Escapology Austin – Assassination Express [Review]

Whistle stop

Location:  Round Rock, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Assassination Express is unique to Escapology in Austin, TX. It is their version of the popular Escapology game Budapest Express, available at many other franchises.

In-game: A vase with roses, two wine glasses, and a bottle on a table before a window with a snow storm beyond it.

Escapology Austin created a beautiful and detailed dining car to stage this game. It was a ton of fun to explore and puzzle through. Although the aesthetics diminished in the second act, Assassination Express hurtled towards an explosive conclusion.

If you’re in Austin, we recommend Assassination Express for puzzlers and scenery aficionados alike. This would be a great first game for escape room newbies. While it won’t offer experienced players anything extraordinary, it’s still a fun playthrough with some lovely details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The introduction
  • The gorgeous train car
  • Solid puzzles

Story

We were transported to a train traversing Minnesota in 1932. Franklin D. Roosevelt was aboard on his presidential campaign… and someone trying to disrupt history had planted a bomb. We had to stop the bomb and ensure the proper flow of the time stream.

In-game: Red and gold curtains covering the wood walls and a window with a snow storm.

Setting

We entered into a beautiful old train car with wood trim, velvet curtains, and a snow squall happening outside. It was a visually striking set, especially at first glance.

In my experience, Escapology games usually have an elegant first room, and then the level of detail, square footage, and visual appeal drop off with subsequent rooms. That was true of Assassination Express. The second act’s set design wasn’t on the same level as the first.

Gameplay

Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ As time travelers, our experience started with getting to Minnesota in 1932. We weren’t prepared for the wild ride that is time travel. It was pretty great.

➕ The train looked beautiful. We loved the decor in the dining car. Escapology’s attention to detail created the world for this train trip.

➖ The second act didn’t feel as rich or detailed as the first. It also felt cramped. We lost some sense of the staging that we’d felt early on.

➕ The puzzles were solid, satisfying solves. They included both locks and more technology-driven triggers. Both worked well in the experience.

➖ Although the puzzles worked well, at times we struggled with game flow. It wasn’t always clear which puzzles were available to solve at any given time.

➖ We encountered a search-focused puzzle that was more frustrating than fun.

Assassination Express had a satisfying culminating solve.

Escapology Austin's steampunk lobby filled with large leather couches and ottomans.

➕ Escapology has some of the nicest lobbies in the business. Escapology Austin was no exception.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Escapology has a comfortable, spacious lobby.

Book your hour with Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapology Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Boomtown Escape Games – The Saloon [Review]

I was told there’d be smores.

Location:  Georgetown, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 48 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Saloon placed traditional lock-and-key escape room puzzles in an unconventional set up.

Come for the puzzles, stay for the gamemastering. If you’re looking for straightforward puzzle-play, know that The Saloon is just as much about interacting with your in-character gamemaster as it is about solving puzzles. Embrace the interaction to get the most out of this escape room.

If you’re in Austin and you like puzzle-focused escape rooms, but want to see a twist on that standard, head over to Georgetown for The Saloon.

In-game: A bar top in a wooden room surrounded locked boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for an experience that’s quirky and cute

Why play?

  • The gamemastering
  • The vibe

Story

While traveling along the Chisholm Trail, we had stopped in a local saloon for a drink. It turned out that we were visiting a dry county and the owner of the establishment had grown mighty lonely… so she had hired a local blacksmith to create a series of puzzles to ensnare patrons in the saloon and force them to keep her company.

In-game: a wooren room with a small card table.

Setting

The Saloon’s set was mostly wood, which gave it a unique look, even if nothing about the gamespace was particularly fancy. It was simple, effective, and on-theme without any bells or whistles.

In-game: A few crates and a basket.

Gameplay

Boomtown Escape Games’ The Saloon was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the in-character gamemaster.

Analysis

➕ Our gamemaster was a character in our experience. She was phenomenal. Her energy made this experience more than just a collection of puzzles.

➕ We loved the unique story and set up for this escape room.

➕ The wooden saloon aesthetic worked well. The lock-focused gameplay made sense in the narrative. (Boomtown Escapes could replace the more modern locks with period-esque locks to sell the story.)

➖ Some of the puzzle components were too small for the scale of the gamespace. Better integration of the puzzle’s components into the props would have been an improvement over the many small sheets of paper that held much of the game’s content.

