Room Escape Boston – The Boom Room [Review]

More room than boom.

Location:  Chelsea, Massachusetts

Date Played:  January 19, 2020

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Room Escape Boston was an archery tag facility with a couple of escape rooms.

The Boom Room was an old-school escape room. While offered more depth than expected based on the first few minutes of gameplay, it was still a generic escape room experience.

We enjoyed this escape room a lot more than we thought we would, but ultimately it was a forgettable experience. If you’re nearby and you’d like to play a room, go for it.

Personally, I found myself looking at the archery tag and wishing that we had booked that instead; it seemed like it had more going on.

In-game: closeup of a directional lock on an old desk drawer.

Who is this for?

  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Traditional escape room puzzle play
  • A surprising amount of content
  • One cinematic moment

Story

An anonymous tip brought us to the hidden bunker of a suspected serial bomber. Could we defuse his plans for mass destruction?

In-game: A desk with a locked box and an old typewriter atop it.

Setting

The Boom Room had an old school, reading-heavy, lock-centric bunker escape room aesthetic:

  • Old Typewriter ✔️
  • Camouflaging Materials ✔️
  • Ammo Cases ✔️
  • Maps ✔️

There were 2 things that made this space stand out: there was a lot more of it than we had initially expected. It included one well-designed cinematic moment.

In-game: A concrete wall with strange flags drawn on them surrounded by camouflaging material.

Gameplay

Room Escape Boston’s The Boom Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of the map room door.

Analysis

➖ Our gamemaster led us into The Boom Room with our eyes closed. There was no grand reveal or payoff in the opening moments of this escape room. The set was standard. (At least we didn’t need to wear blindfolds.)

➕ Room Escape Boston dedicated a large amount of space to The Boom Room. As we solved, we entered new areas of the game, but continued to use game elements from the previous spaces. This added depth to the gameplay.

➖/➕ Room Escape Boston hid tech behind tubing. This made it stand out more, but it did protect it from prying hands. It was an inelegant solution, but the tech was armored.

➕ The gameplay worked. We were able to move logically from one solve into the next puzzle.

The Boom Room included entirely too much inconsequential reading material.

➕ When The Boom Room – a dim but not dark game – required additional light to solve a puzzle, Room Escape Boston made sure a light source was available to the players.

➖ Room Escape Boston used a door lock that was confusing and momentum-killing. Although our gamemaster had given us instructions for its use in the pregame briefing, it was still confusing to operate, and a mistake led to a short lockout.

➖ Room Escape Boston delivered some story over audio, but we missed these moments because the volume was low and it was over by the time we’d realized something was playing and had stopped talking.

➕ We enjoyed when one puzzle landed in front of us. Room Escape Boston staged this so that we were all in position to appreciate the moment.

The Boom Room lacked a finale, or any fanfare upon escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • Room Escape Boston in located next to a Dollar General. Enter as if you are entering the Dollar General and then turn right. You’ll see Room Escape Boston and Archery Games Boston. You’ll pass the archery tag on your way to the escape room.
The doorway for a Dollar General store.
Note that this is the entrance for Room Escape Boston… and the Dollar General.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • There is a Chili’s in the same strip mall.

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

Disclosure: Room Escape Boston provided media discounted tickets for this game.

REA & the Case of the Impossible Room

We spent a few days staying in an Airbnb with the strangest “feature.” More on that in a moment, but first, a bit of background.

We’re on our way home from an escape room trip to Athens, Greece.

This was a phenomenal, inventive, and unique escape room city… so you can look forward to lots of Greece content over the coming months.

When we arrived at the Airbnb, a couple of our travel companions immediately told us that we had to see “The Mystery Door.”

This was a door embedded into the wall, approximately 8 feet off of the ground.

A mysterious door high up on a wall. It's cracked open with light passing through the crack.

We immediately began speculating about what was beyond the door… and documenting it on Instagram.

When the rest of our travel companions arrived, we came to a consensus: we would lift Lisa up through this mysterious passageway.

Then she filmed the strange space… which was a bit of a letdown.

