Sherlocked – The Architect [Review]

He’s not a software architect; he’s a “real architect.”

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 7, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 per team

Story & setting

In the basement of Beurs van Berlage, a commodity exchange turned conference space in Amsterdam, we entered the office of the building’s architect, a member of the famed Society of the Crossed Keys, to uncover the Society’s secrets.

The old trading floor of the Beurs van Berlage; the old stock exchange building that Sherlocked calls home.
The old trading floor of the Beurs van Berlage, Sherlocked’s home.

Beurs van Berlage is a beautiful red brick building constructed at the turn of the 20th century. Downstairs, we entered a unassuming room with wood paneling, heavy wooden furniture, and bygone electronics. This was a spacious office.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Architect interacted with the room and its props. They worked in different, and sometimes unexpected, ways.

Many puzzles relied heavily on observation and communication.

Standouts

We loved a few puzzle mechanics. These were truly memorable escape room moments.

When the narrative took a right turn, the puzzling moved the experience forward. The story and puzzles played off each other to escalate dramatic tension.

Sherlocked created a climactic, exciting conclusion to this adventure.

The puzzling traversed the entire large gamespace in interesting and occasionally unforeseen ways.

Shortcomings

The gamespace was simply too large. The spacious setting and sparse decor dwarfed the scale of the experience.

The setting wasn’t inherently exciting. It was an office.

In a few instances, revised puzzle design could improve the player experience. One puzzle required order preservation, which could easily trip up inquisitive players. Another puzzle could be easily circumvented.

Should I play Sherlocked’s The Architect?

Sherlocked is famous for The Vaulta heist adventure set in the basement of this same building. While not as intense or dramatic, the lesser known The Architect was actually the more complex puzzle experience.

It was also more accessible; you need only to be able to walk downstairs.

The Architect intertwined puzzles, narrative, and a beautiful building. It was not an action movie and the set was less impressive than that of The Vault. Within the puzzles, however, there were still plot twists, cinematic moments, and a puzzle complexity that its more famous brother did not have.

It is a challenging escape room.

If you play escape rooms for the puzzles, at Sherlocked, you may actually enjoy The Architect most. I recommend you book them both and decide for yourself.

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

Full disclosure: Sherlocked provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Hour to Midnight – The Secrets of Nibiru [Review]

Masked history.

Location: Portland, Oregon

Date played: May 21, 2017

Team size: 6-10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

William Elshoff, a globetrotting adventurer, had disappeared after supposedly finding the key to Nibiru. We entered his last known location in search of him: his study.

Among the heavy wooden furniture, display cases, and shelves of books we found beautiful artifacts from his worldly travels.

In-game: Shot through a chess board, a beautiful full wall book case.

Puzzles

Most of the puzzles and interactions in The Secrets of Nibiru were born of the set and props, relying heavily on keen observation skills and decipherment.

Standouts

Hour to Midnight built a story that unfolded over the course of the escape room. It was grounded in myth, but reimagined for this medium.

The set pieces and props in The Secrets of Nibiru were hefty, detailed, polished, and cohesive. They made sense in the space, added intrigue, and supported the narrative.

In-game: A wooden club next to an intimidating black fanged mask.

The Secrets of Nibiru used technology to great effect. The room’s responses felt magical and helped sell the adventure. These technological interactions also brought drama.

Hour to Midnight included a lot of props that could easily have become red herrings, but they built the set in such a way as to greatly limit confusion.

The puzzling culminated late in the game, integrating the narrative and the different puzzling threads, and involving the entire team. The Secrets of Nibiru followed well-designed puzzle flow.

Shortcomings

One puzzle overstayed its welcome. Once we knew how to solve it and had all the pieces, it still took substantial time and effort to complete.

Despite the narrative resolution, due to a set design decision, the ending left us wanting more. This could have been avoided with a little reworking.

Should I play Hour to Midnight’s The Secrets of Nibiru?

Yes.

The puzzles, set, and story were all fun in their own right and wove together neatly into a cohesive group experience.

For newer players, The Secrets of Nibiru will be a serious challenge. Bring a larger group and communicate well.

For more experienced players, if you plan to tackle The Secrets of Nibiru with a smaller group, work quickly and efficiently.

Whether you play room escapes for the puzzles, stories, technology, or the artistic creations that bring these together, there’s something for everyone in The Secrets of Nibiru.

Book your hour with Hour to Midnight’s The Secrets of Nibiru, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Hour to Midnight comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room Netherlands – The Lab Room [Review]

When a lab setting isn’t boring as purgatory.