In-game: An ornate covering over the fluorescent light.

➕ The puzzles offered variety in type and difficulty. They were traditional in style, but still offered challenge.

➖ One challenging puzzle seemed unsolvable without requesting a hint or substantial time for trial and error. We burned a lot of time before realizing that we didn’t have enough information.

➖ The gameplay was level. The Saloon lacked a big reveal or otherwise memorable team moment.

➕ The saloon owner was just a bit sneaky. We liked this about her. She made us think a little differently, in terms of escape room gameplay.

➕ Boomtown Escape Games had some lobby mini escape games that were delightful. We played The Loot and truly enjoyed it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street metered parking.
  • Georgetown has an adorable town square with lots of shops and restaurants. Boomtown Escape Games offers recommendations.
  • Boomtown Escape Games offers portable / lobby games. We enjoyed The Loot, a 15-minute add-on experience.
  • Embrace the in-character gamemastering to get the most out of your experience.

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

Disclosure: Boomtown Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Maze Rooms Austin – The Shed [Review]

Dinner & puzzles

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $45 per player for teams of 2 or $30 per player for teams of 3-4

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The Shed was an intense escape room for a small, trusting, and communicative team. Chained to the walls (with safety releases) and each able to access only a corner of the small space, we had to work together to escape this serial killer’s lair.

The Shed lacked some essential clue structure. Maze Room knows this, and has worked to mitigate the issue, but they have a ways to go before the gameplay will truly flow.

These frustrations aside, The Shed was unique and exhilarating. If you’re looking for a dramatic and challenging small-team escape room in Austin, we recommend this dinner date.

In-gameA wall with chains a digital display and a handprint in a gritty murder basement.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who are comfortable with physical restraints and a dark, unnerving environment

Why play?

  • Unique staging
  • Intense environment
  • Forced self-reliance
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

Good News: Our new friend had invited us over for dinner.

Bad News: We were unaware that our new friend was referred to as “Austin’s Cannibal” by local police.

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Setting

The Shed fell comfortably into the category of escape rooms that we’ve taken to calling the “murder basement.” While it was physically small, it was convincing without being too gory.

Each of 4 players was shackled by the wrists (with a simple mechanical safety release) to a different corner of a small room with a central pillar. The environment was grim, detailed, and foreboding.

In-game: a menacing hooded man in a workshop.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Gameplay

Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

It was atypical because each player was handcuffed to a different corner of the room for most of the experience. We had to solve the puzzles without moving around in the space.

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

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Analysis

➕ We played most of The Shed with both wrists chained to the wall. These were the most comfortable handcuffs we’ve ever been strapped into. We were free to maneuver without causing any scraping or bruising to our wrists. Our handcuffs were attached to the walls by a length of chain and safety clips. The setup was great.

➕ The opening sequence of The Shed worked beautifully. It was hard to get started while chained to a wall and search capacity was limited, but The Shed had an onramp that taught us how to play within its confines.

➖ We had a lot of props in play at any given time. It could be overwhelming to ascertain what was immediately relevant and it was challenging to keep everything we might need in reach. It was also difficult to stay organized with all of the props while restrained.

➕ The Shed did a lot with a small gamespace. It looked great in a dark and creepy way. It hid its secrets well.

➖ When we triggered a solve, we rarely knew what we’d opened. Maze Rooms could add stronger lighting and sound clues to draw players’ attention to the reveals. Providing this immediate reward for any solves would have allowed us to focus on the puzzles rather than searching.

➖ The clue structure didn’t quite support the gameplay. Maze Rooms has mitigated this by adding a runbook. While we appreciated that additional cluing, it was annoying to spend most of the game with my head in a notebook. This was especially frustrating given the dim lighting and that both my hands and any flashlights were restricted by a length of chain.

➕ The gameplay emphasized communication. We couldn’t explore, or even see the entire game. We needed to communicate well and trust our teammates.

➕ Our favorite moments involved multiple players coordinating information and actions to solve puzzles.

➖ When we eventually freed ourselves from the restraints, we had access to new spaces… that our teammates knew intimately. We had to pause to share knowledge or waste time re-exploring known spaces.

➕ The penultimate sequence came together well with a surprising reveal and a plot twist.

