We had an amazing conversation with Donald Dennis of the On Board Games Podcast. This was a substantial, challenging, and interesting discussion about what makes for a great tabletop puzzle game experience, some of the negative trends we’re seeing, and where we hope the genre is going.
The Mortality Machine was something different. It was strange, profound, and heartfelt. It’s deep enough that I am not sure how far down one would have to dive to find the bottom.
Sinking Ship Creations describes their experience as “an immersive theatre experience that combines live-action roleplay and site specific dance to allow you, the participants, to become the protagonists of the story. ”
I think that a more accurate description is: “The Mortality Machine is a live-action roleplay (LARP) that combines elements of immersive theatre, escape rooms, and site specific dance to allow you, the participants, to become the protagonists of the story.”
The Mortality Machine was mostly about playing a character in extraordinary circumstances and finding human moments with the other characters. The puzzles were straightforward and would get solved. Game mechanics would inevitably be triggered. It was up to each individual player to create their own moments.
With the story and emotional stage set, each of us had to step out of ourselves and into our characters.
A number of small improvements to game mechanics could make it easier for every player to comfortably focus on what matters most. Sinking Ship Creations has been rapidly iterating on the production, so I assume they will continue to make improvements.
Lisa and I had incredible experiences in The Mortality Machine. Your mileage will vary based on the gameplay and character decisions that you and the rest of the players make.
If you’re looking for a puzzle-focused, goal-oriented game, skip The Mortality Machine and book an escape room.
If you want to be a passive observer and take in a meticulously scripted performance, skip The Mortality Machine.
If you’re willing to explore humanity and emotions by embracing a little bit of roleplay, and you’re happy to occasionally solve a puzzle and take in a beautifully scripted moment, then The Mortality Machine is a must-play. The catch is: you have to commit. The best moments will be born of your willingness to embrace your character and be that person.
Who is this for?
Best for people open to an emotional experience
Players who don’t need to be a part of every interaction
It’s playable by people with any experience level, but the more experience you have with roleplaying, improvisation, and acting, the easier you’ll find it to get into character.
Players who are ok with having to work for their moments
If you embrace the experience fully, there are some serious feels to find
The story and characters are surprisingly impactful
It’s an amazing introductory LARP
In 2014, 5 people died in an underground medical experiment. After years of litigation, the loved ones of the deceased were granted access to the illegal lab.
The Mortality Machine was built into New York City’s immersive stage Wildrence. It spanned their entire basement set.
Each room within Wildrence was adapted to represent a new environment within the game. It was a good location for the game. Having visited multiple experiences in the space, I think that this was one of the more extensive and effective adaptations that we’ve seen.
The Mortality Machine was a LARP that blended elements of escape room and immersive theatre into the fabric of its gameplay and script.
Core gameplay revolved around conversing, improvising in character, and emotionally connecting with other players and non-player characters.
There were additional escape room gameplay elements that involved searching, puzzling, observing, and making connections. These elements were decidedly secondary. Focusing on them at the expense of the emotional component was thoroughly detrimental.
➕ Every player was cast into their role at the door. Rita, the greeter, was impressively talented at this.
➕ Our character descriptions on the back of our name tags were short, yet potent. We weren’t overburdened with tons of lore and backstory, but we had enough to figure out our motivations, our connection to the deceased, and our relationship to the other people from our “family.”
➖ It felt like there was a missing step in our on-boarding process. We needed just a few minutes to get acquainted with the descriptions on our character cards before we had to be those characters. My character card lacked critical relational information that another character had. The gap really put me in a bind at the onset of the experience. (I made it work.) Finally, our character cards had bolded names on them. It would have been helpful if we were explicitly told that bolded names were player characters.
➕/➖ The day before attending The Mortality Machine, we received an email with a few short articles and letters and an FAQ to help frame the experience. We read these on the train to the venue. While these weren’t required reading, it was immediately apparent who had or hadn’t read the materials based on whether they knew the disease that all of the victims had. A lot of folks didn’t read it.
➕ The introduction was well structured to add little bits of additional information and complexity at a time.
➕ There were some light puzzles that seemed to play cleanly.
