. And yes, there was a snack and drink break in the middle of that escape room.

In the past, we’ve played games with long clocks that weren’t necessary or that we won with 30+ minutes remaining. That didn’t happen in Greece. These were long, active games.

Pie chart of escape room lengths in minutes. less than have were 60 minutes or less. A quarter was 80-90 minutes. And a noticiple portion exceeded 100 minutes.
Chart via Paradox Project

By Paradox Project’s estimation more than half of the games in Athens have clocks that run longer than 60 minutes, and more than a quarter of them have clocks that run upwards of 90 minutes. It’s worth noting that when we visited, all of the top-rated escape games in the region had 90+ minute game clocks.

The biggest shock to me throughout this trip was that I almost never felt like the games were dragging or carrying on too long. Sure, there were moments that could have been edited out or down… but they were few and far between.

Continue reading “Field Report: Greek Escape Rooms”

Virtually Tour “Dracula’s Castle” Bran Castle

Of the many castles associated with the story of Dracula, Romania’s Bran Castle is the one with the strongest connection.

Bran Castle's iconic tower on a beautiful day.

There is a Google Street View Tour available of Bran Castle… and it’s a really cool place. Just looking at it makes me want to play a Castlevania game.

Speaking of which, I recently played Bloodstained Ritual of the Night and I truly enjoyed. This game was created by Koji Igarashi who created Castlevania Symphony of the Night.

Thank you to Mark from Walnut Creek, CA for sharing this virtual tour.

Crack a Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil [Review]

Sinfully Entertaining

Location:  at home

Date Played: April 12, 2020

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: more than 60 minutes, length of play depends a lot of your play style

Price: about $130 plus shipping for the US; more internationally

REA Reaction

Root of All Evil delivered deep dark storytelling, beautiful props, ciphers, and an atmosphere reminiscent of the movie Seven, if it had been set 70 years earlier. Playing it felt like we were unearthing something that had long been buried.

Closeup of the box contents includes a Holy Bible, newspaper clippings, and other items.

This was a game world worthy of exploration. While it had a lot of written materials, we were eager to read them because the writing captured our attention. This so rarely happens in the puzzle gaming world.

Root of All Evil culminated in a climax that was truly worthy of the experience. It was strange and bold.

I’d love to see Crack a Nut Mysteries build a far more robust self-service hint system to couple with this experience. This would ensure that everyone gets everything that this experience has to offer.

Root of All Evil was a high-commitment game. It was noticeably more expensive than many play-at-home game, but for the price point, it delivered a lot of value that players can sink their teeth into over time.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Cipher breakers
  • Collectors of beautiful objects
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fantastic writing
  • Gorgeous and aesthetically compelling
  • There was a lot of depth
  • Surprising moments

Story

We’d received a cryptic wooden crate filled with evidence of a series of unusual murders. We had to unravel the string of religion-fueled slayings.

An old wooden box with latin enscribed on its face.

Setup

Root of All Evil was a detective game.

The crate of evidence was filled with articles, journals, and physical evidence to examine, interpret, and decipher.

Closeup of a wooden box sealed with a nail. Grass hands off of it like it had been buried.

A lot of the magic of this world came from the objects. They were beautiful and felt like they truly belonged.

Gameplay

Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil was a story-driven, puzzle-based mystery game.

It was more challenging that a boxed escape room game, but not as challenging as a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, reading, engaging with the story, and deciphering.

A postcard with a crucifix that reads "Root of All Evil."

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed reading a lengthy journal in Root of All Evil. There. I said it. The writing was honestly compelling. The more we read, the more we were drawn into the story.

➕ Crack a Nut Mysteries hid a lot of secrets in Root of All Evil. We found some of these immediately. We really had to work for others. The payoff was worth it. They hid some brilliant reveals that we wouldn’t have expected from a boxed play-at-home game.

➕ The gameplay was woven around a narrative. Each solve and each reveal made sense in the game world… especially as we read more of the journal.

Root of All Evil relied heavily on ciphers. Your enjoyment of the puzzles will depend on your interest in deciphering.

Root of All Evil needed a stronger, tiered hint system. It’s currently presented as a mystery that you more or less solve or don’t. It would be a better experience for more people if it allowed them to engage on whatever level they wanted.

➖ Additionally, Root of All Evil would benefit from a dedicated website (beyond the Facebook page linked to below) that sets expectations clearly for the subject matter, content style, and commitment level.

➕ The late-game interactions and ultimate conclusion were intense and creative.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table… small will work ok, but you might prefer larger
  • Required Gear: pen and paper. We also recommend a computer for quicker deciphering.

Buy your copy of Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crack a Nut Mysteries provided a sample for review.

Going Digital: The Globalization of Escape Rooms

As the REA Hivemind presses on, exploring all sorts of digital escape room and puzzle experiences, we have made some observations about this forced shift from real-life play to internet play.

Two months in, these are my observations on this meteoric shift in our industry.

Forced Shift

This shift was truly forced upon the escape room industry.

We’d already seen companies like YouEscape, Trap Door, and Mystery Escape Room experiment with online play. Paruzal was already planning to launch later this year. None of this has emerged completely out of the blue… but we never would have seen this many this quickly.

While so many are adapting, and many are doing it with passion, of the creators that I’ve spoken with, few prefer this to the creation of real-life games.

Free Games

Before we dive in, I want to address free games.

Some escape room companies started producing free light puzzle hunt games to entertain their audiences and promote their brands. This is awesome. It’s also not so relevant to the long-term discussion, because there aren’t significant economic factors tied to free games.

