Clue Carré – Alien Encounter [Review]

Probing for puzzles

Location:  Metairie, Louisiana

Date Played: July 11, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Clue Carré revved up their cool factor by quite a few notches with Alien Encounter. This low-difficulty, fast-paced escape room looked fantastic and played smoothly from start to finish.

In-game: A large hexogonal door at the end of a corridore filled with tubs and connectors and other technology.
Image via Clue Carré

Set within the Surge Trampoline Park (which looks like a fun attraction in its own right), Alien Encounter had been adapted for a less puzzley audience… but didn’t diminish the fun. We breezed through Alien Encounter and had a blast the whole time.

Between French Quarter House of Curiosities, The Bookie (reaction coming soon), and Alien Encounter, Clue Carré has established that it’s able to produce games that can stand out in an intensely competitive market like New Orleans. If you’re in NOLA, this should make your play list.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The set was cool
  • The puzzles were approachable, tactile, and family friendly

Story

The year was 2060 and humanity was being pushed towards extinction by an alien species known as the Voldran. Our team had to break into one of their spacecrafts and attempt to find a weakness or way of fighting back.

In-game: a maze of green lazers inside of a sleek, blue spaceship.
Image via Clue Carré

Setting

We boarded an alien spacecraft that was loaded with wonderful details. This set represented a giant leap forward for Clue Carré. Aesthetically this game felt at home in New Orleans. For those who know what games tend to look like in that part of the country, this really means something.

In-game: An alien in a tube in the middle of a spacehip.
Image via Clue Carré

Gameplay

Clue Carré’s Alien Encounter was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

Alien Encounter flowed well.

➕ It was thematically beautiful and well constructed.

➖ Some of the set could have benefited from a little extra sandpaper love. We didn’t encounter anything pointy or sharp, but parts of the ship were a little too rough to the touch for a sleek, futuristic spaceship.

➕ The tangible interactions felt great.

➖ Additional spot lighting on the more visual puzzles would have made some of the gameplay more comfortable.

➕ We love interesting, thematic doors… and this game delivered on that.

➖ The final sequence of puzzles solved well and worked fine… but it wasn’t as engaging or tactile as the earlier sequences. Additionally, it felt like there was room for a stronger narrative climax.

➕ A family-friendly approach was a great decision for the setting within the Surge Trampoline Park. (The whole place seemed like tons of fun… if you’re the kind of human who enjoys bouncing around and climbing on things. They have a giant Rubik’s Cube climbing tower!)

Tips For Visiting

  • This game is located at Clue Carré’s Kenner location inside Surge Trampoline Park
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Clue Carré’s Alien Encounter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Carré comped our tickets for this game.

Denver Escape Room Meetup – September 8

We will be in Denver briefly in early September playing tons of escape rooms. If you’re in the area, we’d love to meet you!

Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

When & Where

Who

We welcome all players, owners, bloggers, gamemasters, podcaster, actors, fans, fabricators… and anyone else involved or interested in escape rooms and other immersive entertainment.

Whether you’re just dabbling or you dove into the deep end, all are welcome.

What

This is a casual meetup. We’ll be taking a break from playing escape rooms just to hangout.

We won’t give a talk. We’re just hoping for interesting conversations.

RSVP

Please contact us to RSVP. This will help us have a sense of how many people to expect.

If you’re anywhere near Denver, please stop by and say hello!

Argyx Games – Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross [Review]

A shadow…

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 18, 2019

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

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $55.70

REA Reaction

We backed Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross on Kickstarter after playing and reviewing the Prelude to Apocalypse a year ago. Our play through of Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross confirmed our growing suspicion not to promote a Kickstarter without playing the game itself. Although we liked Prelude, the full game fell flat.

Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross had solid creative direction, an interesting premise, and one or two fantastic puzzle concepts. It was burdened, however, with repetitious and tedious gameplay.

We can’t really recommend Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross at this point unless you’re super into puzzle/ crime thrillers and are willing to push through the gameplay. Finally, we apologize to those who backed it based on our enjoyment of the demo.

The opened box for Apocalypse. A letter is addressed to Lisa.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An intriguing aesthetic
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

A serial killer who goes by the name “Abaddon,” a reference to the Angel of Death from the Bible, had sent us a care package filled with encoded evidence of his crimes and a challenge: learn his secrets and stop him before he killed again.