➖ I don’t think that everyone playing understood that this was neither a puzzle game nor a show. LARPs aren’t a mainstream thing. Unlike escape rooms or most immersive theatre, LARPs aren’t easy to enter cold and experience fully. You have commit to your role to earn your own moments through emotional connections, conversation, and action. It felt like a lot of people needed more on-boarding with regards to emotional play… but it was far too easy to just hyper-focus on the puzzles in the beginning of the experience.
➖ One of the puzzles pertaining to Lisa’s character’s loved one failed. Either the component wasn’t there at the start of the experience or someone deliberately or inadvertently misplaced it early on. Her group struggled to fully immerse themselves in the character moments because they had this unfinished task and they didn’t know how important it was. The failure here wasn’t the missing prop, but the lack of a failsafe to seamlessly assist the group through the mishap.
➕ There were some amazing shared moments, experienced with most of the group. These scenes surprised and confounded us while launching the next act.
➖ One critical moment involved a device with insufficient speakers, given the amount of commotion going on in the game. I couldn’t hear most of what should have been a powerful establishing moment for me.
➖ We didn’t fully understand how to operate a critical game mechanic… and we didn’t really need to… but there came a point where the nature of this interaction changed and that wasn’t clear enough to be satisfying.
➖ At the end of the experience, the players were rushed out of the space. Depending on where we’d experienced the last scene, we were rushed out more or less quickly, which was also confusing. There was an opportunity to go upstairs to a bar for conversation… but not everyone found out that this was an option. The rushing also juxtaposed sourly against the warmth of the experience.
❓The decisions that we made mattered, some more than others. It was possible to take actions early on that profoundly and permanently impacted an individual’s path and experience. This wasn’t inherently good or bad; it just was. Because of this, you really ought to act as your character, not as a gamer or theater goer seeking thrills, secrets, or private moments.
❓ The Mortality Machine came with a ton of variability. Each individual player’s experience was the direct result of how they were spot cast, how much they committed to their role, and how well their relations played and committed to their roles.
Was she playing a believable sister? Did she open up and let you connect with her? Was she fumbling around with searching the space for 90 minutes? I focused on having conversations and moments with the people who were engaged and that paid off for me.
❓ Yes, there were a number of different possible endings. It would be possible to actively strive for a particular ending. I suspect that others saw it differently, but I felt like focusing on a desired outcome would be counterproductive. I think that I had a better experience because I remained focused on my character’s motivations and relationships.
➕ I enjoyed the poetry and calmness of the ending that we earned.
➕ Lisa and I experienced so many emotional moments in The Mortality Machine. Our feels ran the gamut, including anger, compassion, joy, and sorrow, among others.
In one of my most genuine character moments of the evening, I found myself screaming at a non-player character (which was breaking a rule, a fact that I forgot in the moment) and he went right there with me.
Lisa’s most profound moment was a meaningful gesture that filled her with both joy and sorrow. She teared up.
The Upside Down was an unapologetic and loving homage to Stranger Things. With a bit of set dressing and a strong emphasis on puzzles, this played as a well-executed traditional escape room.
It had some tech. It had some set embellishments. This was, however, primarily a puzzle game and we enjoyed it.
Regardless of experience level, if you find yourself in Cincinnati, and you’re looking for a traditional puzzle-driven escape room, this is a game to play, especially if you’re a fan of Stranger Things.
Who is this for?
Fans of Stranger Things
Any experience level
The Seven Forces was an organization dedicated to capturing powerful artifacts hidden throughout time and space.
We had to visit a small town in Indiana during the 1980s and contend with a mystical evil in possession of an artifact.
Within the wood-paneled walls of a 1980s basement, we found lots of puzzles and Stranger Things references.
While the set had charming details and sufficiently conveyed where we were, it wasn’t the focus of the game. Cincinnati Escape Room emphasized the puzzles.
Cincinnati Escape Room’s The Upside Down was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ The Upside Down was well themed. It felt true to its inspiration without being frightening.
➕/➖ Although the theming was clear, and generally on point, a few puzzles seemed strangely unrelated.
➕ We enjoyed the puzzles in The Upside Down. There was a lot of solve. We liked that keen observation, rather than sustained searching, yielded a large volume of puzzles.
