Trap Door – F5 [Review]

Puzzle storm.

Location: Morristown, NJ

Date played: July 31, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

As a tornado approached, we needed to navigate a corn field and secure ourselves in the barn’s storm cellar to survive.

Trap Door created a ominous atmosphere for F5. An abundance of corn stalks rustled in the dim light and loud wind of the impending storm. We were equipped with only a handheld radio, our strength, and our wits.

In-game: A kid's bicycle with a teddy bear in the basket abandoned beside a gate. An ominous corn field is beyond it.

F5 was part escape room and part obstacle course. A pair of massive fans blew and the projections of a tornado drew closer as we climbed, crawled, and moved heavy objects to navigate the corn maze towards the safety of the barn’s storm cellar.

Puzzles

F5 was both mentally and physically demanding. We determined how items interacted and then we exerted the strength or dexterity necessary to accomplish each feat.

F5 also included some more typical escape room-type puzzles that did not require feats of strength, agility, or dexterity.

Standouts

We loved the premise of F5. We don’t often escape into shelter and we had never been chased by a killer storm before.

Trap Door constructed a compelling Midwestern landscape into their suburban building. They minded the set details. The lighting, sound, and giant fans added dramatic effects. We could easily imagine the impending tornado barreling toward us, which motivated us to move swiftly.

The hint system was funny and served to further the fiction.

There was an incredibly satisfying Zelda-inspired puzzle. David was a little sad that the Zelda puzzle sound didn’t chime when we solved it… until one of our teammates sang it herself.

The physicality of Trap Door’s puzzle-by-way-of-obstacle course design intensified the experience. These integrated challenges made F5 special.

Shortcomings

The final act of F5 abandoned the obstacle course aspect of the game’s design for a more typical escape room-style series of puzzles. In doing so, it shifted away from what made it exciting and the tension cooled before we made it to the finish line.

Toward the end, the puzzles relied on “escape room logic” rather than continuing to work within the environment as the previous puzzles had. The puzzles worked, but they didn’t feel natural within the game.

Should I play Trap Door’s F5?

F5 was unlike any other escape room we’ve visited to date. It was an obstacle course and a puzzle game, dramatically staged, and integrated into one complete adventure. It was more escape room than Boda Borg and more strenuous than… most other escape rooms.

If you like both physical and mental challenges, you will enjoy this.

While you don’t have to be physically fit to succeed in F5, you will need to climb over and crawl through obstacles. Your teammates can assist you, but they can’t do these things for you. I recommend bringing at least one teammate who actively seeks this type of activity.

Do not wear a skirt, heels, or other impractical clothing to F5.

Trap Door has taken necessary safety precautions in designing and constructing F5. It was a safe experience. That said, you could certainly get hurt, especially if, in the excitement of the moment, you aren’t smart about how you move through this adventure.

The gymnast-kid in me loved F5. The decidedly indoor-kid in David loved F5 too. We each tackled it in our own way and left smiling.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s F5, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

REA Weekly Roundup – August 13, 2017

This week we are introducing the weekly roundup. If you don’t have time to read about room escapes every day, you can tune in on Sundays for links to the week’s highlights.

REA Round Up logo with an up arrow atop the letter d.

Announcements

Join us November 3-4, 2017 for Escape Immerse Explore: NYC 2017, a tailored tour through many of New York City’s best escape rooms. Tickets are on sale now.

Featured escape rooms

Lenny Thompkins sold his soul to play the blues by Pursue the Clues in Torrington, Connecticut is loosely based on the old legend from the Mississippi Delta of Robert Johnson, one of the fathers of the blues.

Something different

The Lock Museum of America is a small nonprofit museum in Terryville, Connecticut, dedicated to the history of locking devices. They also have an escape room.

Featured products

If you’re locking up a bottle, we recommend the Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock. Read the complete Bottle Lock Roundup.

From the community

Gamasutra published Adam Clare’s piece on escape room design trends.

No Proscenium interviewed Christian Dieckmann of 3D Live on this week’s podcast.