Location: Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Date played: May 8, 2017

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €99 per team

Story & setting

Trapped in a mad doctor’s lab, we had to escape.

The Lab Room was dark and bright, clean and dirty, polished and ragged. While not horror, per se, it kept us on edge. All of the set’s contradictions created an emotional ride. It was the most intense lab scenario we’ve encountered to date.

In-game: Image from the security camera of a menacing lab with a work table, and a cage surrounded by barbed wire.

Puzzles

We puzzled linearly through The Lab Room. With each successive solution, new information and triggered events opened to us.

Much of the puzzling was tech-driven. Props didn’t necessarily open in the manner one would expect.

Standouts

Escape Room Netherlands’ use of set, lighting, and sound design in The Lab Room was brilliant. It both kept us on edge and also functioned as clue structure. More than in most room escapes, lighting was an integral component of the experience.

Not everything was high-tech. There was a great low-tech puzzle that fit well with the laboratory theme.

The technology was well-hidden and seamlessly integrated into the escape room. This wonderful execution drove much of the experience.

The Lab Room was full of surprises. Even when I knew a surprise was coming, I still jumped whenever the room reacted to us.

Shortcomings

The narrative didn’t really come through. The drama was environment and technology driven, but didn’t tell a story in the way that the Girl’s Room did.

Given how well thought-out most of The Lab Room’s details were, some of the puzzles seemed a bit random.

The ending happened abruptly and didn’t really feel like an ending.

Should I play Escape Room Netherlands’ The Lab Room?

The Lab Room was the first escape room in The Netherlands. It set the tone for many of the thrilling adventures, detailed sets, and impressive technology we experienced in our weekend of 10 Dutch escape rooms. Despite its location about 50km outside of Amsterdam, Escape Room Netherlands had a profound impact on the growth of the industry throughout the region.

With this original escape room, Escape Room Netherlands leaned into the set, crafting a gamespace that would elicit reactions from players. They integrated technology masterfully to create the emotional roller coaster of The Lab Room. 

It’s thrilling, but once you know what Escape Room Netherlands did next, it’s rudimentary. For a truly integrated experience, with puzzles, narrative, set, and story, play The Girl’s Room. If that’s too much to handle, emotionally or physically, play The Lab Room instead. It’s older, but it’s on a higher level than many newer escape rooms you’ll find.

Ideally, play them both, in the order in which Escape Room Netherlands created them. You really have to go out of your way to visit Bunschoten-Spakenburg. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but it’s so worth it.

Book your hour with Escape Room Netherlands’  The Lab Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Netherlands provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room NJ – The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls [Review]

New Jersey Necronomicon.

Location: Madison, New Jersey

Date played: June 12, 2017

Team size: 4-18; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

After finding refuge in a cabin in the woods, we learned that we needed protecting from our shelter. The only way out was to find the Book of Souls and use it to break an enchantment.

From the walls to the ceiling, Escape Room NJ designed a compelling and spacious cabin. The dim lighting, coupled with the enchantment, made it feel just a little bit haunted (but certainly not scary).

In game: A bull's skull hangs on a wood cabin wall, with a window and rocking chair in the background.

Puzzles

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls combined traditional locks with tech-driven interactions.

The puzzles wound their way through every set piece and prop in the gamespace.

Standouts

With The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, Escape Room NJ vastly improved their set design. They built an intriguing, compelling cabin set, complete with the exterior details, visible in the lobby.

Escape Room NJ embedded a lot of tech in this cabin. The room’s response to our actions contributed to the eerie atmosphere and worked well with the theme.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls contained many excellent puzzles with satisfying solutions. There was a lot to explore. Furthermore, the puzzles lent themselves to teamwork.

Shortcomings

There were, however, a few far-fetched connections. One puzzle in particular seemed unsolvable without a hint… or in our case, an outside knowledge bypass.

There was a moment in this escape room that deviated completely from the otherwise thematically cohesive experience. If Escape Room NJ wants to use that type of interaction, they should rework how this setting produces it. In this room escape it felt silly.

While Escape Room NJ built an excellent set, it didn’t feel quite to scale. It felt too big for the story and the props within it, which in turn made the otherwise nifty interactions feel small.

Should I play Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls?

When we entered Escape Room NJ’s newer Madison location (we’d previously visited them in Hackensack), we were immediately impressed with their commitment to the theming. They had designed the outer walls of each escape room, which were visible in the lobby. When we entered The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, we entered an enchanted forest-cabin puzzle adventure.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls was a puzzle-centric room escape in a fun environment.