➕ Many of the puzzles required teamwork. We appreciated this facet of Cincinnati Escape Room’s design.
➖ We entered the space with headlamp flashlights, supposedly as a thematic choice to embellish the experience. As we played the opening moments, however, these felt more like an afterthought. One didn’t work; another was weak. This sequence made it hard to pick up momentum at the onset of the experience.
➖ One precise puzzle was a bit out of sync. The concept was clever, but it seemed like the tech may need more regular maintenance.
➕ Cincinnati Escape Room implemented a pair of key moments exceptionally well. It wasn’t at all finicky. We’ve knocked a lot of companies in the past for getting this kind of thing wrong.
This is what happens when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, but make sweeping declarations anyway.
The YouTube viral movie mill WatchMojo decided to “contribute” to the escape room world by putting out a video declaring the “Top 10 Craziest Escape Rooms Around the World.” This thing is fraught with problems.
We’ll start with the wide variety of mistakes that demonstrate how little the writer(s) knew of the subject matter. Then we’ll suggest thoughts on how these companies really ended up this list.
It’s clear that WatchMoJo didn’t even know the subject of their own video.
It’s titled “Top 10 Craziest Escape Rooms Around the World.”
In the opening few minutes, it declares that this is a top 10 list of “the most unique, challenging, and elaborately-themed escape rooms.”
By the end of the film, they declare their number 1 choice as “the greatest escape room in the world.”
The lists of the craziest, most unique, most challenging, most elaborately-themed, and greatest escape rooms should be different lists. At REA, we’re partial to innovative escape rooms.
It’s a strange experience feeling both honored and cringey at the same time.
WatchMoJo called out that Sherlocked in Amsterdam won a Golden Lock-In Award for their game, The Vault. Cool. Thanks.
The Vault won in 2017 though, not 2018.
Unfortunately, the writer(s) never seemed to look up what the award was. They mischaracterized it as being given to one company, as a declaration of the best escape room company in the world.
Sherlocked wasn’t even the only Golden Lock-In Award winning company on their list. Claustrophobia won in 2016 for Vault 13. The Escape Game won one too, in 2018, the day before this video published, for Playground.
The kicker, however, is when the narrator says, “while The Vault at Sherlocked more than won a Golden Lock-In Award, our vote for the greatest escape room in the world goes to The Basement in California.” You know who also won a Golden Lock-In Award in 2017? The Basement.
They also forgot to mention who gave the award. Is it necessary? No. Would it have been really kind of them to share a bit of love? Yeah.
The Escape Game
The increasingly prolific and generally consistent chain The Escape Game got a shoutout at number 5.
The problem with The Escape Game’s listing on the WatchMoJo video is that their examples aren’t from The Escape Game! We have played every single game that The Escape Game has to offer (we have the t-shirts to prove it) and none of the games listed in that segment are theirs.
I know it’s 2019, but just a teeny, tiny amount of fact checking would have been lovely.
While we’re on the subject of companies…
Escape Rooms or Companies?
When we view a list of the “Top 10 Craziest Escape Rooms Around the World,” we expect a list of games. Instead what we were treated to a list of escape room companies.
Which is fine… that’s an acceptable list to generate, but it isn’t what was promised.
Cut the Wire was a bomb defusal game, rooted in turn-based deduction and chance. Our goal was to use clues and a bit of luck to cut the right wire.
As far as straightforward, kid-friendly games go, this was about as enjoyable a game as I’ve seen. The interactions felt great. There was a solid mix of luck and skill, and a round of play never lasted more than a few minutes. This is one of YULU’s strongest offerings (although their essentially unreleased Fire Quest is still our favorite #Justice4FireQuest).
Additionally, I think it’s the kind of toy that could break out of board game play and be used for imaginative play (provided that you don’t have a problem with the subject matter).
If that sounds like it will fit into your family’s game night… then give it a clip.
Who is this for?
Cutting the wires was bafflingly satisfying
Cut the right wire and disarm the bomb.
We plugged in all of the wires and turned the game on. We then rolled the die and did as the die commanded.
Everyone took a turn, rolling the die and doing as it said. We repeated until someone cut the defuse wire and won… or cut the detonate wire and lost.
There were nine wires: 3 green, 3 blue, and 3 red.
