Clue Chase – Ultimate Heist [Review]

You’re going to want to fence that Beany Baby quickly.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 14, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5 to 7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1998 and we were burglars attempting to rob a notorious thief and steal the final piece of an artifact. Throughout Clue Chase’s 4 games, we’d been looking for pieces of this precious artifact. Of course, while thieving, we were aiming to rob this guy blind. Because money.

In-game: A locked box featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's smoking pipe.

Our goal was to escape with as much money, in the form of valuable items, as possible. At the end of the game, we received a score based on our plundering.

Ultimate Heist took place in a study/ trophy room: dark walls, heavy wooden furniture, and valuables in glass cases.

Puzzles

Ultimate Heist was packed full of puzzles to solve. The majority were standalone challenges that unlocked stealable valuables.

There was also a series of interconnected puzzles that led to our escape route.

Standouts

The setting worked well. It was just stuffy enough in how it merged “office” and “museum.”

It was 1998 and Ultimate Heist was packed with amusing 90s pop culture references.

Clue Chase structured Ultimate Heist such that it offered an on-ramp to puzzling and then a free-for-all. There was a lot to unlock.

There were a ton of puzzles in this escape room. Our group of experienced escape room players solved most – but not all – of them before we made our escape. We were puzzling the entire hour.

Shortcomings

With a large team doing so many things all at one time, the entire experience was chaotic and hard to manage.

Not all of the clues connected back to the valuables adequately. We burned time trying solutions in multiple locks of the same digit structure. This made portions of Ultimate Heist frustrating.

Our gamemaster was a character in the game. He would appear when we shouted for him… or a couple minutes later. Although he entered the gamespace, he made us ask questions, which meant that if we didn’t ask the right questions, we didn’t receive any guidance from him. He then left us more frustrated than he found us.

The hardest puzzle in Ultimate Heist suffered from a gating issue. One component was available from the initial moments of the escape room, but it wasn’t solvable until later in the experience. When we didn’t make progress with this item, we asked for hints on it, and each time, our gamemaster told us he couldn’t tell us anything about it. This proved incredibly frustrating and burned a lot of our time.

We experienced one broken clue and two reset mistakes. Because of the lack of connections between puzzle components and locks, these had significant impact on gameplay. We only unraveled what had gone wrong post-game.

Should I play Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist?

The Ultimate Heist had a unique structure as a score-based puzzling theft. In this way, both new and experienced players can get a lot of out of it. If you love to solve puzzles, it’s jam packed.

That said, it didn’t quite come together for us. The lack of connections and subsequent hinting style added a lot of unnecessary frustration.

Clue Chase thinks up interesting concepts and continues to iterate on their experiences. Although they have great ideas, thus far they haven’t quite been able to execute on each concept in a way that we’ve found satisfying.

A dark wood contraption with a ring of metal buttons in the middle.
The final boss.

Since we first visited in January 2016, Clue Chase has added an overarching narrative that ties their 4 escape rooms together. There is even a bonus puzzle after you play all four games. This innovation definitely ups the excitement in their games. We loved the concept, but we didn’t get much satisfaction from the bonus.

We want to love Clue Chase’s games. They have an amazing location next to Bryant Park. They’re accessible to corporate clients and tourists. They have a lot to offer.

We feel, however, that Clue Chase is still iterating. They have lots of ideas and they haven’t quite managed to bring them all together.

While it’s frustrating at times, the Ultimate Heist offers something different. If you want to solve a lot of puzzles, enjoy 1990s pop culture, and try for a high score, give Ultimate Heist a shot.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Escape Berlin – Sherlock Holmes [Review]

Herr Holmes is missing… and so is our cake.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 4, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 19€ per ticket

Story & setting

Professor Moriarty has returned and Sherlock Holmes has gone missing. By order of Scotland Yard, we were granted permission to break into 221B Baker Street and learn the fate of the world’s most famous detective.

In-game: A large wooden living room space.

Our mystery was staged within a large, grim, wood-furnished apartment-esque space. It looked pretty good, but felt entirely too empty. This barren set, however, excelled at building tension.

Puzzles

In Sherlock Holmes, Escape Berlin wanted us to deduce our way through the room escape. I didn’t realize this until after the fact, but the puzzles were all almost complete, threads dangling and waiting for connection. In its own weird way, Sherlock Holmes felt like a detective game.