The Logic Escapes Me reviewed SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in London. In February, we reviewed it in Los Angeles.

Our friends Sera and Sharan in the UK just completed their 500th escape room and were honored by the local news.

BosnianBill over at the Lock Lab stress tested some Masterlocks with a minigun and a grenade. Enjoy.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).

Escape Room Mystery – The Egyptian Tomb [Review]

Puzzle raid.

Location: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Date played: June 24, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Trapped in an Egyptian tomb, we had to puzzle our way to freedom.

Escape Room Mystery’s The Egyptian Tomb was a bright, friendly, and non-horror take on the Egyptian tomb escape room theme.

In-game: Carvings on the wall of an Egyptian tomb.

Puzzles

The puzzling in The Egyptian Tomb was exceptionally well presented and organized.

There were a number of puzzles to work through and some of the later challenges added an extra layer of satisfying complexity.

It was heavy on deciphering, but clear which cipher elements connected.

Standouts

We loved the set of this particular Egyptian tomb. Escape Room Mystery added a few design touches that made the set more interesting than wall-to-wall sandstone. The hieroglyphs were aesthetically pleasing and not distracting or confusing. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but Egyptian tomb games generally have a lot of visual noise that makes it difficult to even identify what’s part of a puzzle and what’s part of the set.

The Egyptian Tomb had some surprising reveals. We were excited every time.

Overall, The Egyptian Tomb had a well-clued, well-connected, well-varied set of puzzles. We appreciated the fun, fair, and worthwhile implementation of a puzzle type we usually see botched.

Shortcomings

The Egyptian Tomb included a few items that broke the themed environment. These were generally in the form of bright, plastic or laminated objects that worked well in the puzzling, but needed aesthetic refinishing.

There was one puzzle input mechanism that we reused multiple times. It started to get old.

We loved one multistep puzzle, but the input mechanism was finicky enough that it was a separate puzzle to sort out how to operate the thing.

Should I play Escape Room Mystery’s The Egyptian Tomb?

In The Egyptian Tomb, Escape Room Mystery combined an enticing set with challenging and satisfying puzzles. They added in some surprising reveals to create a pretty exciting escape room.

A word of warning for players who are larger or claustrophobic: The Egyptian Tomb contains a brief segment of play that includes a tight space. It doesn’t last long, but if that’s going to be a deal breaker, you might want to check out some of Escape Room Mystery’s other games instead.

We puzzled through this room in a short amount of time, as the connections just clicked for us, but we still felt wholly satisfied with our puzzling experience. For experienced players, you can’t ask for much more.

For newer players, divide and conquer. There’s a lot of to do, but it should be clear which game elements go together, so as to make a challenging but approachable room escape.

Book your hour with Escape Room Mystery’s The Egyptian Tomb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure:Escape Room Mystery comped our tickets for this game.

Major Updates to the REA Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017 … Register Today!

Come experience the best of New York City’s escape rooms and interactive entertainment with Room Escape Artist this November!

About Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

Join us November 3-4, 2017 for a tailored tour through many of New York City’s best escape rooms.

Escape Immerse Explore NYC 2017 logo

Major Updates

Thank you to our pre-sale supporters!

Based on feedback from pre-salers and other interested participants, we’ve slimmed down the event to focus on escape rooms and slashed the price in half.

What’s different?

  • We’ve cut the final day’s big event, Accomplice
  • We’ve added an additional escape room to everyone’s agenda
  • Only VIP ticket holders will have tour guides
  • The unlimited metrocard is no longer included

The Accomplice event and tour guides effectively accounted for nearly half of the ticket price.

We seriously want to host that Accomplice show, but we’re going to have to do it as a standalone sometime in the future.

Sign up today for this escape room exclusive: REA plans your day at the best escape rooms in New York City.

Lisa and David along the Hudson River, New York City in the background.
We would like to welcome you to New York City!

Escape Rooms

As part of the event, you will visit at least five escape rooms from some of the best escape room companies* in New York City including:

*Not every tour track will visit every company.