Then I had a thought. We cannot possibly have been the first people to venture into that bizarre room… and have found disappointment. So I made a little gift and tossed it through the door for some eventual traveler to find.

Maybe they’ll find it funny. Perhaps they will be frightened. Maybe they’ll solve the simple puzzle that I embedded within the letters. We will never know.

I hope that you enjoyed the madness.

You can follow us on Instagram for stuff that we don’t typically post on Room Escape Artist. We don’t go nuts over-posting.

The RECON 2020 Schedule

We’ve been pouring ourselves into planning RECON 2020. We’ve announced a few speakers already (here and here) with more to come over the next few weeks.

RECON eye & penrose triangle logo.

The Schedule

We’re excited to show you the structure of RECON. We’ve designed a schedule that differs from previous industry events.

The schedule for the Reality Escape Convention

Why This Structure?

Typical Conventions

At a good convention, you walk away from the first session feeling inspired. You’re looking forward to going home and using your newfound knowledge. Then you go to a few more sessions and overdose on inspiration. After lunch, you can barely remember what inspired you back in the first session.

This is because most conventions are one-directional, like a classroom. They don’t provide attendees with an opportunity to truly engage with the ideas or each other.

At a week-long convention, you just hope that one or two speakers inspires anything in you.

The RECON Approach

We’ve designed RECON as an immersive event in its own right.

We are carefully selecting speakers, working with them to hone the presentations, and then ensuring that each session has time to breathe.

We’re planning the time in between the sessions too. This time is structured to help you reflect on what the message of the talk means to you, your creations, and your business.

At RECON, the speaker sessions will be followed by with table discussions. With these randomly-assigned, facilitated, small-group conversations, RECON will provide more than networking opportunities. We aim to give our attendees the tools that they need to get to know one another – creating space for serendipity – and enabling attendees to engage far deeper with one another and the subject matter of the session than we’ve ever seen before.

After years of speaking at more than a dozen conferences in 6 countries, we’ve learned from the strengths and weaknesses of each one. We’re building RECON as the convention we’d like to attend.

Get Your Tickets Today

Tickets are selling.

If you want to join this community, please act now.

RECON won’t be a massive event; attendance is capped. We are seeking creators and business owners who want to shepherd escape rooms and immersive games into the next decade.

We aren’t just putting on an event. We’re building a community.

Visit RealityEscapeCon.com to secure your ticket.

Escaparium – The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen [Review]

I’m on a ship!

Location:  Laval, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 2, 2020

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: 37.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was an ambitious game.

Escaparium built a massive nautical escape with a beautiful, sprawling set, and strong interaction design.

In-game: A view through a long, old, wood ship. A treasure chest sits on the floor.

From a puzzle and gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love in The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, especially in the second and third acts. The opening had great ideas, but some rocky execution muddied the waters.

If you are plugged into the broader escape room world, then you’re likely wondering how it compares to 13th Gate’s famed Cutthroat Cavern. Comparing things to a beloved game like Cutthroat Cavern is pretty dangerous when it comes to expectation setting. It’s been so long since I personally played at Cutthroat Cavern that I don’t know that I can truly make a fair comparison. The passage of time does funny things to memory, accentuating the things that you love and hate about a game, while the middle kind of evaporates. But what I’ll say is this:

If you love big budget, blockbuster escape rooms, then The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen should be on your list. I can’t tell you whether you should like it more or less than any other game. I can say that Escaparium crammed a lot of love, technology, and detailing into this ambitious game… and it’s absolutely worth going out of your way to play it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s massive, gorgeous, and so impressive
  • Surprising and delightful moments

Story

The Admiral had ordered us to find the Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen. Once we found it, we needed to do whatever it took to learn the secrets that the Voodoo Queen had to offer.

In-game: A desk with a lantern, compass, and skull resting on it.

Setting

The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was gorgeous. We boarded a ship to begin our adventure. When I say, “we boarded a ship,” I don’t mean that “it looked like the interior of a ship,” I mean it was basically a ship. I saw the exterior. It was kind of crazy… and that was just the first act.

Escaparium built an ambitious, sprawling world for The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, and it was loaded with wonderful set-driven moments.