Standouts

All of the puzzles within Sherlock Holmes were effectively deduction games. That felt appropriate.

Sherlock Holmes traversed a large, minimalistic, and foreboding gamespace. Through a combination of lighting, sounds, and space, Escape Berlin created an uneasiness that added tension to every interaction.

Sherlock Holmes included some strange and unexpected puzzles. These were a lot of fun.

You can’t really go wrong with a good Portal reference.

Shortcomings

The large gamespace wasn’t particularly intriguing in and of itself. Sure, a lot of players could fit into the space, but it wasn’t well used.

Sherlock Holmes was a linear escape room in a massive space. At times it was challenging to determine where to direct our attention. When we slowed, we ground to a halt.

Should I play Escape Berlin’s Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes was an escape room of deduction puzzling. This stylistic choice worked well for the theme and the space.

We haven’t seen too many escape rooms build tension the way Sherlock Holmes did. It was just the two of us in this largely empty space and I was on edge the entire time, in a good way.

While Sherlock Holmes created a particular atmosphere, the set itself was not particularly interesting to traverse or explore.

If you like detective puzzling, and you’re okay with a bit of intensity, I recommend Sherlock Holmes. It would be fun for puzzle-focused players of any experience level.

Book your hour with Escape Berlin’s Sherlock Holmes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

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

 

The Room – Beast of Berlin [Review]

The roar in the roaring twenties was the sound of the Beast of Berlin.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 4, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 35€ per ticket for 2 players to 22€ per ticket for 6 players

Story & setting

The notorious serial killer known only as “the Beast of Berlin” had claimed another life. His most recent victim was found boldly placed within the office of Chief Inspector Ernst Gennat, the man hunting for him. Gennat assembled a special commission to track down this killer and bring him to justice.

In-game: A dark and intricate study space with two large comfortable chairs beside a table with snacks and coffee.

Beast of Berlin set us off on our adventure within the latest crime scene, Chief Inspector Gennat’s beautiful office. It looked and felt like a real and functional place.

Puzzles

From a puzzling standpoint, Beast of Berlin played similarly to The Room’s other early game, Go West… but with moderate horror tossed in for intensity.

Beast of Berlin was a puzzler’s room escape. Some of the puzzles carried narrative weight; others were simply good puzzles.

Standouts

Beast of Berlin began in a compelling and strangely beautiful detective’s office from a bygone era. It was a comfortable but intriguing space to explore.

In-game: shot from the perspective of an hold tripoded camera, and overlooking a large office.

The Room’s commitment to set detailing showed in every area of the experience. They fully decorated spaces that we barely spent any time puzzling through. This attention to detail elevated the ambiance and intensity of the surrounding experience. In spite of the level of detail, Beast of Berlin was not plagued by red herrings.

We enjoyed most of the puzzles that we encountered in Beast of Berlin.

Shortcomings

There were a few puzzles that seemed a bit too opaque or worn down.

This detective’s office included a few gorgeous props that were just… props. We would have liked to see them worked into the puzzles.

We spent the majority of Beast of Berlin moving through the escape room without any urgency. The early gameplay was emotionally level, at times even monotonous, and didn’t foreshadow – or push us towards – the excitement that was to come. Then, after the tension escalated, the ending felt small. It didn’t return adequately on the built tension.

Should I play The Room’s Beast of Berlin?

Beast of Berlin started comfortable and relatively standard, but it became far more interesting than it originally appeared.

Note that Beast of Berlin turned dark, both physically and metaphorically. If that’s not your thing, choose one of The Room’s other escape rooms.

Otherwise, regardless of your experience level, there was an intriguing set along with satisfying puzzling to enjoy in Beast of Berlin. It will be challenging, but approachable and exciting.

Following our visit, The Room closed Beast of Berlin for refurbishing. We expect that some of the heavily worn or less integrated puzzling has now been reworked for future players.

Book your hour with The Room’s Beast of Berlin, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: The Room comped our tickets for this game.

REA Weekly Roundup – October 15, 2017

It’s good to be home this weekend after a whirlwind of travel.

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

Announcements

Watch our talk from Up The Game, the escape room conference in The Netherlands this past May.

David will be giving an updated version of this talk at WroEscape, the escape room conference in Wrocław, Poland from October 27-29th. Find him there!

Komnata Quest was named the best escape room by the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best vote of 2017.