What else is included?

First Person Xperience’s RED in Long Island City is a 75-minute psychological thriller where guests are immersed in an apocalyptic story, interact with real actors and special effects, and work together to complete an objective. RED is a live action experience where your actions and decisions matter, because in this show, YOU control how the story ends!

Escape Entertainment in Herald Square will be our hosts for a morning of breakfast, networking, and escape games.

Lisa and David will be giving a talk by players for players. Lisa and David have been featured speakers at Transworld’s Escape Room Shows in Chicago in 2016 and Niagara Falls in 2017 and at Up The Game in The Netherlands in 2017. This presentation will be exclusively available to event participants.

Packages

Escape, Immerse, Explore  – $399

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a booked agenda of at least 5 escape rooms.

VIP Escape, Immerse, Explore – $549

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a guided tour of at least five escape rooms led by Lisa or David.

Particulars

The event begins on Friday, November 3rd at 5pm. The Friday evening event is in Long Island City, Queens, a short subway ride from Times Square (NOT on Long Island). Note that booking times on Friday evening will vary. You will have the opportunity to request an earlier or later booking time.

The event will wrap up on Saturday evening after a busy day of escape rooms.

Attendees will receive exclusive discount coupons to book their own escape rooms while they are in town.

Also Included

After you purchase your tickets, you’ll receive additional information about:

  • tour customization survey
  • discounted accommodations
  • travel and parking recommendations
  • discounted rates for booking additional escape rooms

FAQ

Are you guys selling out?

Between legal, insurance, food and the cost of sending people to all of the games… this is not an overwhelmingly profitable endeavor. If we were looking to sell out, we’d do something unethical like consult, or design games… and review them on our own site.

We’re hosting this event because we want to bring this community to New York City and share a few of the games we love with you.

Why New York City?

We live here. This city has outstanding escape rooms. We want to show them off!

Why November?

It’s not winter. It’s not summer. And the escape room conferences were back in May.

Why these particular companies?

We selected them because they showcase some of the best in escape rooms and immersive games.

How will we get from game to game?

Walking, subway, or taxi/uber/lyft. Your tour agenda will recommend how to get around.

Can I choose my teammates?

The escape room tours will be groups of 4 or 6. You may select a buddy or put together a full group.

I don’t have a team. Will that be a problem?

Not at all. We’ll put you in a group with other escape room enthusiasts from far and wide.

I’ve played most of the games from these companies. Can I still participate?

Contact us. There might be an opportunity. We’ll try to make it work.

Will I get to choose which escape rooms I play?

No, but you’ll fill out a survey and based on that we’ll put you into games that we think you’ll love. You’ll find out your escape room agenda far enough in advance that you can book additional games for yourself during the rest of your time in New York City.

I’m an escape room owner/employee and/or immersive experience designer. Can I participate?

Yes!

I have nothing to do with the escape room industry. I just want to play all the games! Can I participate?

Yes!

What should I do about airfare and hotels?

Your ticket does not cover travel or lodging. However, we will send you recommended hotel accommodations and information about travel to NYC after you purchase a ticket.

Are meals included in the ticket price?

The ticket includes brunch at Escape Entertainment on Saturday. Saturday’s escape room tour will have a meal break where you can purchase food.

I can’t make it that weekend. Will you run this again?

If it goes well, we’ll consider running it again in New York or elsewhere.

Can I buy a ticket for someone under 18?

Unfortunately, no.

How long have you been planning this?

A very long time. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something great here.

Can I sponsor this event?

Contact us about sponsorship opportunities. We are not accepting escape room companies as sponsors.

What if I have other questions?

Contact us.

We look forward to seeing you in New York this November!

 

Team vs Time – Cure of the Alchemist [Review]

Turning puzzles into a cure.

Location: Berlin, Connecticut

Date played: July 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Infected with the Black Death and seeking a cure, we approached the home of a mysterious alchemist. The rumor was that he had the ability to cure the disease, but he would only share this knowledge with those who could prove their wits and worth.