➕/➖ The Shed required each player to rely on their teammates and hold their own. If one individual couldn’t find/ solve/ interact with an element, there was only so much the other teammates could do to help. We mostly found this exhilarating. Sometimes it made the game stall for a bit too long. Your choice of teammates will significantly impact your experience in The Shed.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Accessibility: Height Requirement of 55 inches (4’5”ft) or taller
  • You can play this game with 2 – 4 people. You cannot add additional people. 4 people is the optimal number.
  • Left-handed players may find this game more challenging than right-handed ones will.

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

Disclosure: Maze Rooms Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Extreme Escape – Master of Illusions [Review]

Is this your card?

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Master of Illusions was a beautiful escape room. It combined ambiance with puzzling. It all came together like magic.

Master of Illusions played well, but it didn’t rock the boat.

If you’re looking for a straightforward, puzzle-focused escape room with thematic decor and a few little tricks up its sleeve, this would be a great choice. Extreme Escape’s newer and more epic games were at their other location; The Cursed was a must-play.

We recommend Master of Illusions for anyone visiting San Antonio, regardless of experience level.

In-game: A magic prop with the image of a queen on it beside a gold art deco statue of a nude woman and the stage door.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Elegant environment
  • Fun puzzles 
  • Opening and closing moments

Story

It was 1929 and the greatest illusionist since Houdini was suspected of sabotaging and murdering one of his rivals. We had to investigate the magician and learn the truth.

In-game: A locked trunk and milk can in a room surrounded by other magical props.

Setting

Wide open with selective spotlighting and lightning effects, Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions embodied the golden age of magic.

The set was detailed without being extravagant or massive. Simply put: it felt right and got the job done.

In-game: An ornate chandelier with magical props illuminated in the background.

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Master of Illusions began and concluded with a clever and elegant trick. It was a nice touch and set the tone for the game.

➕ The gamespace felt comfortable and believable. It was beautiful and thematic. The lighting and music added ambiance. It was a fun space in which to solve puzzles.

➖ Extreme Escape presented us with a discard box, specifically for used puzzle elements. Then they reused a key component. Clue reuse is fine, as are discard boxes… but they don’t mix well. This felt needlessly deceptive.

➕ The puzzles were on-theme and solved cleanly.

➖ Many of the props were secured with multiple locks. This meant that opens would frequently yield nothing new. It was frustrating to repeatedly reap no reward from a solve.

➕Extreme Escape encouraged us to Instagram our experience! Master of Illusions was a beautiful room and highly Instagrammable. It’s smart marketing! We didn’t actually Instagram during gameplay – we were too focused on playing – but we did shoot a little video for our Patreon supporters from the room at the end of the game.

Tips For Visiting

  • There are plenty of food options in Extreme Escape’s plaza.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Extreme Escape’s Master of Illusions, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room News: February 2019

Art deco news bulletin kiosk.

The monthly escape room newsletter is a new feature on Room Escape Artist. Please share your news with us.

Books & Movies

At Home

  • Throw Throw Burrito is coming soon. It has far exceeded its Kickstarter goal… and you can still back it. Game designer Elan Lee is an avid escape room player. We beta tested it at an escape room enthusiast gathering we attended in Los Angeles last summer.
Amanda Harris posting about Throw Throw Burrito reads, "I playtested a version of this and can confirm that Lisa is straight up savage at dodgeball face-off."

Online

  • The 2019 Cryptex Hunt begins on Friday, March 1 at 9pm Eastern. Play online and through Cluekeeper. It’s free! And yes, there will be prizes! The first person to complete the whole hunt with no hints wins a Nevins Bolivian Rosewood Cryptex. There also will be a drawing among all those who complete the full hunt by March 31 for a standard Cryptex.

Research

Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace. Visit Palace Games with us June 1-3, 2019. On this tour you will play 4 incredible escape rooms, including the Golden Lock-In Award-winning The Edison Escape Room. If you’re a traveling player, this is your chance to visit Palace Games!

Orlando, FL

  • Escape Effect just opened a new 2-hour game called A Knight to Escape.

New Orleans, LA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans 2019. Join us July 12-14, 2019 to visit some of the most amazing escape rooms in the world including multiple Golden Lock-In Award winners such as 13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern. Last summer’s tour to New Orleans sold out, but we didn’t want anyone to be left out, so we brought it back again for 2019!