Each wire was also labeled with a shape: circle, square, or triangle.
A turn consisted of rolling the die, then doing what the die commanded.
The die could tell you to:
Get a Clue(1/6 chance) – Push a button and receive a random hint as to which wire was either the defuse or the detonate wire.
Cut a Wire(2/6 chance) – Cut a wire blindly, without getting any clues that round.
Clue + Cut (2/6 chance) – Take a clue, then cut a wire in a single turn.
Clue + Force Cut (1/6 chance)– Take a clue, then force another player to cut a wire of your own choosing.
The game concluded when someone cut the defuse wire and won or cut the detonate wire and lost.
“Timed Mode” added 1 additional hurdle of a 15-second clock to complete an action. Failure to take an action within the allotted time would detonate the device.
Spy Code’s Cut the Wire was a play-at-home game of deduction and chance with a low level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around deduction, memorization, and chance.
➕ The device was designed as a caricature of a bomb. It looked fun and non-threatening.
➕ The physical act of cutting wires in Cut the Wire was especially pleasing. The wire cutters had a good feel to them. The sound, sight, and feel of clipping was delightful.
➖ I found a little too much variation in cut tension. Most of the wires felt great. One was too hard to cut. One felt just a touch too loose.
➕ I cut the loosest wire about 40 times to see if it would break. It did not. Similarly, the stiffest wire didn’t loosen. This speaks well to Cut the Wire’s durability.
➕ The clue system was great. The display was recessed deep into the device such that it was easy for the active player to see it and difficult for other players to sneak a glance.
➕ There was a clip on the back of the device that perfectly held the wire cutters and die (all of the things you need to play). This made me inordinately happy.
➖ We found it a bit difficult to visually distinguish the shapes printed on the wires. If I were planning to play regularly, I’d modify the game by taking a Sharpie marker to the shapes to make them easier to see.
➕ Cut the Wire was easy to set up, quick to learn, and approachable for most ages. It was simple, but there was an actual game to play.
Well… this is awkward. We made 2 different attempts to play Unlock!’s The Tonipal’s Treasure. In both cases we broke the game’s sequencing… and it was messy.
As experienced Unlock! players, we understand how the series functions, but even when we tried our best, we broke the game and found ourselves utterly lost. In the end, we flipped all of the cards over, deduced the correct solve path, and finished the game.
There were a few cool puzzles… but they were buried under the frustration of some obtuse interactions and a flawed hint system.
As charming as some of this game was, it was too broken to recommend in its current state. Fortunately for Unlock!, it could probably be fixed with a software update.
Who is this for?
People who understand that this game is easily broken and are willing to adjust accordingly.
Players with at least some experience
Some interesting mechanics
To learn from the mistakes made in this game
Many sought Captain Smith’s buried treasure. We were in a race to find it and dig it up before our rivals did.
Unlock! is an entirely card-based series that uses a mobile app to handle hints, timer, and a few puzzle solution inputs. The Tonipal’s Treasure followed the same structure.
I have explained the core mechanics in more detail in a past review:
Asmodee’s The Tonipal’s Treasure was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty.
Most of the challenge came from identifying the puzzles. It proved difficult to determine which puzzles were active at any given point in the game.
Core gameplay revolved around observing, puzzling, and card management.
➕ The Tonipal’s Treasure’s narrative and characters were entertaining.
➖ In an effort to convey story, we gained access to too many cards at a time. We were constantly struggling to determine which puzzle we were supposed to work on.
➖ Entirely too many puzzles required a logic leap.
➖ The Tonipal’s Treasure’s put a heavy emphasis on hidden numbers.
➖ The Unlock! hint system was insufficient. It did a poor job of guiding us to the active puzzle components. The hints were either painfully obvious and useless, or gave us the solution without any explanation as to why. This meant that we could get the solution to a puzzle that wasn’t fully in play and accidentally jump out of sequence.
➕ I think there actually could be a lot of good puzzles in this game… but only if the hint system were fixed.
➖ There were audio clues that were far too difficult to understand.
➕ The Tonipal’s Treasure did something really interesting with the card design.
The Art of the Heist was a competent escape game with solid puzzle flow, good humor, integrated history, and a compelling, authentic setting.