Staged in an ancient cabin in the woods, the set was compelling. It started off strong and the aesthetics only improved with each progression in the escape room.

In game - A strange wooden contraption beside a bench made of vines.

Puzzles

Cure of the Alchemist contained tangible puzzles that generally required manipulation of the set pieces and props.

The puzzles escalated in difficulty and complexity over the course of the room escape culminating in a serious deductive challenge.

Unlike Team vs Time’s other escape rooms, they offer no hints in Cure of the Alchemist. We had to prove ourselves to the alchemist or die trying.

Standouts

When we walked into Cure of the Alchemist, we felt like we were in a different world from the lobby at Team vs Time. The set was captivating.

In game - a series of vines in the foreground, the moon shines in the background.

Many of the puzzles felt on theme, as if they belonged in that environment.

We enjoyed a variety of puzzles, both simple and complex. We experienced quite a few fun moments of satisfying realization.

Shortcomings

At one point, Cure of the Alchemist bottlenecked both in gameplay and physical layout. This stoppage of play was frustrating for the players who were boxed out.

Cure of the Alchemist was set up as a medieval escape room and the set supported that feeling… except that some of the locks were decidedly modern. The addition of a few older-looking lever locks would have eliminated some of the anachronisms.

Team vs Time set up a rather complex backstory, but it was ultimately irrelevant to the gameplay. Throughout our quest for the cure, we never felt the dramatic stakes of our mission. The completion of our quest was anticlimactic.

Should I play Team vs Time’s Cure of the Alchemist?

Cure of the Alchemist was a puzzle-driven escape room in an impressive medieval staging. The puzzles relied on the set pieces and the set was augmented by the puzzle components.

While not as suspenseful or dramatic Gangster’s GambleCure of the Alchemist delivered more cohesive puzzle and set integration.

While Cure of the Alchemist was not as challenging as some of Team vs Time’s other escape rooms, we do not recommend it for brand-new players. Since players are proving themselves to the alchemist, Team vs Time does not give any hints. To that end, we recommend that you play at least a few other escape rooms before attempting this one. You should also probably play Team vs Time’s other games to get a feel for their unique style of gameplay prior to taking on the alchemist’s challenge.

Book your hour with Team vs Time’s Cure of the Alchemist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Team vs Time provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Three Years of Room Escapes: The Growth of the US Market

We’ve been tracking the growth of the escape room industry since 2014. After two years, the US market was still growing rapidly. Now, one year later, that hasn’t changed. If anything, it intensified in year three.

US escape room growth over time

Here is last year’s report.

At the end of 2014, there were 22 escape room companies in the US.

By mid 2015, there were at least 100.

At the end of 2015, there were 450.

Today, in mid 2016, there are over 900.

By the end of 2016, there were over 1,400.

At the end of Q2 2017, there were over 1,800.*

Industry growth chart shows the US market grow from a few games in Q1 2014 to a little more than 1800 in Q2 2017.

These days we’re making daily updates. If we spend a long weekend escaping rooms in Los Angeles or Philadelphia, we come home to a mountain of directory updates. We’re still adding over 200 new escape room companies per quarter; that’s companies, not games.

*1,800 is of the end of Q2 on June 30. As of today, that number is just over 1,950.

Why don’t those numbers match the REA directory?

The REA directory covers the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. It also covers Canadian escape rooms that are just across the US border.

One year ago, we knew of multiple escape rooms in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico.

In the past year, we’ve added listings in Colombia**, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Panama.

**Colombia is technically in South America, but this company really wanted to be the southern point on our directory, so… why not?

Are all those rooms still open?

Most of the escape rooms we’ve added to the map are still there. We’ve removed 45 escape rooms, or 2.3% of the total rooms added.

Some escape room companies are folding, but they are still opening far more quickly.

How do you count 1,850?

Locations

These numbers count individual locations as different companies. A company with a dozen locations is counted 12 times. Multiple locations can be across the country or just down the street.