Note that the environment was a tad eerie, but certainly not scary. In that sense, it’s fit for all audiences, except for little kids who are afraid of the concept of ghosts.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls would be a challenging escape room for beginners, but approachable. Experienced players will move faster, but will still find The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls a worthy puzzle opponent.

Book your hour with Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Locked.Amsterdam – The Submarine [Review]

And that button over there will blow up the city.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 8, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: €70-120 per team

Story & setting

We were searching for a lost Soviet submarine before its nuclear cargo fell into the wrong hands. We started in an office thought to have information about the sub’s whereabouts and proceeded into the depths of the ocean.

With each subsequent stage in this adventure, the set became increasingly more exciting. We progressed from a mundane office to inside a dark and distressed submarine.

In-game: a close up of a valve on a compelling submarine set.

Puzzles

The sets, props, and puzzles worked together to drive the mission forward.

The puzzles in The Submarine required visual, auditory, and dexterity skills, along with observation and the ability to make connections between gadgets and functions.

Standouts

Locked.Amsterdam designed and constructed a compelling maritime set. The interior of this beat-up submarine was especially impressive.

As we journeyed toward the climax of the adventure, the set, props, and technology became increasing more complex and exciting.

A unique hint delivery mechanism fit neatly into the story.

Shortcomings

The hint delivery system was unfortunately placed in such a way that it was difficult to reach.

If we didn’t succeed at a puzzle on the first try, The Submarine could become frustrating. This took a number of forms:

As we progressed through The Submarine, we left information behind. It wasn’t always possible to revisit important clues, which led to wasted time and effort.

Because of the tech-driven props, when we made a mistake, we couldn’t simply try again. In one case, we needed to wait for a prop to reset. In another instance, we needed to go back more than one step to get a prop to trigger again. In a timed adventure, this became frustrating.

We also experienced one technical failure, unrelated to a puzzling mistake.

Should I play Locked.Amsterdam’s The Submarine?

The Submarine was an exciting and dramatic adventure. As we progressed through the narrative, the stakes escalated along with the environment. This was impressive.

While we enjoyed the puzzle and set integration, at times this tech-driven design caused unnecessary frustration.

The Submarine was a game of puzzling precision; it punished screwups. So observe carefully and be precise.

The Submarine would be best for experienced players seeking an oceanic adventure; it’s a gorgeous escape room.

Book your hour with Locked.Amsterdam’s The Submarine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Locked Amsterdam provided media discounted tickets for this game.

3600 Escape – Mineshaft [Review]

Digging for puzzles.

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Legend said that an expensive diamond had been hidden in a mine in central Pennsylvania. We donned our hard hats and puzzled our way towards the treasure.

From the floor, to the walls, to the lack of space, Mindshaft was a compelling stage for this excavation.

In-game: A wooden mine shaft with a coal-filled mining cart.
Believe the gamemaster when you’re told, “You don’t have to touch the coal.”

Puzzles

Mineshaft was a puzzle-driven escape room in a particularly cool environment. It included an eclectic mix of typical escape room-style puzzles. Most of the puzzles made use of props that we uncovered in the gamespace.

Standouts

Beyond the entrance to Mineshaft we entered a world so unlike the lobby of 3600 Escape. The wood planks, scattered stones, and pieces of coal brought the little mine to life.

The best puzzles were the ones that tied directly into the set.

It was fun to extract clues from within the mine itself.

The puzzling started with the set and props working in tandem to engage the entire team as we got our bearings in the mine.

Shortcomings

While in theory we liked this opening, it focused everyone on the same task, which, coupled with unclear cluing and lack of direction, created a bottleneck right off the bat.

In a few instances, the cluing – and even some puzzle solutions – seemed rather ambiguous. We resorted to hacking our way through parts of this experience with trial and error.

3600 Escape built an outstanding set, but didn’t elevate the puzzling to match. This left us wanting something more.

Should I play 3600 Escape’s Mineshaft?

The most exciting element of Mineshaft was its set, which demonstrated 3600 Escape’s attention to detail in building the staging for this escape room. In this regard, Mineshaft was a leap forward for 3600 Escape.

Despite appearances, Mineshaft was actually a puzzler’s escape room: it was packed with very standard, escape room-style puzzles.

That’s also how it fell short. The game looked so good that we yearned for more integrated and experiential puzzling. We wanted the puzzle design to leap forward with that set. It felt like a missed opportunity.