Amaze Escape’s creation was held back by two frustrations: an overabundance of interesting red herrings and a painfully underdeveloped late-game sequence. These were serious momentum-killers, but are quite fixable.
Art of the Heist was a strong game that I wanted to enjoy more than I did. It just needed a bit more polish.
If you’re in the area and looking for a solid escape game in a unique and authentic setting, Art of the Heist would be a good choice.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
A genuine setting
An interesting final puzzle
We were members of a syndicate of thieves tasked with stealing the world’s most valuable suitcase. Allegedly the suitcase had found its way into police custody in the town of Farlington, Massachusetts.
The syndicate had created a diversion, giving us an hour to break into the police evidence locker and retrieve our prize.
Amaze Escape was located in a building that formerly housed a municipal justice center. Their earlier game made use of the building’s authentic jail cell. Their latest game was set within the police station.
The concrete walls and generally drab setting was livened by a number of Simpsons references and other jokes. The setting was pretty perfect and was one of those instances where the real thing doesn’t necessarily look like TV or the movies, but feels like the genuine artifact.
Amaze Escape’s Art of the Heist was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.
➕ Amaze Escape was located in a former municipal building that housed the court, jail, and police. They stuck to their roots again in their second game, The Art of the Heist, set it in a police station. It was believable.
➕ The puzzles flowed pretty smoothly. The gameplay generally worked well.
➖ We encountered one frustrating section. Ambiguous cluing, lack of necessary light sources, and choice of input mechanism came together aimlessly.
➖ Amaze Escape included substantial red herrings in The Art of the Heist. We kept looking for ways to interact with these significant props, only to find that they were simply ambiance. This was unfortunate because these red herrings were among the most interesting items in the game.
➕ We enjoyed one nifty late-game tech-driven solve. It was an intriguing design and amusingly precise.
➖ While we enjoyed the setup, we didn’t feel the narrative pressure of the heist scenario. The Art of the Heist lacked a moment of intensity and excitement that made our hearts race.
➕ I loved how Amaze Escape worked other bits of Boston heist history into their game, including the infamous Gardner Heist, which I had originally learned about from my favorite podcast, The Futility Closet.
Tips For Visiting
There is street parking nearby. Pay the meter.
Book your hour with Amaze Escape’s Art of the Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Ever since we played this game, I’ve been pulling my phone out to show photos of the set to friends. It was absolutely amazing. For me, it was worth the price of admission simply to spend an hour in Houdini’s Room Escape’s recreation of the Oval Office. I deeply regret that I didn’t take a picture of myself pensively peering out the window.
From a gameplay standpoint, Oval Office was a traditional puzzle room with themed puzzles added into the set. Few puzzles felt deeply ingrained in either the environment or the story. In short, the gameplay felt dated.
Regardless of experience level, if you’re near Cincinnati, Oval Office is a must-play, if only for the novelty and craftsmanship that went into building the space.
That said, if you’re a newbie, I’d recommend playing at least one or two other escape rooms before tackling Oval Office. Afford yourself some comfort with the escape game format so that you can spend more time enjoying the space itself.
Who is this for?
Presidential history buffs
Anyone who wants a picture of themselves sitting in the Oval Office
Players with at least some experience
The room is a faithful recreation of the Oval Office.
Large volume of puzzles
That room. Seriously!
While on a tour of the White House, we had wandered off from the group and found ourselves in the Oval Office. It was really cool until someone accidentally hit the President’s silent alarm and sealed off the office. We had to find our way out before the Secret Service found their way in.
Oval Office looked like the Oval Office. This set was gorgeous.
The room was round. The rug, couches, desk, chair, windows… it all looked like the Oval Office.
While the room completely avoided modern political references, Oval Office had a number of iconic references to past presidents, most notably, Ronald Reagan’s jellybean jar and Harry Truman’s “The BUCK STOPS here!” sign.
Houdini’s Room Escape’s Oval Office was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ The set was phenomenal. Houdini’s Room Escape had faithfully recreated the Oval Office in their facility. It was oval, first and foremost, and sizable. It looked a lot like the real thing. The staging was impressive.