Soon-to-open

These numbers count companies that aren’t officially open for business, but are clearly establishing a business that will open soon.

These numbers do not count companies who might open some day. A social media page does not count as “open soon.” Companies need to have a physical address publicized on a legitimate website. Because map. And because links.

Permanence

These numbers include permanent entertainment establishments. We do not list one-time escape room events, even if they are open for a month or two. To the best of our ability, our directory (and this study) includes permanent established businesses.

Business Model

Escape rooms are diversifying as they are influenced by other industries.

We include some interactive puzzle experiences that take place outdoors, as long as they are permanent and predictably operated.

We include some escape rooms set in stores, bars, restaurants, and even a frozen yogurt shop.

We include some escape rooms established in (or by) summer camps, churches, and resorts, as long as they are open to the general public.

So far, the directory includes 13 mobile escape rooms. These companies will come to your business, parking lot, home, or other venue and set up an escape room-style adventure, whether or not exiting a room plays a part.

So which company has the most locations?

In the US, these*** are the companies with more than 5 locations. (There is no measure of quality implied by this list):

Company Count
Key Quest 37
Breakout Games 36
Escape the Room 18
Escapology 16
The Great Escape Room 14
Epic Escape Game 10
Amazing Escape Room 8
Escape the Mystery Room 8
Room Escape Adventures 8
PanIQ Room 7
Texas Panic Room 7
The Escape Game 7
Escape this Live 6
Mastermind Escape Games 6

***Due to the url-based methodology used to find multiple locations, it is possible that we missed some.

The vast majority of escape rooms – almost 1,500 of the 1,883 – are single location operations.

As mentioned above, this counts locations that aren’t fully operational yet, but are clearly in development.

Methodology

Following last year’s study, we published more detailed information on our methodology for tracking the growth of the industry. That information will give you some additional perspectives on this data.

Growth spikes

As mentioned in the methodology outline above, there are notable spikes in escape room growth. This is because we track the date we added a company to the map, which doesn’t necessarily match the date the company opened for business… but we’ve been very on top of this for a long time.

Note the growth in Q3 of 2016. Many of the escape rooms added that quarter, and so many more that we’ve added since, are thanks to Melissa from Connecticut. Since Melissa found our directory last summer, she has devoted countless hours to finding new escape rooms, updating current listings, and investigating questionable information. She volunteers an enormous amount of time to this directory. We cannot thank her enough.

Where are we going?

We will see a lot more openings, both by people who have done careful research and those who have not.

We will find more companies offering experiences sort of like an escape room and we will have to figure out whether they belong in our directory.

We will also see the investment and skill gap start to take its toll on the lower end of the market. This means we expect to see more closures as we know that there are companies that have failed to produce fun games, market effectively, or competently operate a business. Please let us know when companies near you close so that we can continue to track the industry accurately!

Although we will see companies close, that doesn’t mean the industry will come crashing down. In the next year or two, we expect to see the industry expansion slow, but that will not be a sign of impending doom. Every region will have a saturation point and it will not be identical from city to city.

For owners who are worried about local over-saturation harming their business, a word of advice: close your old, low-end games. We frequently hear of players visiting a single game that opened 2 or 3 years ago at an established company and walking out saying, “I can do this.” These outdated escape rooms contribute to the fact that new companies continue to pop up without doing their homework.

In the meantime, no one knows where the saturation point is. If the United States progresses as many other international markets have, there will be a boom, there will a retraction, and then the companies that are strong enough will shift into sustainable models of innovative design.

We’re hopeful for what the next year of innovation and creativity will bring.

Thank you to Melissa from Connecticut for her dedication to the REA directory.

Thank you to our good friend Chris for his enormous help making Excel do our bidding.

Escape the Room NYC – Clock Tower [Review]

Don’t fritter and waste this hour in an off-hand way.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 20, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Clock Tower was a steam-punkish adventure to correct time.

The escape room took place in a laboratory called the Clock Tower, home to an eccentric keeper of time. The space included different mechanisms for altering and experiencing time. These were the crux of both the set and the puzzles.