If you enjoy room escapes for new and exciting environments, you’ll enjoy Mineshaft. If you enjoy escape room-style puzzles, you could also find a lot of like here. If, however, you really want to experience puzzle and set integration, you may not quite be satisfied by this escape room.

Regardless of experience level, there will likely be both moments of thrill and frustration in Mineshaft. 

We hope the 3600 Escape continues to work their puzzle design into the world of this delightfully compelling little mine. There is gold in this game if they dig just a little deeper.

Book your hour with 3600 Escape’s Mineshaft, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 3600 Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

Help us find closed room escapes

We could use a little bit of help…

We’re gearing up to run our 2017 escape room industry growth numbers (2016). One of the big questions that we will be addressing is the number of closures.

While our incredible team of map maintainers has done an amazing job of finding new escape rooms companies on nearly a daily basis, nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to finding closures.

Stylized photo of a map of the north eastern quarter of the United States

Help us share the knowledge

Would you be so kind as to look at our map or spreadsheet and tell us if anything in your area (or areas that you’re familiar with) is missing or incorrect?

  • Did something new open?
  • Do we have a name or address wrong?
  • Has a company closed its doors or moved?

Our directory covers escape rooms in the United States, Canada near the US border, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Please email any updates in your area to RoomEscapeArtist@gmail.com or fill out the contact form. In your update, please let us know the company’s website url and physical address.

We appreciate your help keeping this directory up to date, and plan to fold these updates into our next report on the growth of the US market.

 

The Crux Escape – Clara [Review]

I see metaphors, all the time. They’re everywhere.

Location: Niagara Falls, ON

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $21-26 per ticket

Story & setting

We entered the mind of Clara, a young girl with a dark past. Could we rescue her from her own trauma by uncovering her experiences?

Clara’s mind was a spacious room with basic furniture around the perimeter. Artwork hung on the walls. The decor was sometimes quirky, but not particularly interesting.

In-game: Image of a large back locked box that reads, "CLARA"

Puzzles

Clara challenged players to make connections between the various props and set pieces that together presented the puzzles.

The Crux used standard escape room concepts, executed at varying degrees of difficulty.

Standouts

We particularly enjoyed one set piece. As the experience progressed, we uncovered more of it and the intricate, detailed artwork within.

There were a lot of locks in Clara, but The Crux clearly connected puzzles with the corresponding locks. Thus the escape room rewarded puzzle completion with more game. The volume of locks never hindered the flow of the experience.

Clara was a basic room escape with a twist. At times, the seemingly standard puzzles tripped up our experienced team, not because they were too challenging, but because they deviated from the norm just enough to trip up anyone jumping to conclusions too quickly.

As the room escape progressed, the puzzles revealed more about Clara and her traumatized past. Upon reflection, the underlying puzzle design and story were artfully intertwined. After we’d learned her story and escaped, we appreciated the links between the puzzle structure and narrative.

Shortcomings

While in retrospect the puzzles and story came together, throughout the game itself the puzzling didn’t build a strong narrative. Clara was primarily a puzzling experience, without a memorable climactic moment.

As we progressed through Clara, we rode a roller coaster of puzzle challenge. The difficulty curve seemed off. Especially given an intended audience of less experienced players, more ramp up and down would help with flow.

Clara was a room of locked furniture and basic wall hangings. Certain props had visual appeal, but it was not an intriguing set to explore.

Should I play The Crux Escape’s Clara?

Clara was a puzzle-focused room escape. If you like puzzles, there is a lot to enjoy here. Additionally, players of all experience levels can enjoy Clara; they will likely be tripped up in different places.

If you are more interested in set design, story, or technology, Clara will not be the right escape room for you.

As Clara’s story progressed, it was always in the background, with the puzzles front and center. It wasn’t until reflecting back that we came to appreciate the subtle connections between the mystery and the puzzles. If you’re looking for a heart-racing, puzzling adventure, we recommend The Crux’s Dead Air, where the story and puzzles were more closely intertwined as you experience them.

That said, there was a simple beauty in Clara.

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

Full disclosure: The Crux provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Enigma Escape Rooms – The Masterpiece [Review]

White bread makes a perfectly fine sandwich.

Location: Buffalo, New York

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

After a billionaire art collector died, hundreds of millions of dollars were unaccounted for. We broke into his office to steal the missing fortune.

The Masterpiece took place in a rich guy’s unremarkable office. The paintings on the walls were the single nod to his interests and fortune. He didn’t have expensive taste.

In-game: An office with a computer and a fireplace.