➕ Houdini’s Room Escapetook advantage of the room’s unique layout. Oval Office hid its secrets… as one would expect. These reveals were the best moments of the escape room.
➕ The gameplay was structured such that everyone could get involved early on and become familiar with the gamespace. Oval Office onboarded players well.
➕ Houdini’s Room Escape packed a lot of puzzle content into Oval Office. There was a lot of gameplay in this exquisite room.
➖ Oval Office contained one puzzle that didn’t work well and wasn’t easy to access. Houdini’s Room Escape had attempted to make this one easier, but that change wasn’t clued, and instead left us awkwardly struggling to set this thing correctly… until the gamemaster bypassed it for us, which they do a lot, it seems. (The bypass was truly appreciated.)
➕ Houdini’s Room Escape added detail to the props and clue structure – through weathering and choice of materials – that made them feel more natural in the space. The set and props were lovingly crafted and presidentially themed. The hint system fit the space as well.
➖ For the most part, the gameplay felt tacked on to the room. The puzzles were in the props rather than the room itself. Although thematic, they weren’t integrated into our story or any one cohesive reason. It felt like playing a themed escape room on a grand stage rather than experiencing an escape from that stage.
➖ We had a frustrating playthrough with a bad reset that led to at least one fully bypassed puzzle and a lot of other confusion. Given the volume of content in this game, a reset issue was especially detrimental to our experience.
➕ The Oval Office was not non-partisan and not political. The design leaned into history. It was exciting to spend an hour in Oval Office.
Replayable and modular, Beat the Bomb felt more like a gameshow with different games within it than an escape room. It all concluded with a battle against time. When the clock struck zero, a giant paint bomb exploded all over us.
Get Out of Here delivered the narrative of The Diamond Heist with a third person voiceover that told our story as we advanced through the game. This solved a number of escape room storytelling problems.
The Pop Star’s Room of Doom wasn’t an escape room. It was something new: a time loop game. We were reliving the same actor-driven time loop, taking different actions each time, and trying to determine how to break the cycle and save the game’s main character.
Designed for escape room enthusiasts, Get the F Out’s incredibly meta game, The Experiment, had two unusual innovations. One involved lighting. The other was in its storytelling. Months later, we’re still debating what we were supposed to take away from this game.
We didn’t enter an escape room; we were patrons of a quirky museum of oddities, along with all of the other players… but it wasn’t a museum. It was a sandbox for puzzles, scavenger hunts, and adventures. We had our mission and everyone else had theirs, but we were all puzzling and exploring in the same space at the same time. It was chaotic and lively and it became more interesting as more people showed up.
Terrifying. Heyou Escape built tension by adding a sense of danger and screwing with our minds and expectations. I’m not sure if La Terrible Affaire Bambell is actually an escape room, or if we were even players… Looking back, I think we may have just been props in their production.
The Gate Escape put training wheels on escape room gameplay. Instead of presenting a free-for-all escape room-style game, each puzzle was presented in its own station… and it concluded with a dance party. This was a great way to open up new players to escape room style puzzling.
By adding social and group dynamics into the large-scale theatrical escape room event format, The Seven Forces created something new and special. Their approach kept multiple teams engaged with both the puzzles and one another for the entire game.
We’d love to have you join us on an escape room tour!
Join us in visiting some of the other innovative games we’ve found in our travels. (It just so happens that we didn’t play them in 2018.)
Price: $25 per player (early bird Jan 26 – Feb 13)
Ticketing: Public, and there are multiple teams playing at once
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
Passport To Iron City was substantially more than I was expecting. It had more detail, more gameplay, and more time within the world than I’d imagined a pop-up experiential movie promotion was capable of.
I went in a bit skeptical and left thinking, “maybe I’ll go see that movie…” which is a feeling that brand activations rarely manage to instill in me.
As substantial as this was, I wanted more gameplay. Over the course of a 2-hour experience, I spent only 40 minutes playing games. There was so much I didn’t get to play. We also didn’t have enough information at the onset to actively strategize our team’s gameplay based on point value or fun factor. The experience felt unbalanced.
I’m glad that I experienced Passport to Iron City. It was clearly made with love and an appropriate budget… two things that are often missing from branded pop-ups. It expanded my understanding of what a brand activation can be.