Whitefish, MT

  • Hidden Key Escape Games is opening its third game Saving Camelot. King Arthur and the Knights are away when Mordred attacks. Can you unlock the secrets to release Excalibur for the King?

St. Louis, MO

Santa Fe, NM

New York, NY

Rochester, NY

  • Omega Escape Room is now open in Rochester, NY. You can visit them there or at their original location in Hamburg, NY.

Seattle, WA

Brantford, ON, Canada

Multiple Cities

  • Halo Outpost Discovery is going to have a traveling Halo experience that will include an escape room-style experience called Covenant Escape where players explore a reclaimed section of a Covenant ship. It will travel to Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Anaheim this July and August.

Commentary

  • We agree with this list of escape room pet peeves, compiled by Nate Martin, owner of Puzzle Break in Seattle, WA.
  • We expound upon one of them in this longer piece about red herrings.

Videos

  • Niall Horan & Julia Michaels must escape a room on the Late Late Show with James Corden to perform their song.

How To Submit News

Share your own news here!

News items include:

  • Facility openings & closings
  • Game openings & closings
  • Special events
  • Escape room-related products
  • Escape room-related intrigue of all sorts
  • Celebrity visits (if you have a post-game photo that we can publish)
  • Escape room pieces in the general press

Send us your newsworthy information via our news submission form:

We the Enthusiasts Passports [Interview]

Earlier this winter, we were thrilled to learn that Audrey Pendleton-Chow, owner of Curious Escape Rooms in Fitchburg, MA and an escape room enthusiast herself, had launched escape room passports.

We loved the idea of collecting stamps at the end of each game in these beautiful passports. We recently caught up with Audrey to learn more about what these passports offer players and how owners can get involved!

Multiple passports opened to reveal the different pages, all surrounded by stamps, locks, keys, and puzzle pieces.

Tell us about your passport!

The We The Enthusiasts Global Escape Room Passport is a collectable to preserve your escape room escapades!

I’ve been archiving my escape room history in an Excel sheet. I know I’m not the only escape room enthusiast who does this. I thought it would be more fun to have something collectable! Why not stamps for every game from a participating event or escape room? That’s why we made a universal escape room passport.

The stamps for both of Curious Escape Rooms' games, the Doll House & The 90s Video Store.

I designed this small, durable booklet with a leatherette and gold foil cover, a profile page, and a unique ID. It provides 56 boxes for stamps and small spacing for notes and completion times. Stamp filler pages are available as well because, you know, 56 games could go by pretty quickly!

What makes for a great stamp?

It’s been amazing to see the different designs that escape room companies have created.

A great stamp is like an icon. It should be clear, one color, unique, and have thick lines.

Boxaroo's Conundrum Museum stamp.

The design should symbolize the theme of the game so when enthusiasts look back at it they remember their experience!

It’s nice to have the name of the game on the stamp too.

How do players buy a passport?

Players can buy our passports online at WeTheEnthusiasts.com. They are also available at many participating escape room businesses. Pricing and promotions may vary if you purchase from an individual participating business.

Audrey giving Rene his box of passports at Gate Escape.

Who are the participating companies?

We’ve got 187 games, 63 companies with stamps, and 25 locations selling passports. 🙂 So far we’re in USA and Australia.

The full list of companies and their games is available here. It’s growing every week!

A rack of passports.

How can a new company get involved?

See Become a Participating Business for more information. There, interested companies can read the FAQ, purchase passports wholesale to sell at their own business, and register.

It’s free to be listed on our website as long as the business agrees to stamp passport-holders with your special stamp for your participating game or event.

You get to choose and purchase your own stamp. You can even design the image that will represent each of your games!

Stamps resting on an open passport.

If we wanted to make a stamp for our Escape, Immerse, Explore tours, could we do that? 

Absolutely! This would be perfect for an escape room tour! We welcome any experiences related to puzzles or mystery solving. We’ve reached out to puzzle/ scavenger hunts, mobile escape rooms, and immersive plays, such as the annual immersive theater and puzzling eventClub Drosselmeyer.

When and how did you come up with this passport idea?

In 2015 my partner (now husband) Jeremy Pendleton-Chow and I visited Portland, Oregon. We went to a McMenamins, which revitalizes unexpected spaces to become different themed bars.