A wooden lockbox, with a bloodied lock beside a bible and a notebook.

Setup

We received a package with a bloodied lock box, Bible passages, and other documents. We had to puzzle through them in order to follow the narrative and crack the case.

Gameplay

Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross was a play-at-home detective game that blended escape room-style solves into a light puzzle hunt.

It had a high level of difficulty relative to most play-at-home escape rooms.

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

The box for Apocalypse Sign of the Cross.

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed the tangible puzzle components. The props – paper and otherwise – looked good.

➕ Argyx Games designed a mystery with an artsy, haunting vibe. The branding was on point.

➕ Argyx Games incorporated some classic escape room play into a boxed game. This led to a wonderful aha moment.

➕/ ➖ The web-based hint system worked pretty well. It was granular. It also showed the flow of the game so that we wouldn’t take hints we weren’t ready for. We would have liked it to include more description of how to derive a solution, once we’d walked through the hints to the end of a puzzle path.

Apocalypse demanded an obnoxious level of precision. This was especially frustrating when we practically needed a magnifying glass to work with the props.

➖ Many of the puzzles felt similar in style. We spent a lot of time reading and searching.

➖ The final puzzle was a let-down. It was a fantastic concept, but it asked us to make a lot of leaps. David finally solved it, hacking away with a bit too much persistence. At that point the rest of the group had checked out.

➖ I clicked a link which called an international phone number. Then I received a text from Verizon telling me I’d been charged for that call. This was inexcusable. While Argyx Games did provide an alternative way to get the necessary information, we didn’t know that at the time I made the call. It wasn’t until we looked at the puzzle’s hints that we found out this charge could have been avoided.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: paper and pencil, an internet-connected device (preferably a computer over a phone)
  • For North Americans: when the game wants you to make an international phone call, don’t. Check the hints for that puzzle instead.

Buy your copy of Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The Puzzle Parlour – Alien Conspiracy [Review]

Hold onto your foil hat.

Location:  White Plains, NY

Date Played: June 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $44.99 per player for teams of 2 to $24.99 per player for teams of 8 with higher pricing at peak hours

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Alien Conspiracy was The Puzzle Parlour’s hardest game. It acted as a sort of final boss for their initial 4 games. It had a number of Easter eggs referencing their other games. It also operated under the assumption that you and your team have some idea of what you’re doing in an escape room.

In-game: a whiteboard covered in equations.

This wasn’t a bad game, but it was our least favorite of The Puzzle Parlour’s offerings. This had to do with some unusual bottlenecking and an unclued element here… and a slightly faulty puzzle there. This was nothing catastrophic, but parts of this game just felt harder than they should have been. The good news is that most of the issues with this game are fixable.

If you’ve played through the rest of The Puzzle Parlour’s suite of games, enjoyed yourself, and like a challenge, you should give Alien Conspiracy a try. It was more challenging than most of the escape rooms in the region. In its own way, that makes it standout.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scientists
  • Players with some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging puzzles
  • The variation in decor

Story

A government crew was on their way to destroy decades of research on the existence of alien life. Our group of believers had stormed a remote home to preserve the data before the powers that be could destroy it all.

In-game: a dated, 70s living room with a flat screen TV.

Setting

We entered the home of an alien conspiracy theorist. It looked like a living room that hadn’t been significantly updated since the 1970s. While this wasn’t the most exciting of gamespaces, it did accomplish its goals.

In-game: a laptop on a very old desk.

Gameplay

The Puzzle Parlour’s Alien Conspiracy was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a black computer screen with green writing that reads, "Unauthorized access self-destruct sequence activated"

Analysis

➕ Alien Conspiracy was a solid execution of a traditional puzzle-driven escape room. The puzzles were varied and flowed logically.

➖ While most of the puzzles worked well, we felt that the occasional detail was left unclued.

➕ The Puzzle Parlour included a nifty toy. This was a fun solve.

➖ In one late-game puzzle, players can derive a solution only by following the intended gameflow. We had enough information to solve this puzzle slightly earlier than intended, with just a molecule of outside knowledge. That attempt at solving seemed logical, and would have worked, except for one small error in the puzzle materials. With just a tweak, players would be able to approach this puzzle earlier than the game designer intended without it breaking.