In game: A table covered in steam-punkish machinery. An image of a Tardis rests on the wall of the detailed and weathered space.

Puzzles

The puzzles in Clock Tower were born of the incredible environment. The set pieces themselves were the puzzles.

Clock Tower’s puzzles ran the gamut of mechanical, observational, mathematical (nothing brutal), auditory, logical, and at one point, even “magical.” Multiple puzzles involved clocks, but with dramatically varied approaches. These different puzzle types all included tactile components.

Standouts

Clock Tower transported us not just through time, but into a space so unlike the midtown building that houses Escape the Room NYC. The room was composed of larger set pieces that contributed to a cohesive environment. Each set piece was exciting, beautiful, and intricate, but not distracting (mostly).

More importantly, the puzzling existed through the set. We explored, fiddled, manipulated, and even constructed parts of this set as we solved the puzzles. This made the puzzling that much more dynamic.

Many of the puzzles in Clock Tower were tech-driven, but the tech driving these interactions varied enormously and frequently felt invisible.

Through a combination of set, puzzles, and tech, Clock Tower delivered multiple cinematic moments. Each one delighted us.

Clock Tower included multiple puzzles we’ve never seen before. This wasn’t limited to different takes on familiar concepts. Clock Tower forced us to think of new ideas.

Clock Tower demonstrated that an escape room can be seriously challenging and still fair.

Shortcomings

The initial gamespace bottlenecked, both in physical space and gameplay. Clock Tower required a large team, but it initially couldn’t involve the full group.

Two of the early puzzles felt too similar, even though they ended up being quite different. This created confusion about whether they were standalone puzzles or somehow intertwined. It lead us needlessly off track for a bit.

While certainly both challenging and fair, in a few instances, Clock Tower would benefit from a little more clueing within the game. When we received hints from our gamemaster, they were always additional indirect clues; we would have liked to uncover most of those details ourselves within the environment.

Most of the puzzles in Clock Tower furthered our time-centric mission, but one seemed entirely out of place. It was a good puzzle, but we didn’t understand why it belonged.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower?

Clock Tower is an ideal game for escape room enthusiasts. It had a gorgeous set, integrated and tactile puzzles, and it will still be exciting and challenging even for seasoned players.

Very experienced teams will be happier in slightly smaller groups, if they can finagle such a booking, as there was some bottlenecking that left folks hanging and unable to help puzzle. We recommend that new players play at least a few other escape rooms first before booking Clock Tower.

With Clock Tower, Escape the Room NYC has nailed so much of what makes escape rooms exhilarating, from the interactive puzzling to the cinematic moments.

While they can continue to improve narrative integration so that all the puzzles feel natural in the space and deliver more story arc, they are making strides in that direction.

When the doors out of Clock Tower opened up, we felt that we had truly righted time and earned that victory in a fun little world hidden in Midtown Manhattan. That’s what escape rooms are about.

Book your hour with Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Crate – Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum [Review]

Looking for gift ideas? Check out our holiday buyer’s guide.

📦 ⚓ 📦 ⚔️

Location: at home

Date played: July 7, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In the second and third chapters from Escape the Crate, we continued to chase our villain through time to stop him from altering history by retrieving the anachronistic objects that he had left behind.

The second chapter, Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, brought us to 1718 at the Blockade of Charles Town aboard Blackbeard’s ship.

Opened Escape the Queen Anne's Revenge crate shows brig bars with writing on them. Through the bars the ship's masts are visible.

The third chapter, Escape the Colosseum, took us back to a gladiator fight in Ancient Rome.

Escape the Colosseum opened, depicts a schedule of spectacles, a magnifying glass, and a picture of the Colosseum.

In each episode, our mission as time traveling agents was to retrieve the anachronism so that our present time would exist as it should.

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that delivers a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we continue to build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chase this time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

Similarly to Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, in these subsequent chapters, Escape the Crate designed puzzles themed on the relevant historical era and location.