Featured escape rooms

During our recent trip to Budapest, we played the Pirate Cave Escape Room. This adventure was large, interactive, and highly entertaining.

During our recent trip to Berlin, we played The Room’s Go West. This puzzle game communicated a political and historical message.

Something different

Many people have asked us about Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice. If you’re drawn to immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) that delivered a lot of intrigue and actor interaction.

From the community

Looking for a tough puzzle? Maybe you can decipher this encryption for the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition.

Watch our talk from Up The Game!

Last May, we spoke at Up The Game, the escape room conference in The Netherlands.

We are honored to have been invited to speak at this conference. We had an incredible time.

Lisa and David on stage speaking to a full house in the chapel on the prison dome.

Watch our talk

Up the Game is now releasing recordings of the talks from the conference. Here is our talk on The Player Experience:

Spoiler warning: We do give a couple of spoilers for games during the talk. One is for a well-spoiled moment in a famous game. The other is in a little-known one.

In each of the following vignettes, we tell a story about something that happened to us in an escape room.

Here are timestamps for the talk’s segments, as well as links to other posts on the same subject.

Silly correction from the video – Anaheim is South of Los Angeles.

We have more stories!

If you’d like to hear more, David will be giving an updated version of this talk at WroEscape, the escape room conference in Wrocław, Poland from October 27-29th. Find him there!

Haunted Scarehouse – The Cookhouse [Review]

Where you’re on the menu.

Location: Wharton, NJ

Date played: September 11, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

The murderous Hayden family cannibalizes their victims in the The Cookhouse. We’d been caught trespassing on their property and now we had to figure out who had been killed there last in order to win our freedom… or become their next meal.

In-game: An old and disgusting blue refrigerator from the 1960s. It's chained and padlocked shut.

In The Cookhouse, the old appliances hadn’t been touched or cleaned in years. The set looked exactly the part. It was a small and uninviting, but oddly charming 1960s kitchen.

Puzzles

The puzzles required us to closely observe the set and connect these observations to tangible interactions.

Standouts

The incredibly weird and quirky kitchen set a fantastic tone for The Cookhouse. The look and feel of the space were impressive.

In-game: An old 1960s kitchen with a disgusting blue cooking range.

There were transitions and surprises hidden within The Cookhouse that delighted us.

Two different tech-driven interactions were unexpected, fun and funny.

Haunted Scarehouse added a brilliant extra touch with their introduction and conclusion.

Shortcomings

The Cookhouse included many locks with the same digit structure. It then relied repeatedly on a similar puzzle design for each of these locks. Thus in the beginning we had to try every solution in multiple places and by the end the gameplay felt repetitive.

One area of The Cookhouse focused on a single set piece and consequently felt under-utilized.

Should I play Haunted Scarehouse’s The Cookhouse?

The Cookhouse was an unusual interpretation of a mundane space. The aesthetics made us want to both shy away and also interact. It was strange like that.

The Cookhouse was more funny horror than actually scary, but to enjoy it, you had to be ok with a bit of gore, of the not-too-realistic variety.

If you’re new to escape rooms, The Cookhouse will show you how to observe, connect, and open. If you’re looking for more creative and complex puzzles, we recommend The Great Room.

Enter The Cookhouse for an entertaining space and the particularly fun moments within.

Book your hour with Haunted Scarehouse’s The Cookhouse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Haunted Scarehouse comped our tickets for this game.

House of Tales – The Executioner [Review]

Welcome to the Pit of Despair.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 2, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 35€ per ticket for 2 players to 22€ per ticket for 5 players

Story & setting

Abducted and restrained within an ancient dungeon by an evil cult, we had an hour to escape before the executioner arrived and carried out his gruesome ritual.

In-game: A torture dungeon filled with bloodied implements of pain infliction.

Puzzles

The majority of the puzzling in The Executioner was in how to interact with the dungeon set and props. By finding and connecting the appropriate objects, we’d eventually open up our escape route.

Standouts

The set of The Executioner was dramatic and exciting; there was a lot more to the world of The Executioner than was immediately apparent.

We loved one particular sequence of puzzles. It was thematically relevant, but still unexpected. House of Tales used technology well to create satisfying interactions.

House of Tales created a character, played by the gamemaster, who delivered both hints and tidbits of story throughout the experience. Our gamemaster excelled at intermingling atmosphere with helpful nudges. She could moved us forward and keep us on our toes.

The ending was phenomenal.