We’ve scaled back the amount of free games that we’re having the Hivemind review. We will likely eliminate free games from the Hivemind’s purview entirely, unless we learn of someone making one that is mind-blowing.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Escape rooms emerged and iterated quickly. Online experiences have adapted and will continue to adapt at a staggering speed.

A hand holding an illuminated light bulb.

As everyone learns from each other, the rate of change in the digital escape room world should dwarf the already rapidly changing world of real-life escape rooms. This is because anyone can play and learn from everyone. Digital escape rooms are globalized.

Most of these digital experiences are a short-term play at resilience. Personally, I respect the hell out of it. Anything that helps keep a small business solvent and serves their customers is good in my book.

My hope is that long term, this leads some escape room companies to innovate new and refined product lines. I would love to see high quality digital experiences emerge that are either supplemental to the real-life games, or allow players to continue to enjoy team games across a distance.

Part of my love of YouEscape before the pandemic was that it enabled me to play an escape room with friends from all around the world. Sure, I would have preferred to play a real-life game with them, but that was never an option in the first place. More innovation in online escape room play is an opportunity for some… but not for all.

Digital Escape Room Globalization

Real-life escape rooms are a global industry, but it was never a globalized industry.

Sure, we have a few chains and franchises that span multiple countries. We also have game design and development shops that cross borders. However, that’s where it ends.

If you want to play and take inspiration from The Dome, you have to travel to Amsterdam and hop a bus to Bunschoten-Spakenburg… a town that – as far as my ignorant tourist eyes can tell – is mostly cows and a world-class escape room business.

Similarly, most real-life escape room play is local. People choose from the companies that are near their homes. We diehard fans who can afford it have to travel to play the most renowned escape games. On the internet, all digital escape room experiences are effectively neighbors.

You can literally play games from Australia, Croatia, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States in a single day. No travel. No additional costs. Long-term, this could have some serious implications.

Competition & Price

As with everything in escape rooms (and the world) there’s heavy variation in quality and even more variation in style.

In less than 2 months we went from having very few digital escape room experiences to having a massive variety with prices ranging from free to over $100 per play. There seem to be good and bad at all price points; price is not inherently an indicator of quality. Some are giving away great games for free. Others are greatly overvaluing their digital products. Your average consumer has no idea about the quality of an individual product. That is a threat to the global health of this business model.

We’ve long maintained that escape room companies aren’t truly in competition with one another. Rather, the high-quality escape rooms are in competition with the low-quality escape rooms. The high-quality games grow the category while the low-quality games shrink the category. This is just as true online as it is in real life.

Business Potential

The various approaches to digitization of escape room experiences have a wide variety of business potential. Some of this comes down to the aforementioned quality. We also need to be honest about the long-term cost/ benefit.

Avatar games where an owner or employee straps a camera to themselves and performs as a passive vessel for instruction are a lot of work. It requires a lot more effort to do the room than it does to watch 5 people play it and occasionally give them hints. Looping that performance over and over with passion is a nontrivial requirement of the work.

I cannot imagine a world where an escape room company is able to earn the same revenue from an avatar game that they would from running the game normally.

The result is that this is not a replacement revenue stream. It’s a labor-intense stopgap with lower margins.

A computer with Zoom open on-screen.

Additionally, if an escape room markets their avatar game to their local audience, they run a high risk of cannibalizing their business. Avatar games are best marketed to people who live far away from your physical facility. You want your locals to come when your doors open again and pay regular prices for the real experience.

My assumption is that most of these avatar-based (or similar) games will get mothballed after the company has reopened and business has stabilized. However, for some companies in highly saturated markets or remote locations, this will remain an ongoing opportunity.

Online puzzle hunts, video games, and other formats with low or no ongoing labor are a more sensible long-term play as they can be sold as inexpensive add-ons or supplemental content. However, these experiences should be even lower margin than the avatar games, so in times of crisis, they offer less opportunity to recoup costs, even if they are far easier to administer.

Early Conclusions

I like puzzling and video-gamey adaptations of escape rooms quite a lot. However, these do not replace the thrill of a real-life escape room. These online games do not suck me in the way that real-life escape rooms do.

If a world-class game offered an avatar-based game, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who might play the escape room in real life. This format is better for games that are closer to the mean. The truly epic, must-see escape rooms of the world would have to drop far too much of what makes them special to adapt to this format. If Escape Room Netherlands offered good avatar versions of their games, I’d probably recommend their first and oldest game, The Lab, and would discourage anyone who was ever hoping to play The Dome from playing it over the internet… no matter how good it might be in a digital format.

Future Gazing

The next frontier in this space is escape games designed for streaming, rather than adapted for it. There are creative and financial opportunities here.

Moreover, I think that it’s important for escape room companies to have a digital resilience plan. The pandemic has opened our eyes to a new type of business risk. It’s ill advised to assume that something like this will never happen again.

If I were an escape room owner, I would be thinking long and hard about this. I might not build the digital game in my facility. I’d build it at home, in my basement. I’d do everything that I could to make something really interesting, special, and honestly designed for streaming play. I would do this as a hedge against a second more virulent wave.

If that wave never comes, you can repurpose the game.

If it does, however, it’s best to be prepared.

Virtually Tour: The Tomb of Ramesses VI

This is a fantastic virtual tour, maybe the most beautiful one that I’ve found.

Take a journey to the Valley of the Kings, in Luxor, Egypt. The tour takes you through a long corridor that is adorned with magnificent hieroglyphics.

Virtual tour of the Ramesses VI. Hieroglyphics adorn the walls of the corridor.

Things become increasingly beautiful as you progress deeper. As you start descending stairs, that’s when things really escalate. Enjoy your trip.

Tour the Tomb of Ramesses VI

Thank you to Mark from Walnut Creek, CA for sharing this virtual tour.