Puzzles

The Masterpiece required different types of thinking as well as some interacting. A number of the puzzles rewarded keen observation.

Standouts

In multiple instances, The Masterpiece relied on standard escape room props and puzzles, with execution well above average. We enjoyed the clarity of a particular visual puzzle and the streamlined used of one technological interface.

The Masterpiece flowed well from start to finish.

Enigma Escape Rooms built a few well-hidden surprises into this office.

Without saying too much, Enigma Escape Rooms included a few items that could easily have been dreadful, but they used them in such a way that they were fair and fun.

Shortcomings

The gamespace for The Masterpiece was an unremarkable office. It did not develop a character or set a compelling stage for this heist. The space was boring.

While many of the puzzles were well designed, they never built energy or tension. The escape room didn’t have a lot of drama, a climax, or memorable moments.

Should I play Enigma Escape Rooms’ The Masterpiece?

Enigma Escape Rooms checked a lot of important boxes: flow, cluing, structure, reliance on observation, and fair puzzle implementation.

Where The Masterpiece fell short, however, was in excitement. Neither the set nor story was compelling. The puzzles – while well designed – weren’t particularly memorable either. Everything worked, but nothing left an impact.

This would be an excellent entry point for escape room beginners. It will be a challenging, but fair opponent. More experienced players will likely appreciate some of the finer points of puzzle design.

There is a strong room escape in The Masterpiece. From this first outing, I can tell that Enigma Escape Rooms understands the escape room building blocks. I hope to see them kick it up a notch with their next adventure.

Book your hour with Enigma Escape Rooms’ The Masterpiece, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Enigma Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

 

Boom Chicago Amsterdam – Escape Through Time [Review]

Yes and, let’s go prank some Nazis.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 6, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €69-129 per group

Story & setting

At this top secret laboratory, we traveled back in time to World War II to assist the Dutch resistance. It was a risky mission, as any sojourn into the past could have devastating consequences on our present.

Our experience began in a local pub where we received a packet of puzzles and logic problems from the bartender.

A beer held up in front of a tap that reads, "La Trappe: Trappist"
Get your pre-game buzz on. Because Amsterdam.

After our puzzle packet and a beer, we made our way down the street to the recycling facility that disguised the time travel lab we were truly seeking. Yes… Escape Through Time was zany.

Our gamemaster, the laboratory doctor, met us in character and oriented us for our trip back in time. Once we’d left her lab, we found ourselves in a period-esque room of simple furniture and props. We started exploring the past.

Escape Through Time was created by the improv comedy troupe Boom Chicago. We could feel this influence throughout the room escape in its humor and especially in the story progression that took us far afield, but somehow managed to tie everything back together.

Puzzles

Escape Through Time’s best puzzles tied into the time travel component of the game. In fact, the puzzling brought the time travel to life.

The non-time travel puzzles were your standard escape room interactions.

Standouts

Escape Through Time’s pub intro was a good way to make the escape game more of a social outing.

There was an exciting twist in the middle of this room escape.

We ultimately resolved our time travel predicament through a puzzle intertwined with the narrative.

Escape Through Time used lighting well to enhance the time travel experience.

We adored one late-game puzzle.

Our amusing gamemaster met us in character and introduced us to her lab and our mission. She was an integral part of our adventure.

Shortcomings

The introduction, while humorous, was long-winded. Escape Through Time could have cut the back story in half and still delivered it with the same wit and energy that set the tone for our adventure.

This intro was really difficult for some on our team to listen to not only because it was long, but also because we were in their faux recycling center that was complete with the smell of rotting garbage. I’m all for use of odor, but damn, eau de garbage was distracting.

We misinterpreted one clue and stumbled upon a safety hazard. Clip exposed screws, especially if you direct your players to search near them.

There was an unevenness to Escape Through Time. While the overall experience and a few moments brilliantly integrated story and puzzling, too many of the puzzles and interactions were forgettable.

Should I play Boom Chicago Amsterdam’s Escape Through Time?

Escape Through Time made us laugh, think, and experience narrative. It took us one way and then turned us another. It was witty and fun.

There’s something different about Escape Through Time. I think some of that comes from the improv comedy background of its creators. The entire adventure had an almost serious, but actually humorous energy about it.

This escape room didn’t have a particularly compelling set or advanced technology. It was a puzzling story. And for that, it could be appreciated by any level of player. If that’s your interest, we recommend a visit.

Go, have a beer, some puzzles, and a few laughs.

Book your hour with Boom Chicago Amsterdam’s Escape Through Time, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.