➕ We could easily track our progress through the final puzzle sequence with visual cues. This set up for an intense final scene.

➖ The end fizzled. The combination of a lockout safe and an unclued element stalled our forward motion. This, along with linear puzzle flow that seemed like it could have been paralleled, but shouldn’t have been, slowed what otherwise should have been a dramatic conclusion.

➕ The different spaces in Alien Conspiracy felt distinctive but cohesive. The themed spaces were exciting to reveal.

Tips For Visiting

  • Puzzle Parlour has a lovely lobby.
  • Park in their lot and use the app ParkWhitePlains to refill your meter.
  • There is plenty to eat and do in the area.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Parlour’s Alien Conspiracy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Parlour comped our tickets for this game.

Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle [Review]

Crossword Puzzle Puzzle

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 30, 2019

Team size: we recommend 3-5

Size: 550-piece jigsaw

Price: $18

Publisher: Babalu Inc

REA Reaction

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was exactly what the name suggests: a jigsaw puzzle made from a crossword grid. It played out in two distinct phases:

  • Solve the crossword puzzle
  • Assemble the jigsaw puzzle using the crossword puzzle as a guide

As a crossword, it was solid and approachable. It wasn’t too easy or particularly difficult; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

Loose jigsaw pieces surrounding a paper crossword puzzles.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

As far as 550-piece jigsaw puzzles go, it was quite challenging. A black and white letter grid was certainly solvable, but it didn’t provide any of the color, size, and texture clues that are typically helpful in jigsaw puzzling. It also wasn’t much to look at.

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was puzzling for sport. I would never break this out with my family after a holiday dinner. With a small group of dedicated puzzle people, however, we had a remarkably fun time pushing one another and inventing different techniques to increase our effectiveness.

Play this if you love puzzles for their own sake. Make sure you have the right people at the table. There is a second Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle sitting on our shelf and we will solve it.

Who is this for?

  • Crossword & jigsaw puzzlers
  • Best for groups
  • You have to love puzzles

Why play?

  • The intrigue of a mash-up of two familiar puzzle types
  • Solving works best as a group

Setup

First solve the crossword puzzle. Then you’ll have the “picture” for the jigsaw puzzle.

Jigsaw pieces scattered around a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Gameplay

Crossword Jigsaw was a mash-up of two puzzle types: crosswords and jigsaws. Both were standard. In combination, however, Crossword Jigsaw had a high level of difficulty.

We found that this was best experienced with a group to facilitate the piece searching and keep the pace up.

Closeup of loose jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Analysis

➕ Crossword Jigsaw combined two common puzzle types to create a puzzle that looked and felt familiar, but exhibited unique challenges.

➕ It’s rare to find a jigsaw puzzle that can actively engage 6 people. While we found it worked best as a group of 3-4 people, when we opened the box, 6 people actively participated… until dinner was ready.

A pile of jigsaw pieces beside a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

➖ Crossword Jigsaw was not approachable. We knew to start by solving the crossword puzzle and the frame of the jigsaw. Beyond that, it took some trial and error to find a technique for forward momentum.

➖ A large part of the experience was trial and error. We could narrow down by the letter on the piece or the shape of the piece, but solving was less strategic than in most jigsaw puzzles that we’ve solved to date.

➕ We played Crossword Jigsaw with friends. Jigsaw puzzles are individual experiences. Even when you solve them with friends, each person works largely independently on different sections of the whole. Crossword Jigsaw worked better as a group communication game to find the right pieces and assemble the puzzle.

❓ The image is a crossword puzzle, and not a particularly attractive or interesting one. If you’re doing this, it’s purely for love of puzzles.

Tips For Player

  • The finished jigsaw puzzle measures 24” by 18.”
  • The jigsaw has 550 pieces.
  • The same crossword can be downloaded so that the puzzle can be shared with someone else and they can enjoy the same level of challenge.
  • We recommend group solving this one.

Buy your copy of Crossword Jigsaw, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Babalu Inc provided a sample for review. 

(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. We appreciate the support.)

The Escape Game Unlocked – The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn [Review]

Where in the World is Hahn?