Shortcomings

Early in The Executioner, the gameplay bottlenecked. We ended up waiting for one player to uncover and complete an action. There was nothing for the other players to do except wait.

While many of the puzzles were worked into the set, some of them were more escape room standards that didn’t make sense in the space.

We couldn’t always tell how forceful we needed to be with the game components. At times our gamemaster needed to push us forward because we were hesitant to take an action that might harm the set or props.

Should I play House of Tales’ The Executioner?

The Executioner had one of the most exciting and enjoyable puzzle sequences I’ve ever seen. With a bit of tech, House of Tales used props and puzzles to create narrative and adventure. Not all of the interaction-based puzzling was on this level, and not all of it made sense in this dungeon escape, but overall, it was a lot of fun.

The Executioner leant on adventure and atmosphere over puzzles. To facilitate this, the gamemaster was a character in our narrative. To get the most out of the experience, we needed to accept the hinting as part of the game design. Without hints, we’d have missed an important component of The Executioner.

Note that you need to be relatively nimble to traverse the entire gamespace of The Executioner. Additionally, parts of the gamespace are dark and the entire experience is a bit creepy, but not really scary.

If none of that turns you away, and you’re looking for an adventure through an exciting space, visit The Executioner.

Book your hour with House of Tales’ The Executioner, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: House of Tales provided media discounted tickets for this game.

REA Weekly Roundup – October 8, 2017

Greetings from New Orleans… Houston… New Orleans. We’ve covered a lot of ground this weekend as we dodged Hurricane Nate. You can expect reviews from this trip to publish throughout November and into early December.

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

Announcements

David will be speaking at WroEscape, the escape room conference in Wrocław, Poland from October 27-29th. Let us know if you’ll be there!

Featured escape rooms

We’ve started publishing reviews of our recent trip to Berlin. We recommend you go to Berlin to play The Lost Treasure at The Room.

In local news, we visited Paradiso’s second chapter, The Memory Roomwhich included a particular design concept that we’ve been waiting for.

Featured products

Journal29 is a brilliant and challenging puzzle book that we’ve been enjoying for the past month. If you love puzzles, this is a great buy.

From the community

A pair of escaped convicts walked into an escape room in Canada. No, that’s not a setup for a joke.

Want to see a padlocked melted with 900 amps? The answer is yes. You want to see this.

Enigma – Mission Enigma [Review]

3 floors of adventure.

Location: Budapest, Hungary

Date played: August 27, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: 15,000 HUF ($58) per team

Story & setting

Our team of highly trained thieves was breaking into a facility to steal a mysterious object known as Enigma (no, not that Enigma).

In-game: A rope chained a locked in a maze along the ceiling. A world map in the background.

Staged within a 3-story home in a residential neighborhood, Mission Enigma was a heist adventure where we had to improvise our way through the building’s security, steal our objective, and escape with it. The set design was spotty. Some portions looked intriguing, while others simply looked like part of the old building. Some portions were old in an interesting way; others just looked rundown.

Puzzles

Most of the puzzles were deeply integrated into the environment and facilitated the large-scale adventure of Mission Enigma. One segment of the room escape shifted focus to the more traditional search-and-puzzle escape room design.

Standouts

Mission Enigma integrated mental and physical challenges into an engaging adventure. The completion of this adventure – after having finished everything that the 3-story space had to offer – felt like a true accomplishment.

Engima manipulated the gamespace into some exciting and surprising reveals. This was done mechanically, through simple custom-built machines. They created intrigue in what could easily have been an expansive and uninteresting space.

We enjoyed the puzzling in this escape room’s opening set.

When an alarm triggered due to a misstep, it had consequences.

The final act was exhilarating.

Shortcomings

Mission Enigma would benefit from more puzzle gating. It was easy to attempt to move ahead before we’d acquired all the pieces necessary for additional forward progress.

Since Mission Enigma was primarily focused on physical and mental puzzling, the occasional and random searching tasks felt out of place. In a large set where most game elements were presented, searching felt like pixel hunting.

It’s hard to recommend a team size for Mission Engima. In the first half of the experience, the space was too expansive for a team of only 2 players (but we made it work). We spent just as much time traversing it as solving puzzles. Near the end, however, this room escape bottlenecked such that only 1 or 2 players could actively participate at a time. Since these were the types of interactions that necessitate building mastery, it wouldn’t benefit the team to “give someone else a turn to try.”