If you’re looking for puzzle-focused gameplay, there is a little something for you at Passport to Iron City. That said, this experience is really for players who are open to variety in gameplay and the experience beyond the games. Check it out if you’re in New York City, Austin, or Los Angeles.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
Players who are comfortable knowing that they can’t do everything
People who don’t need to win to have fun
A large beautiful set
Tons of actors
A variety of challenges
An unusual social experience
Set within the world of the existing manga and upcoming movie, Alita: Battle Angel, we were set free within a wreckage-filled dystopian city where we competed against other teams for credits.
There wasn’t a rigid narrative. Neither the title character Alita nor her story seemed to play a role within Passport to Iron City. We were just a bunch of normal folk trying to get by in a ruined world.
The set was the star of Passport to Iron City. Designed in conjunction with the production designers of the movie, it looked lived in.
The experience played out over three main areas:
The Kansas Bar was a functional and fully-themed bar that served in-world food and drink. Upon entry, we met our teammates, familiarized ourselves with some of the game materials, and got to know the folks playing on other teams.
Iron City was laid out as a series of small businesses that housed the various characters and challenges. This was a detailed and heavily varied dystopian environment.
At the conclusion of the game, we exited through a gift shop. It sold some quality stuff including in-world chocolates and hot sauces (produced by women-owned businesses Valerie Confections and Yellowbird Sauce, respectively), as well as the obligatory t-shirts, manga, and other gift-shoppy things.
Passport To Iron City was an eclectic game with a varied level of difficulty.
Gameplay covered escape room-y skills including traditional puzzling and searching challenges as well as an assortment of sensory, reaction-time, and gambling games… and that’s just what I saw. I missed a fair amount of the available gameplay.
➕ There was a lot going on. The size, scale, and depth of Passport To Iron City really surprised me, especially when compared with most other brand activations that I’ve encountered.
➕ I loved that the food and drink were in-world. The names and labels were all part of the experience. Designers rarely take that detail into account, but it made a difference.
➖ The Passport To Iron City website could have set better expectations for timing. Sure, I didn’t look in the FAQ to learn how long the game would be, but this should have been front and center because it’s a selling feature. The entire experience was about 2 hours. Passport To Iron City was fighting against expectations that this would likely be a 15-30 minute experience.
➕ Gameplay included a broad variety of options. No matter who you are, there’s probably a game within Passport To Iron City that you’ll be good at.
➖ We were given the opportunity – and strongly encouraged – to strategize our approach to selecting challenges, but we weren’t given enough information about those challenges to produce a viable strategy. In the end, we pretty much found ourselves going to the game stations that were open or had no line.
❓ Playing on media day, there were a lot of people, but we didn’t have a packed game. If attendance were substantially greater, I imagine that the dynamics and availability of certain games would be crunched.
➕ I truly enjoyed the scavenger game. It had a surprising amount of depth. The actors overseeing it were as engaged as they were funny.
➖ This is a nitpick, but one of the marketplace games had an unfair round. It was maddening.
➕/➖ I enjoyed most of the challenges, but found myself wishing that I had another couple of minutes in most of them. For a 2-hour experience, 40 minutes of gameplay felt light. I know that I missed at least one challenge that others felt was the strongest of the evening.
➖ The point value of the various challenges seemed almost random. I always felt like I had control over the task at hand; I never felt like I was strategically in control of my own destiny within the game.
❓ The climax of the experience was watching a Motorball race (the Alita equivalent of the obligatory blood sport race that is legally required as part of any sci-fi dystopian epic). Your level of enjoyment will be directly tied with your interest in gambling.
❓ There was a lot of content within Passport to Iron City that I didn’t have time to even see, let alone experience. I don’t know how much content I missed. That speaks to the depth of what’s available, but it also means that you can’t do everything.
➕ I am not a gift shop guy… but I’m still surprised at the quality of the goods. The chocolate and hot sauces were amazing.
➕ If you’re able to book as an early bird (January 26 – February 13, 2019), $25 per ticket is a fantastic value.
Tips For Visiting
The New York City venue is a short walk from the Bedford stop on the L train.
Passport To Iron City has ADA accessible venues.
There is a coat check.
Book your hour with Passport To Iron City, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.