In-game: Shelves inside of a ship containing lanterns and pots.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A caged area inside of an old ship.

Analysis

➕ The set of The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was breathtaking. It was gigantic and detailed. It induced a child-like urge to explore and discover. From the opening moments through multiple set changes, it delivered on adventure.

➖ With an enormous and inviting gamespace, but linear gameplay, Escaparium needed stronger cluing in the opening moments to route our attention toward the gameplay. We struggled to pick up momentum early on because almost every other aspect of our new environment was more captivating than the opening puzzle sequence.

➕ The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen included a variety of tactile puzzles. In the second and third act, these were especially well integrated into the set and props, which made them that much more engaging and satisfying to solve.

➖ A few of the puzzles needed stronger feedback. In one instance, we believed that we had completed two puzzles simultaneously and when the game reacted, we couldn’t tell which puzzle was correctly completed and which one needed another look.

➖ There was opportunity to more thoroughly connect the solves with the story. While the puzzles felt thematically connected, they didn’t feel integrated into the narrative.

➕/➖ We adored one layered sequence that required coordinated teamwork in the face of adverse conditions. It was challenging, but exciting. It was also needlessly frustrating because of a lack of feedback and some ambiguous cluing. With a few adjustments, this would be a smoother ride, and likely become the most memorable solve of the game.

In-game: A book with an embossed face.

➖ In this detailed world, any breakage easily becomes a red herring. It wasn’t always clear when an object moved freely whether we were meant to interact with it, or whether it had become detached.

➕ Escaparium used practical effects to enhance the staging and the story.

➕ Each scene change was dramatic, right up through the finale, which felt like a worthy culmination of our efforts. From start to finish, The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was quite the ride.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Note that Escaparium has multiple venues around Montreal. The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen is in Laval at the Boul. Rossignols location.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • There is some motion in this game. At any point a player may request for this motion to stop.

Book your hour with Escaparium’s The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Sauve Qui Peut – Vortex Past [Review]

Big, ancient puzzle box.

Location:  Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 3, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 30 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Vortex Past was a unique escape room that felt like solving a giant puzzle box. There were no words because we had traveled to a pre-writing time. Each puzzle required us to play with it, interpret the feedback that we received, and determine what to do from there. This was progressive discovery in its purest form.

I love solving puzzling boxes. I mean, I proposed to Lisa with a one-of-a-kind puzzle box that I helped design… so I’m stating my stylistic bias up front.

In-game: an effervescent blue and yellow rock structure with water running through it.

Additionally, the beautiful set of Vortex Past rivaled its gameplay in uniqueness. At times, I completely stopped playing just so that I could take in the beauty of my surroundings.

I can also easily imagine some disliking Vortex Past. The small set didn’t have tons of puzzles. If everything clicks, you could find yourself winning quite quickly. If the puzzling style isn’t one that works for you and your team, then you might be in for a bumpy ride.

The magic of Sauve Qui Peut is that none of their games feel even slightly similar in style, design, or gameplay. From a gameplay standpoint, Sauve Qui Peut easily ranks among the most innovative escape room companies that we’ve ever encountered. Part of what comes with that incredible diversity is that not everyone will feel the same way about the individual, wonderful games at this company. My recommendation is to play a few games at Sauve Qui Peut and try to embrace each for what it’s striving to achieve.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • We’ve never played a game like it
  • Compact, yet stunning set
  • Vortex Past was one massive progressive discovery puzzle. It felt like a giant puzzle box.

Story

An unknown element unlike anything found elsewhere on Earth had been identified inside of an equatorial cave. The planet had endured a series of natural disasters that seemed to stem from this mysterious element.

We were sent back in time to attempt to neutralize the element when it first arrived to prevent future calamities.

In-game: a stone sundial beside a firepit in a cave.

Setting

Vortex Past was a gorgeous cavern filled with stalactites, iridescent stone, and running water. This was the definition of a small, yet mighty set.

Additionally, the puzzles were completely baked into the environment, so we weren’t just looking at the set, we were engaging with it throughout the experience.

In-game: stalactites hanging from a red walled of a cave.