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 27, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: about an hour

Price: $25

REA Reaction

The Escape Game is an escape room chain headquartered in Nashville, TN, with locations across the United States. They are one of the few chains that we regularly recommend.

The Escape Game Unlocked is their play-at-home line of games of which The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was the first episode. This is not to be confused with The Escape Game’s Monthly Mysteries, part online scavenger hunt and part mystery game, which we have yet to play and review. This review covers only The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, the initial game from The Escape Game Unlocked.

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a solid starting place for a new series that has a lot of potential, but needs to figure out what makes it special.

Closeup of the game's rules, a small notebook, and a set of blueprints.

From a production standpoint, there was a lot to love. The components looked great and the digital interface was fairly refined.

From a puzzling and gameplay standpoint, most everything was solid, with a few puzzles that felt bogged down in interface oddities. The puzzles were good… with a little too much counting. The hint system was adequate, but could use a lot more granularity.

If you’re a tabletop escape game player, I’d suggest giving this one a try. While the Escape Game has not produced a must-play game in The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, for fans of play-at-home puzzle games this is absolutely worth exploring. We’re curious to see where they take the series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Mystery solvers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Fun computer interface

Story

Our handler had tasked us with tracking down the identity and crimes of an infamous art thief who went by the name Vincent Hahn.

The entire game had a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-meets-art-theft vibe.

Setup

To get started, we opened up a black sealed envelope of documents and puzzle components. Then we logged into a website where our mission was introduced to us.

The game bounced back and forth between the physical and digital.

Digital interface for identifying the suspect based on old school records.

Gameplay

The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with the computer interface.

The sealed black envelope for The Escape Game Unlocked, The Heist Vol 1: Chasing Hahn.

Analysis

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn looked professional. The printed materials were nicely designed and used varied paper of high quality. The computer interface also looked good.

❓ The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn relied heavily on the computer interface. It was nifty, but it also focused the group around a screen for the most of the experience. One person had to drive, taking the group from screen to screen. An acceptable ratio of screen time to printed material time in tabletop escape gameplay is personal; read this however you choose.

➕ The Escape Game Unlocked didn’t fall into many of traps that hamper digital interfaces. For example, inputs were not case sensitive.

➖ The computer interface wasn’t entirely intuitive. Although we figured out most oddities without too much hassle, one interface that was supposed to emulate a DOS-like terminal fell very short. We struggled to even figure out what we were looking at.

➖/➕ We were confused by still images that appeared to be videos. As still images, they eliminated red herrings, which we appreciated, but we were left confounded by the whole interaction.

➕/➖ The puzzle types varied pretty well. The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn leaned a bit too heavily on counting puzzles, where the challenge was parsing which information went together.

➕We especially enjoyed when the game asked us to use deductive reasoning to solve the puzzles. 

➕/➖ The hint system got us where we need to be. That said, we would have preferred a little more granularity and redirection in the form of questions as opposed to straight instructions.

➖ We know there are more episodes coming, but don’t know when. We didn’t get any closure from this episode.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: a computer with an internet connection (a laptop will be superior to a mobile phone)

Buy your copy of The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game Unlocked provided a sample for review. 

(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. We appreciate the support.)

5 Year US Escape Room Industry Report (August 2019)

We’ve been tracking the escape room industry for 5 years, since launching the Room Escape Artist Escape Room Directory in 2014.

In August 2019, there are more than 2,350 escape room facilities in the United States.

If that number looks familiar, it’s because 1 year ago there were 2,300.

We’ve added more than 400 new escape room facilities to the directory in the last year and that’s a lot. It shouldn’t be overlooked because other escape rooms are closing.

The growth has leveled. The industry has begun to mature.

Growth Over Time

The US escape room industry has grown from approximately 2 dozen escape room facilities in 2014 to more than 2,350 facilities 5 years later.

The industry grew most rapidly in the third quarter of 2016.

Since then, the growth rate has slowed and the closure rate has increased. The net effect is that the total number of escape room facilities has plateaued.

US Escape Room Facility Graph 2014-2019.

Counting Escape Rooms

Please keep in mind the following nuances as you read this report:

Locations

In this report, we count escape room facilities. These are permanent physical locations where you can go play an escape room. One business owner might operate 10 locations around the country or 2 locations in the same city. These would be counted as 10 facilities and 2 facilities, respectively.