We needed to observe carefully and “unlock” sealed envelopes that represented different containers or rooms in each episode’s “set,” Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Colosseum, respectively. The puzzle structure mimicked a physical escape room.

While most of the puzzling was paper-based, each episode incorporated a few more interactive challenges.

Standouts

We appreciated Escape the Crate’s commitment to the historical setting of each episode. Both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum involved thematically appropriate ciphers (although the Roman game did this better)… If you know anything about ciphers, you’ll know what to expect from Escape the Colosseum.

Escape the Crate augmented the contents of each crate with a web interface. The website provided the “locks,” hints, and narrative audio clips. It was intuitive to use – on both desktop and mobile – and didn’t detract from the game components on our table.

Overall, Escape the Crate provided generally entertaining and satisfying puzzles.

These two Escape the Crate episodes were not cookie-cutter. Each chapter included significant puzzle design or gameplay components that were unique to that episode. In Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, one puzzle actually created the semblance of physical space. Escape the Colosseum introduced a new type of gameplay that we hadn’t seen in either tabletop or real life escape rooms.

Escape the Queen Anne’s RevengeEscape the Colosseum, and their first chapter, Escape the Confederate Spymistress, were each individual stories with narrative and episodic resolution. In addition to being entertaining and satisfying as self-contained escape rooms, they each teased the upcoming episode. Each chapter felt like a part of a larger time-traveling adventure.

Shortcomings

A critical component of Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge did not work as planned for us. Our speculation is that the box was shipped to us when it was cold and dry and we didn’t play it until it was hot and humid… We think that things may have expanded a bit. This key component became stuck and after taking a few hints that didn’t help, we resorted to “outside tools” and a bit more than “finger strength” to “solve the problem.”

A plastic bottle with a mangled mouth. A pair of wirecutters and pliers sit beside it.
It was neither pretty nor proper, but it worked.

Escape the Colosseum had a few structural flaws that caused frustration. An observant player with knowledge of ciphers can easily jump ahead, skipping other puzzles, and create a time paradox of sorts within the game. We did this and ended up having to backtrack after realizing that we’d broken the order of the game.

Additionally, while Escape the Colosseum introduced a new and exciting game mechanic, in practicality it was frustrating. It needed improved clueing and a better web interface to support it. This design mechanism had a ton of potential, but it wasn’t quite ready for primetime at the Colosseum.

While both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum made strides in production quality, they still felt too homemade. Escape the Crate episodes would benefit from additional attention in print design and production, which could improve the quality of many game elements without a ton more effort.

Should I play Escape the Crate’s Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum?

We continue to be impressed by Escape the Crate’s subscription model. Their episodic at-home escape rooms work as stand-alone games and fit into a larger adventure. Furthermore, they continue to output new episodes on the promised delivery timeline. So far each chapter has included an innovative design element.

Because they continue to innovate and output at this rate, however, each episode included moments that could have used more testing and refinement.

In terms of production, Escape the Crate episodes are not polished compared to most other mass market at-home escape rooms available from larger companies. That said, they’ve designed a gameplay structure that works, complete with locking, story delivery, and hinting. In our opinion, that’s the crux of an escape room, and the folks from Escape the Crate continue to make a fun product at a fast pace and affordable price.

We recommend Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum for an hour (each) of educational, family-friendly puzzle entertainment in your own home.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum are now “retired” games that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Arcane Escape Rooms – The Agency [Review]

Curious dystopia.

Location: Newhall, California

Date played: June 5, 2017

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

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: varies based on team size and time of booking

Story & setting

Set in a dystopian future, we had been captured by The Agency, a malevolent group tasked with putting people through a Darwinian test of wits to prove that they were worthy of the limited resources available. We needed to pass their test in order to secure our own survival.

We were trapped in an eclectic, hacked-together puzzle room. It had dark walls, assorted furniture, and puzzle-y odds and ends.

In-game: A wall covered in a torn black tarp and wood scrapes. A clock rests on a small white table.