Gameplay

Sauve Qui Peut’s Vortex Past was an unusual escape room because the gameplay was more reminiscent of a puzzle box than a classic escape room. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and making connections.

In-game: closeup of an effervescent blue and yellow rock structure with water running through it.

Analysis

➕ The gorgeous set had the water glistening against the rocks. We felt transported back to an ancient cave.

➕ The gameplay was progressive discovery. As we explored our surroundings, triggering responses from the set, we felt as though we were solving our way out of a life-sized puzzle box. Vortex Past required us to reframe our thinking, the result of which was immensely satisfying discoveries.

Vortex Past gave feedback when we interacted with its puzzles. Interpreting the feedback was a natural part of solving the puzzle.

➖ Although Vortex Past gave immediate feedback to our actions, it didn’t provide enough by way of light and sound cues for its own responses, which were at times delayed, and not always exactly where our attention had been focused.

➕ In the ancient land of Vortex Past, we encountered symbols, but no written words. The puzzle style felt natural within the gamespace and the story world. The puzzles were also well themed.

➖ The handwritten symbols were sometimes faded, and in one instance, a bit messy.

➕ We especially enjoyed divining a solution.

➖ One sequencing issue stalled our momentum as we completed the final interaction in the game.

➕ The finale was wholly unexpected and unexpectedly joyous.

➕ I want to call out the chlorinated water feature in Vortex Past. Almost no escape rooms chlorinate, but they absolutely should. Water features can become breeding grounds for bacteria and I am pleased to see that Sauve Qui Peut recognized this and handled it appropriately.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • Players must be able to duck through a very low doorway for the full experience.

Book your hour with Sauve Qui Peut’s Vortex Past, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Sauve Qui Peut comped our tickets for this game.

The Illicit Guide to the 2020 Cryptex Hunt

It’s that time again: the Cryptex Hunt is back.

Sponsored by Justin Nevins, the original creator of the cryptex, the Cryptex Hunt is an annual free online puzzle hunt. This event was born out of the Escape Room Secret Slack and this year’s hunt really is Errol Elumir’s baby. And while we’re on the subject of Errol, he’s going to be speaking at RECON!

Pokemon meme depicting a trainer facing off against a Nevins cryptex reads, "Wild Cryptex appeared!"

2020 Cryptex Hunt Key Details

When is the Cryptex Hunt?

It starts on Saturday, February 29th at 8PM.

There are 8 chapters and a single chapter will be released every evening for 8 crazy nights.

Chapter? How does this work?

Errol wrote a novel for the hunt and embedded 1 puzzle into each chapter… because he is a very, very lazy man.

The novel is approximately 54,000 words. To put that into context, it is about 5,000 words longer than Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five… which is on the short side for a novel… but it is still really quite a feat that Errol wrote this.

How much does it cost?

Nothing. It’s free. All that you have to do is register.

Are there prizes again?

Yup. The grand prize will be a fancy-pants Nevins Line Cryptex.

There are also other prizes.

Illicit 2020 Cryptex Puzzle Hunt Tips

General Puzzle Hunt Advice

If you’re brand new to puzzle hunts, check out my new primer on the subject.

You can disregard the segment on cryptic crosswords. I have it on good authority that there aren’t any in this year’s hunt.

Personally I think that’s a good thing because it should make the hunt more approachable.

Approaching the Novel

There will be a single puzzle embedded in each chapter. Once you find and solve that puzzle, you’re good for the day.

Based on my vague conversation with the Cryptex Hunt team, I’m guessing that there will be a lot of other details beyond the puzzle of the day. When I go to solve, I’m going to do my best to avoid getting too neurotic about tracking every single detail.

Errol feeling the pain as his voodoo doll is stabbed witha pin labeled "finale 2.0"
Andrea Hersom made this delightful doll “for” Errol.

That said, it’s still a novel and a puzzle hunt. I’m assuming that a solid understanding of the novel’s story will be important when the final puzzle rolls around. I could be wrong, but I assume one should focus on solving the puzzles while keeping a general awareness of the story.

Another Room Escape Artist Puzzle?