Games

This report does not count individual escape room games. While some facilities only operate a single game, many operate two or three games, and some operate far more.

Soon to Open

The Room Escape Artist directory includes some facilities that are not yet open for business, but appear to be opening in the near future. To be listed in the directory, we require a facility to have their address published on their website and their website tell us a bit about the business.

We do not include escape room facilities that might open some day. A social media page that says “coming soon” is not enough to be listed in the directory or counted in this report.

Permanence

Anecdotally, we’ve seen a growing number of limited-run, pop-up escape rooms. Our directory only includes established entertainment facilities that continually operate escape rooms. While we do include a few seasonal operations, we do not include escape rooms that appeared for a weekend, a week, or even a month, in a temporary structure or other facility, but will not operate continually.

Venue

Most escape room facilities are independent operations. Others operate out of larger entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, arcades, or restaurants. We include these as well, as long as the escape room is a permanent fixture in the larger venue. We also include mobile escape room businesses.

Chains and Franchises

72% of escape room facilities in the US are single facility businesses. That said, some escape room businesses are expanding as chains and franchises.

More than 20 Locations

The largest companies don’t show a consistent trend in expansion or contraction when compared to last year’s report.

CompanyCount
Escapology46
Breakout Games44
All in Adventures28
Key Quest28
Escape the Room23

Escapology has grown substantially (from 27 locations to 46 locations). They are now the biggest company in the United States, in terms of number of facilities.

Two of the largest companies have experienced substantial decline: Key Quest (from 35 to 28) and All in Adventures (from 37 to 28).

Two are holding pretty steady. Escape the Room has grown modestly (from 21 to 23) and Breakout Games has slipped slightly (from 45 to 44).

6-20 Locations

Expansion has been pretty flat for most of the companies with 6-20 locations.

The Escape Game is the only company in this category that has grown substantially (from 9 locations to 15 locations).

CompanyCount
The Escape Game15
The Great Escape Room12
Amazing Escape Room10
Epic Escape Game10
PanIQ Room10
Great Room Escape / Mindspark9
Texas Panic Room / Project Panic8
The Puzzle Effect8
5 Wits7
60 Out Escape Rooms7
Escape INC7
Maze Rooms7
Room 52807
Escape Room Zone6
Escape Zone 606
Fox in a Box6
Mastermind Escape Games6
Red Door Escape Room6
United Escape Rooms / Entrap Games6

Some of the larger franchises also operate outside the US. While this report only includes their locations in the US, Claustrophobia, Fox in a Box, and PanIQ Room, for example, have many more international locations.

Closures

Over the 5 years we’ve been following the industry, we’ve removed more than 580 facilities from the directory.

In 2019 alone, we removed more than 240 facilities. Stated differently, 42% of the US escape room facilities that have closed their doors did so between January and August of 2019.

Bar chart of US escape room closures by year.
There has been a significant increase in closures in 2018 and 2019.

At year 5, we are seeing a lot more companies close than we saw in previous years.

“Thankfully Closed”

When readers send us directory updates, they sometimes send in commentary. In the last year, we’ve received an increasing number of messages telling us that a company “has (mercifully) closed” or “has finally (and thankfully) closed.” Yes, those are direct quotes from a consistent map contributor in Pennsylvania.

It isn’t necessarily bad for the industry that a large number of companies have closed. Readers like this one are happy to report the closure of a low-quality escape room operation.

Bad escape room businesses shrink the market. They turn your would-be customers away by giving them a bad first impression of the entire industry. When this type of escape room facility closes, it can be a good thing for the industry in that region.

Small Business Trends

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s Frequently Asked Questions, about 80% of small businesses survive the first year. About 50% of small businesses survive year 5.

This is year 5 for the escape room industry in the United States.

Of the escape room facilities that have been a part of our directory for 5 years (added before July 2015), only 1/3 have closed. 2/3 of those facilities are still operating, as far as we know.

As an industry, we are doing better than average.

Reasons for Closure

Our directory doesn’t track why an escape room facility closed. Anecdotally, however, from our travels throughout the country, our conversations with owners, and information from those who report the closures in their local markets, we have a sense of why most escape room businesses close.