Puzzles

The meat of The Agency was the puzzles, which wound their way through the assorted decor.

The puzzles were generally tactile and mechanical. They relied more on keen observation and connections than on prolonged unraveling.

Standouts

We loved one unexpected and particularly satisfying mechanical interaction. Arcane Escape Rooms clearly designed the interaction from start to finish and that attention to detail elevated the moment.

The puzzles flowed logically and were largely hands-on, satisfying solves.

In-game: a white sculpture of a strange alien-like face against a black backdrop.

Shortcomings

There wasn’t much of a narrative to follow or even feel within The Agency. While there was a complex backstory, it was irrelevant to our in-game experience. Neither the puzzles nor the set design brought us into that imagined dystopia.

The set was unremarkable.

The final act fell flat. The final challenge felt bolted on and failed to capture the tactile, mechanical feel that makes Arcane Escape Room’s best puzzles feel so special.

Should I play Arcane Escape Rooms’s The Agency?

The Agency focused on tactile puzzling. We touched, positioned, moved, and manipulated items to solve our way through the game.

Beginners will find this room approachable and exciting. It takes puzzling off the page into the real world. For veterans, there will be some common tropes and a few different, truly entertainment moments.

While there was a complex backstory to The Agency, it simply didn’t matter. Visit The Agency for the puzzles… and do make sure that you play Arcane Escape Room’s flagship game, The Hideout.

Book your hour with Arcane Escape Rooms’s The Agency, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

60 Out – Doctor Psycho [Review]

I can’t imagine his malpractice insurance rates.

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date played: June 3, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26-40 per ticket depending upon team size

Story & setting

We were patients trapped by a doctor/serial killer. It was time to make our escape from his gruesome practice.

The doctor’s facility was a large space containing various basic furniture and assorted props, some more medical-ish than others.

In-game: A dark and bloody medical lab with a bag of AB blood hanging in the foreground.

Puzzles

Doctor Psycho relied on observing and connecting more than prolonged puzzling.

Although many of the inputs were locks, Doctor Psycho was largely driven by set-based interactions.

Standouts

From the hallway of 60Out, Doctor Psycho looked enticing. This was an excellent design detail. We’d been wanting to play it since we had walked past the door last year.

One prop required an interaction that made our team jittery, in a fun way. It was a surprising inclusion in an escape room, perfectly safe for all involved, and worked well with the psychotic doctor theme.

The implementation of one late-game puzzle added excitement to a well-themed, fun puzzle.

Shortcomings

In one instance, the order of information distribution, coupled with a particular set of props, led us to spend a lot of time on something that ultimately proved irrelevant.

David and I played Doctor Psycho in different groups. His team experienced a tech failure on one of the more exciting interactions in this escape room. They knew something wasn’t working right and the gamemaster got the room back on track, but this deflated part of their experience.

Should I play 60Out’s Doctor Psycho?

60Out leans heavily into set-based interactions in building their puzzles. Doctor Psycho was grounded in those same design decisions, but relied more heavily on lock inputs and typical escape room puzzles than some of 60Out’s other offerings.

Doctor Psycho was another gritty medical lab / murder scene escape room. While well-executed, 60Out didn’t bring any additional drama or intrigue to this theme… Los Angeles has a lot of these types of room escapes.

Moreover, as with many such escape rooms, Doctor Psycho was a tad gross, a little dark, and sometimes deliberately off-putting, but it wasn’t horror. In Los Angeles, where horror-themed escape rooms excel, Doctor Psycho is an escape room with an identity crisis. It wasn’t really scary and I don’t know if it meant to be.

If you enjoy 60Out’s design style, you’ll enjoy Doctor Psycho. It has solid gameflow and a few fun and surprising moments. I think this is balanced enough to support new players, but also entice more experienced players, for whom it will be a quicker playthrough.

If you like the mad scientist murder lab-type escape room, you’ll have a lot of fun with this one.

Book your hour with 60Out’s Doctor Psycho, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 60Out provided media discounted tickets for this game.