I’ve also heard that this year there won’t be a Room Escape Artist puzzle (as there have been in past Cryptex Hunts) because we didn’t fit naturally into the novel.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ there’s no such thing as a perfect puzzle hunt.

2020 Cryptex Hunt Registration

Puzzle Hunt 101

Puzzle hunts and escape rooms are different beasts.

Escape rooms aren’t really about solving hard puzzles. Success in an escape room has much more to do with communication, observation, and cooperation than it does with raw puzzling skill.

Puzzle hunts, on the other hand, really are about information organization and puzzling skill. That said, there are still a great number of skills, patterns, and tools that can help an individual find more success in a puzzle hunt.

My aim here isn’t to help you become a fantastic puzzle hunter. That truly takes years of practice and a lot more knowledge than I have to share. My hope is that this primer can set you on your own journey to become a stronger puzzle hunter.

A child's letter puzzle.

Basic Puzzle Hunt Structure

Puzzle hunt puzzles come in all shapes, sizes, and complexities. As a general rule, your typical puzzle hunt puzzle has 4 parts to it.

In this specific order:

  1. Flavor Text – When the puzzle is introduced there is usually some kind of contextual clue – however vague – that should key the solver into what they are looking at. Soak in this flavor text. Then look at the puzzle.
  2. What is the Puzzle – You cannot count on a puzzle hunt puzzle to declare itself at face value. If it looks like a sudoku, it might not actually be a sudoku. Take in the flavor text and other clues to determine what you’re even looking at.
  3. Solve the Puzzle – Once you know what you’re looking at, it’s time to solve the puzzle. Maybe that’s filling out a crossword grid; maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, do it.
  4. Extracting a Solution – Congratulations! In step 3 you solved a puzzle, but you didn’t actually finish the puzzle. Puzzle hunt puzzles have a final step called extraction where you have to push the puzzle a step further and pull a final answer out of a solved puzzle. Again, refer back to whatever flavor text you have on hand. It probably points you towards an extraction.

Extractions are one of the defining characteristics of puzzle hunt puzzles. It’s a different way of thinking.

Saving Your Work For Meta Puzzles

Another defining characteristic of a puzzle hunt is “meta puzzles” or puzzles made from the solutions of previously solved puzzles.

Meta puzzles are essentially a puzzle hunt’s boss battle.

As you solve along, save your previous solutions. Failure to do so will render the meta puzzle unsolvable.

As a general rule, when working on a puzzle hunt, save all your work. You never know what will prove useful later. Google Sheets has become the community standard tool for working on puzzle hunt puzzles. Google Sheets are great for sharing and saving information as you solve.

A toddler attempting to assemble a simple puzzle.

General Puzzle Hunt Tools

Unlike escape rooms, outside knowledge and tools are essential for solving a puzzle hunt. These are the basics that everyone should have on hand when tackling a puzzle hunt puzzle.

Cipher Sheet & Apps

You never know what kind of encoding a puzzle hunt puzzle might use.

The free monthly international puzzle gathering Puzzled Pint has a basic code sheet that they provide at all events. This thing is pretty useful because it lists a number of common puzzle hunt encodings.

The code sheet is far from exhaustive. These free apps offer a lot more detail and decoding functionality:

iOS – Puzzle Sidekick

Android – Puzzlehunt Assistant

Cryptogram Solvers

Cryptogram solver tools can make quick work of deciphering. Rumkin Cryptogram Solver has a great assortment of options.

A word of advice: don’t go crazy blindly running what seems like a cipher through every conceivable decryption method.

Google Sheets

Google spreadsheets are a puzzle hunter’s best friend. Use sheets to collaboratively puzzle with friends/ teammates. Use them to keep a record of all of your work and solutions for the eventual meta puzzle.

MOAR TOOLS!

Truly advanced puzzle hunters can have a silly volume of tools at their disposal. Sometimes they even build their own tools.

Don’t go nuts finding and using tooling. At the end of the day, these tools are only useful if you know how to use them appropriately. The best thing that a novice puzzle hunter can do is to figure out how the puzzle wants to be solved. Do not attempt to brute force every possible solution with a collection of digital tools.