I came out of Mission Enigma rather banged up.

At 90 minutes in length, Mission Enigma was large but still felt like it could have used another challenge or two.

Should I play Enigma’s Mission Enigma?

The grand scale of Mission Enigma’s gamespace and the breadth of challenges within it – cerebral, physical, mechanical, spatial, and others – made this escape room a formidable opponent. Although we weren’t pressed for time at the end, mission completion truly felt like a triumph. The victory felt earned.

Mission Enigma captured excitement and adventure through puzzling. With a little additional attention to gameflow and set aesthetics and polish, Enigma could take this escape room just a bit further.

Both new players and experienced players alike will likely enjoy Mission Enigma. Work together where you can and be patient where you can’t.

Note that this escape room involved traversing full flights of stairs. Additionally, one teammate needs to be fairly agile.

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

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

Paradiso – The Memory Room [Review]

More than meets the eye.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 12, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per ticket

Story & setting

The Memory Room was the second chapter of Paradiso’s saga about the secrets of the elusive Virgil Corporation. We had discovered that Virgil Corporation was researching the human mind and we aimed to save one of their research subjects.

In-game: A dark room with featuring a table lit dramatically with 4 boxes, each with a card greeting a different player.

Upon first glance, The Memory Room looked unremarkable. From the largely blank walls, to the minimalist seating, to the single table set with player greetings, the space appeared practically empty. This stood in sharp contrast to the detailed sets of Paradiso’s first escape room. It turned out that there was far more complexity hiding in The Memory Room than was initially apparent.

Puzzles

The puzzles required astute observation. As the setting transformed and introduced a character and puzzles, we needed to carefully observe, build connections, and make sense of what we were seeing. The Memory Room included more abstract thinking.

While of the most puzzles resolved in a physical lock, there were a few more unusual methods of triggering solutions.

Standouts

While The Memory Room initially appeared unexciting, especially in comparison to the grand staging of Paradiso’s first chapter, The Escape Test, it surprised us. Behind the minimalistic facade, it turned out to be unusual and complex.

The Memory Room introduced a design concept we’d been awaiting for more than 2 years. Paradiso used the unadorned space as a canvas. With technology, they transformed this simple gamespace into a dynamic story and puzzle component.

We’ve never seen another escape room like this one.

In The Memory Room, Paradiso introduced a character whose presence helped build narrative and drive gameplay. The actor in this role was both engaging and withdrawn, intriguing and inaccessible. She was outstanding.

The Memory Room dove deeper into the workings of Paradiso’s Virgil Corporation. The gameplay unlocked a story.

Shortcomings

Although The Memory Room told a story, many of our teammates didn’t fully understand what had transpired. As a standalone experience, The Memory Room didn’t fully communicate to the players what they’d effected and how this connected to the Virgil Corporation.

The set wasn’t particularly well fabricated. More polished construction would improve the stark contrast between the seemingly barren physical space and the complex experience within it.

The Memory Room included one safe-style spinning combination lock that lacked adequate in-game operation instructions. This was incredibly frustrating… and it’s worth noting that spinning safe locks are generally frustrating devices.

Should I play Paradiso’s The Memory Room?

The Memory Room was a unique standalone room escape experience. It manipulated a gamespace, turning a simple setting into an unexpected myriad of environments. We’d never seen anything like it.

The Memory Room had fun and satisfying puzzles, most of which resolved through physical gameplay components.

David and I played Paradiso’s more theatrical Path of Beatrice add-on experience (review forthcoming) in the week leading up to our booking at The Memory Room. The add-on Path of Beatrice enhanced our experience in The Memory Room. Our playthrough included some additional character interaction, which was really exciting. Furthermore, we had a better grasp of the Virgil Corporation, its research initiatives, and our goals.

We didn’t tell our teammates for The Memory Room that we’d been engaged with the Virgil Corporation for few days already. We wondered whether they’d notice that we were executing sneaky side missions. Our friends never realized that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, but they did enjoy the differences once we explained them over dinner.

The Memory Room offered something different in terms of the set and story behind the puzzling and the role of an actor. (Review these tips for playing room escapes with live actors.)

If you’re looking for a grand scale, outrageous set pieces, and large tangible interactions, this won’t be your favorite escape room.

If you’re interested in more cerebral puzzling, as you’re led through an unusual story and a changing environment, visit The Memory Room. It will be memorable.

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

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.