Reasons for closure include (in no particular order):

  • lack of business acumen
  • poor product quality
  • strife between partners
  • legal troubles
  • building or fire code changes
  • lease termination by landlord
  • investor drama

Many closures result from some combination of these, and other, factors.

Acquisitions

Of the escape room facilities in our directory, we’ve confirmed 2 dozen acquisitions over the last 5 years. We expect that the acquisition rate is quite a bit higher. This data is hard to track, as it is not always readily apparent to customers, even the type of customers who send updates our way.

We’ve also tracked more than 50 name changes. We expect that many of these indicate acquisitions or mergers as well. In other cases, ownership hasn’t changed, but a company has rebranded to reflect their growth or to escape being confused with other similarly named facilities.

By State

The state metrics remain similar to those in our July 2018 Escape Room Industry Growth Study.

The most populous states remain the states with the most escape rooms: California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Colorado remains the state with the most escape rooms per capita.

For the most part, the states with the smallest populations remain those with the fewest escape rooms: Wyoming, Vermont, District of Columbia, and Alaska.

Many of these states, however, rank pretty high in escape rooms per capita.

States with the fewest escape rooms per capita include Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and New York. This list is almost entirely different from last year’s report (with only Alabama on both reports.)

Increasing Interest in Escape Rooms

The number of facilities is not a measure of interest in escape rooms or the size of the player base.

Watching the Google Trends data on the term “escape room,” we continue to see steady and healthy growth:

Google Trend data for "escape room" 2014 - 2019. The growth is steady with one outlier spike in Q1 2019.
Google Trends – “Escape Room”

That outlier spike in Q1 2019 correlates to two events:

Analysis & Conclusions

In our talk 4 Years of Escape Rooms: A Data-Driven Look that we delivered at the Room Escape Conference in Nashville in July of 2018, we warned that the closure rate would increase. Expansion and contraction are inevitable in any industry.

For years, we’ve hypothesized that following the July 2015 MarketWatch article The unbelievably lucrative business of escape rooms, which falsely framed escape rooms as a low-barrier-to-entry get-rich-quick scheme, encouraged entirely too many companies to open without the tools to succeed. Those expectations were not founded in the realities of the escape room business, and many of those businesses have languished.

We’ve long believed that a substantial number of zombie escape room businesses have been doing just enough in sales to keep the lights on while riding out 3-year leases. Those leases are ending and the companies are closing.

There is money to be made in escape rooms, but escape rooms are not a rocket ship. It takes skill, labor, and love to create and sustain a strong escape room business. Near as we can tell, the folks who are succeeding in the escape room business have a passion for this industry and the skills to back it up, not just for business in general.

Our confidence in this medium remains strong. We’ve witnessed it evolve from a 1-dimensional puzzle game to a complex medium for storytelling and adventure. We believe that the core concept is more durable than other forms of entertainment that have come and gone as fads. Escape rooms have changed more in 5 years than bowling has changed throughout recorded history! Escape rooms continue to evolve.

In 2019, although some escape rooms businesses are closing their doors, new businesses are opening. They are opening with data and resources that their predecessors didn’t have. We are excited to see where they take this industry next.

Methodology & Data Caveats

Directory vs Report

The data used in this report only includes escape rooms in the United States. While the Room Escape Artist escape room directory includes escape rooms in Central America, the Caribbean, and some Canadian escape rooms that are just across the US border, the data for those locations is not included in this study.

Methodology

Following the publication of our first piece on the US industry growth in 2016, we published more detailed information on our methodology for tracking the growth of the industry. That piece includes a bit of history about our directory and additional perspectives on the data.

Previous studies will remain available: 

About Dates

All dates in our data are when we added a company to our directory or removed it from our directory. While we try to find companies as soon as they open, our add date doesn’t necessarily correlate exactly with when they opened their doors for business. It can take us a while to confirm whether a company has actually closed, and we do try to confirm each one before removing them from the directory, so those dates may not align as closely with when the business folded.

Spikes on the Graphs

Some of the spikes on the graphs can be attributed to our process for updating the directory. We batch updates by type and will do a few sessions of additions or changes or removals at once. Given our busy travel schedule, it can also sometimes take us a few weeks to get to an update. Therefore, some of the graph spiking can be accounted for by when we spent a lot of time on directory updates. In reality, the curves are smoother than you might see in the graphs.