Cryptic Crossword Puzzles

One last note on a specific puzzle type: cryptic crosswords or cryptics.

These are a special kind of word puzzle rooted in wordplay. There’s a whole language to these things. They are legitimately fun, but they require a ton of outside knowledge.

This guide can get you started on cryptics – or in a pinch – can help you work through a set of cryptic crosswords.

The first time I came across a cryptic crossword puzzle, I had no idea what I was looking at and failed so hard. Now that I’m dabbling in them, I like them a lot.

Starter Puzzle Hunts

If you’re completely new to the idea of puzzle hunts, I strongly recommend starting with Puzzled Pint. These are free puzzle events held all over the world. The archive is freely available online.

I’ve found my journey into puzzle hunts as fulfilling as it has been arduous. It takes work, but the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Finding Puzzle Hunts

If puzzle hunts become your thing, the Puzzle Hunt Calendar is an invaluable resource as it keeps a comprehensive list of puzzle hunts.

Wigwam Escape [Review]

A different kind of puzzle hunt.

Location:  Washington, Connecticut

Date Played: January 20, 2020

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player ($20 per student); ticket price includes half off museum admission ticket

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Wigwam Escape was a hidden gem.

In-game: A beautiful authentic wigwam in the middle of the escape room.

Located within a Native American history museum in the wilds of Connecticut, this was probably the most remote game that we’ve ever played. (Put your directions into your GPS in advance; there’s no cell service near the venue.)

There are a lot of things to love at Wigwam Escape. Most notably, the game’s creators put an emphasis on learning through play. Everything in this game had a purpose and intent behind it… and that intent was not always “to have fun” (although we had plenty of it). There were some tedious moments in this game, but they served a larger purpose.

Additionally, there were many novel interactions in Wigwam Escape. We get excited when a game has one thing that we’ve never seen done before. Wigwam Escape had so many creative interactions.

It was not a perfect game. We wished for more variety in puzzle types, and for more audio/ visual feedback from some of the game’s more unusual interactions to coax us along. That said, overall, we smile just thinking about this experience.

If you’re in the region, do yourself a favor and drive back to 1518. Escape rooms were totally different back then.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • History buffs
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Wigwam Escape was unique
  • The experience was driven by history and narrative
  • Tangible challenges that reflected the narrative
  • A beautiful setting

Story

It was 1518 in the woodlands of Connecticut. Our Native American tribe had received a request for medical assistance from the fishing village of Metachiwon. We had to hunt, gather, and prepare for the 7-mile journey.

In-game: A view through the entry way of a wigwam. There is a fire burning inside of it.

Setting

Wigwam Escape had a beautiful, authentic set. The centerpiece was the wigwam. The rest of the gamespace represented different areas of its surroundings: village, garden, stream, etc.

The walls were murals that were painstakingly detailed.

Our favorite set detail was the “game clock” as a day/ night cycle. We had a single day in which to get ready for our journey. We woke up before sunrise and went about our preparations.

In-game: A guarden with corn, sunflowers, and other veggies growing.

Gameplay

Wigwam Escape was an unusual, educational escape room.

In order to solve the puzzles, we needed to think about how people lived off the land that is now Connecticut back in 1518.

Approached with situational thinking, it had a moderate level of difficulty. It can’t be approached as a classic puzzle game.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, thinking practically, and solving puzzles.

In-game: A stream running through the woods.

Analysis

➕ At Wigwam Escape we learned about how people lived in 1518 through play. It was fun with educational material peppered in.

➕ The situation puzzling was well defined. We had to complete 3 clear objectives in order to help the fishing village. These were contextualized for us. We were already learning. It was up to us to use our surroundings to accomplish the set objectives. This was fair, attainable, interesting, and exciting.

In-game: closeup of corn growing with beside a sunflower.

➕ The set was great, with the centerpiece being an actual wigwam. The walls were beautiful, detailed murals. The set pieces looked fantastic. As the light changed, we appreciated it even more.

➖ Some triggers were difficult to notice. There was opportunity for Wigwam Escape to add sound effects that triggered with our actions – in addition to the ambient soundtrack – to make the space come alive that much more.

➕/❓ With the sun as our gameclock, we could feel the passing of time in a genuine way. It added a layer of complexity to the gameplay too, since certain solves would be easier at different times of day. That said, it’s not an exact timekeeping system. While the imprecise system made sense, we can see how this would frustrate some players.

In-game: A view of the sunrise beyond a corn garden.

➕ There weren’t overt anachronisms such as padlocks or written language. It was a search-heavy game, which made sense given that we were a hunter-gatherer society.

➖ We had to complete two instances of what was essentially the same puzzle. If nobody on your team is good at this type of puzzle – and it’s the type of thing that comes more naturally to some – it could sink your game entirely. Take hints if you need them.

In one instance, this puzzle type felt like a logical puzzle-interpretation of the task at hand. It could also be solved in a way that allowed for teamwork.

In the second instance, however, we couldn’t see how it made sense. Given how it was set up this time, only one person could work on it at a time. Additionally, we encountered some misleading cluing.

➕ We could tell that Wigwam Escape went to great lengths to avoid red herrings. When we encountered an item we needed, there was no ambiguity.

➖ One puzzle needed additional feedback. It was necessarily frustrating (yes, you read that correctly)… and we rolled with that because it really did make sense. However, Wigwam Escape could have sparked our excitement as we worked to complete it.

➕ In an early sequence, Wigwam Escape reimagined and reinvigorated a tired escape room trope to force us to appreciate the challenges of 1518. It was brilliant. It was also fun and rewarding.

➕ We encountered at least three significant design elements that we had never seen before in an escape room. There was a ton of innovation crammed into Wigwam Escape.

In-game: a wooden backpack with slots for the objective items.

Tips For Visiting

  • Wigwam Escape is located at The Institute for American Indian Studies.
  • Put the address in your GPS before you start driving. You’ll be winding through small roads to get to the museum and there is no cell service in the area.
  • There is a bit of kneeling and crawling required in some sections of the game. At least 2 teammates should be comfortable with this.

Book your hour with Wigwam Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Wigwam Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Unlock! Heroic Adventures [Review]

Insert Coin, Sherlock Holmes, & White Rabbit

Location:  at home

Date Played: Q4 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60, 60, & 90 minutes each

Price: about $25

REA Reaction

The Unlock! series has shifted from releasing 3 different one-off games to releasing all 3 games in one bundle. Instead of looking at each game in depth, I am going to explore all 3 at a higher level.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box art.

Insert Coin

This first installment was rooted in classic side-scrolling video gameplay. It did a lot of really clever things with level structure, which were super cool when we got them.

This was an unusual game that derived its charm from merging more traditional Unlock! puzzle play with classic video game tropes.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Unlock!’s take on Sherlock Holmes was a Victorian detective story that felt a lot like Unlock! had adapted Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective into a narrower, card- and art-driven game.

This was essentially gamified detective fiction, not a puzzle game.

If you’re into Sherlock Holmes fiction, there’s plenty to love. If you’re an escape room player who’s fatigued of the famed consulting detective, this is still executed better than most.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

Pursuit of the White Rabbit was Unlock!’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Like Unlock!’s Adventures in Oz, this was a narrative-driven game that didn’t require knowledge of the original story… but it sure did help a whole lot.

The game focused on exploring Through the Looking Glass logic, which was a fun mindset to settle into. It was plenty puzzley, but the logic was warped by the subject matter.

Overall Impression

I liked the Unlock! Heroic Adventures collection, but I didn’t love it. All of the games played about the same for me, solidly without being amazing. Each had some fantastic moments born out of the subject matter. Each had some intense logic leaps that felt under-clued.

These games kept some of the biggest problems with the Unlock! app under control by keeping the number of cards we had access to a little more limited, but the hint system needed more work. Also, the hidden number system has become so incredibly tired.

If you’re into tabletop escape rooms, there’s plenty to enjoy about this collection. If you’re an Unlock! fan, then you’re going to love this collection. The gameplay was solid, the stories were diverse, and the challenges reflected the narratives. I just wish that the creators of this series would address some of the shortcomings of their app and boost the cluing when they heavily deviate from the structure that they’ve establish in the instruction manual and tutorial game.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Unlock! fans

Why play?