Thank Yous

Thank you:

Melissa from Connecticut for her unwavering dedication to this directory and the countless hours of research and fact-checking she does to ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible. We are all indebted to Melissa for so much of the data in this report.

Theresa for many hours of rigorous data updating.

Jason for building us the tools we needed to work more efficiently and produce a more accurate directory.

And to the many readers from all over the country who continually let us know about the updates in their areas. Please continue to send us this information.

Palace Games – Escape The Palace [Review]

Puzzle Palace

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: June 2, 2019

Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group

Duration: up to 2 hours

Price: contact Palace Games for pricing

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.

Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.

Exterior of the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.

It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.

Wide shot of all of the players gathered.

If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging but fair puzzles
  • Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
  • Fun mechanisms

Story

We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.

The game's main character in a labcoat and goggles.

Setting

Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.

The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.

An "Escape the Palace" Banner hanginging over a stairwell with my team under it.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.

Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.

Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.

Lisa and Drew surrounded by other players.
Sorry mom. I joined a puzzle gang.

Analysis

Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.

➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.

➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.

➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.

➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.

➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
  • Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.

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

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Clockwise Escape Room – The Incredible Machine [Review]

Steampunk AI

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: May 31, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27-35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s something inherently charming about steampunk. Clockwise Escape Room built an escape room around a really interesting concept in The Incredible Machine. It was cute, fun, and played well.

In-game: A brain in a with a hat on.

The core idea of the game – which I won’t spoil – was fantastically clever. I found myself wishing, however, that Clockwise Escape Room did just a little more with it. That’s the core criticism of the room. This was a great game that could have pushed its best ideas, its set design, and its puzzles just a little further.

I absolutely recommend The Incredible Machine for all experience levels. I think that Clockwise Escape Room has something great here, but it could be amazing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Steampunk fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A fantastic concept
  • Some wonderful moments
  • Steampunk goodness

Story

We’d opened our eyes in a strange workshop within a steampunk dimension. With no idea how we’d arrived, we had to find a way back to our reality.

In-game: a mechanical, clockwork eye.

Setting

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine was set within a steampunk workshop and had all of the clockwork gears and mechanical mechanisms that one would expect to find in such a place.

The set was a little uneven, with some incredible setpieces, some blander elements, and one or two elements that were on the bubble as to whether they belonged in the game at all.

In-game: A desk with design schematics covering it.

Gameplay

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine’s was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A brain in a jar hooked up to a bicycle by a glowing red cable.

Analysis

➕ There was a good physicality to the steampunk props and interactions that Clockwise Escape Rooms worked into this game world to make it come to life.

➖ Although we liked the aesthetic, much of the space felt bare. We wanted Clockwise Escape Rooms to do more of the same with the look and feel of The Incredible Machine.

➕ We had to power up our brains early on to solve this escape room.

➕ We relied on different senses as we puzzled through The Incredible Machine. This worked well in the context of the game.

➕ Clockwise Escape Rooms created a character as part of The Incredible Machine. As we solved, we became more connected to this character.

➖ The Incredible Machine fizzled in the third act. These late-game puzzles were generally weaker and felt largely random. In this act, we lost the feel, story, and character of The Incredible Machine.

➕ / ❓ The Incredible Machine included substantial audio cluing. This was clear and justified by the game design. It worked well and even added to our experience. Our gamemaster mentioned that not all audio clues could be replayed. We didn’t struggle with this, so we don’t know if this could be severely problematic for some teams.

➕ The Incredible Machine had a phenomenal ending. This was teed up early in the game. We were eagerly anticipating the concluding sequence and it lived up to expectations.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking in San Francisco is limited and expensive. Take the subway to Civic Center or take the surface tram (F line).

Book your hour with Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clockwise Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Now Available: “The Escape Room,” a Novel by Megan Goldin

The gold covered novel for "The Escape Room" by Megan Golden. There is a person peering through a narrowly opened door.

If you read our review back in March and have been waiting with bated breath, today is your day. The Escape Room is now available for purchase.

Don’t be deceived by the title. This is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.

The escape room is not so much an escape room and you can’t really solve along… but we see potential in escape rooms playing a role in stories.