  • Unlock! pushed different gameplay boundaries with each game in this series
  • The unique art direction of each game was fantastic
  • Each game had strong moments that adapted the core concept of the inspirational subject matter into gameplay

Story

Insert Coin

Sucked into an arcade cabinet, we needed to defeat the final boss before we triggered a game over.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Sherlock Holmes was on another unusual case. While it was child’s play for the master detective, he figured we could learn something by solving it on our own.

Sherlock Holmes suspect map.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

We followed Alice’s adventures through Wonderland, encountering many of the story’s most famous characters and solving the problems they threw in our path.

Setup

All Unlock! games dating back to the originals from 2017 have followed the same card-based gameplay supplemented by a mobile app. I explained this structure in detail in my original Unlock! review.

The key difference in the case of Heroic Adventures is that Space Cowboys decided to sell all three games from this release in a single bundle instead of à la carte.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box opened

Gameplay

Unlock!’s Heroic Adventures was a collection of card-based, play-at-home escape games with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

Insert Coin

➕ Unlock! finally tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, which made us happy that the app was a part of this game.

➖ Early on, we struggled with some gating issues. We weren’t entirely sure what was in play. This improved later in the game, but it made for a bumpy start.

Insert coin initial setup.

➖ We found the font choice to be confusing for solving puzzles.

➕/➖ The structure of gameplay hearkened back to the source material… and stayed true to one classic reveal with an aha that video gamers will embrace. As nifty a reveal as it was, the setup led to some frustration, and will be especially confounding for those not familiar with the callback.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

➕ Unlock! used their card-based structure to send us on an exploratory adventure, in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. We met characters to observe and interrogate, just as the famous consulting detective would. We enjoyed this twist in gameplay.

➖ We lost the thread of gameplay in a few instances by misinterpreting the suspects. It wasn’t always clear what we should know and what we shouldn’t.

Sherlock Holmes deck stacks.

➕ More than any other Unlock! game we’ve played to date, this one asked us to observe keenly. Observation became more interesting when it was extended beyond looking for hidden numbers. It was contextual, which led to satisfying solves.

➖ As with many of the Sherlock-themed games we’ve played, to succeed solving cases like the famous detective, we needed to make connections that felt tenuous, from a gameplay standpoint.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

➕ Unlock! again tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, born of the subject matter, that worked beautifully in this application.

➕ Unlock! used their typical game items more creatively in this scenario. They also introduced additional physical components that gave us more tangible solving opportunities, which we enjoyed.

Alice falling

➕ We enjoyed how Unlock! took classic moments from the source material and shrunk them into puzzles.

➖ With these enhancements, Unlock! broke some of their own rules… and hoped we could follow along. For the most part, we did, but additional cluing would help when they change things up.

➖ In the final scene, we started solving puzzles out of order. Additional cluing would help this segment play more smoothly and make more sense.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table 
  • Required Gear: a smartphone with the Unlock! app

Buy your copy of Unlock! Heroic Adventures, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review.

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Overhauled: NYC Escape Room Recommendations Guide

Earlier this week we published a significant update to our New York City Recommendations Guide.

Stylized New York City skyline.

Last year the New York City market faced a crisis when the New York City Fire Department began a series of surprise inspections and shut down many of our local escape rooms.

We these support safety measures. It’s important that the consumers are safe, and feel safe, playing these games. As our 2019 Safety Report demonstrated, escape rooms are a broadly safe activity.

In New York City, however, the inspections were handled rather chaotically. Because of this some companies are still closed, some will never open again, and many were shut down for the better part of a year. All the while, the FDNY would not share what standards they were holding these companies to. We asked multiple times, through multiple channels.

It feels like things have stabilized, so we felt comfortable putting together a total overhaul of our local guide.

That said, all is not resolved. There are some stellar New York City companies that have not yet reopened. They are struggling through bureaucratic hell. We hope they will open their doors again soon, and join this recommendations guide.

Check out our updated guide: New York City Recommendations Guide