As we entered the 1960s elementary school building, passing the cigar bar “Detention,” a small bar “Honor’s Hall,” and the movie theater that used to be the school auditorium, we found that part of it had been turned into a hotel. The check-in desk had one sheet of novelty McMenamins passports, encouraging customers to visit all their locations and collect different stamps. I thought it was a great idea!

I was in the process of opening Curious Escape Rooms in Fitchburg, MA. I began talking to other escape room owners about the idea of a global passport.

After a failed attempt of making less-than-quality samples of passports last year (which lasted merely a month in my bag), I put the idea on the back burner until I discovered a way to create the durable and beautiful passports I had imagined. They had to be fully brag-worthy and long-lasting to be worth it.

In November 2018 we began selling We The Enthusiasts passports and rallying escape rooms to join us in creating stamps for each of their games. Every week, new businesses join us and we add them to our website.

Lockout Austin – CSI: Murder at the Asylum [Review]

Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In CSI: Murder at the Asylum, Lockout Austin did the crime solver genre of escape room justice.

CSI: Murder at the Asylum was a puzzler’s escape room. It was organized and focused. It combined standard escape room-style puzzles with a larger deduction-based narrative.

Although the setting wasn’t particularly interesting, with their in-character gamemaster, Lockout Austin built just a bit more world around the experience.

Play CSI: Murder at the Asylum for the puzzles and you’ll get just a bit more than that from it. If you’re in Austin, we recommend you stop by to solve this crime.

In-game: A nesting doll sitting on a bookcase.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • To solve the crime!
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

There was a murder at Pinnhurst Asylum and for unexplained reasons, the feds wanted to take over the investigation. We had to solve the mystery before they arrived at the scene.

In-game: A wall with 10 profiles of active suspects.

Setting

CSI: Murder at the Asylum was set in a fairly bland office-like environment for the first act and a more interesting asylum in the second act.

While the second half was a little more visually interesting, the set was merely adequate, serving as a container for the puzzles and gameplay, which were the real reason to play this game.

In-game: A big stuffed teddy bear sitting on a chair.

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s CSI: Murder at the Asylum was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a twist. In the first act, we had to solve a crime by discovering alibis and narrowing our list of suspects.

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

In-game: A steel wall for eliminated suspects.

Analysis

➕ Lockout Austin’s gamemasters are characters in their experiences. In CSI: Murder at the Asylum, we didn’t just start puzzling when the door closed. This added intrigue and fun.

➖ CSI: Murder at the Asylum had a dull, sterile set. While appropriate, the set wasn’t invigorating.

➕ The investigation made sense. We searched for alibis to verify innocence. Any fact we learned could apply to one or more suspects, which felt a bit more realistic than what we’ve experience in many crime-scene deduction games.

➕ The puzzles flowed well and were satisfying solves. They became increasingly more challenging as the game progressed, which worked well.

➕ The gameplay was organized. The locks were labeled. The suspects were neatly presented and when we eliminated them, it was clear where to put their pages. No clutter. We could solve with incredible focus.

➖ It was easy to miss the story while focused on solving puzzles. For those paying attention to the story, the ending didn’t really land.

 CSI: Murder at the Asylum missed an opportunity for an exhilarating and memorable moment. They set it up, but it came too soon and lacked the necessary sound or lighting effects to stop all players in their tracks.

➕Lockout Austin repurposed one escape room cliché for a legit solve. It worked really well.

Tips For Visiting

  • Lockout Austin had many food options nearby.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s CSI: Murder at the Asylum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

YouEscape – Elements [Review]

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, & good night.

Location:  the Internet

Date Played: January 19, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 3

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $30 per team (regardless of player count)

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

YouEscape’s online escape game format allowed us (New York) to play an escape room with Ken Ferguson of The Logic Escapes Me (London) and Yolanda Chiu of Asia Escape Game (Taiwan). The four of us are rarely in the same part of the world, let alone the same escape room. This was the true beauty of YouEscape’s format.

In-game: An inflated balloon and a sign that says, "Yolanda, Ken, & REA Escaped. Jan 2019."

Playing an escape game in a web browser using Google Hangouts, Google Drive, and other assorted web apps came with its own quirks and obstacles. Still, the low price point and ability to play with friends across the world was wonderful.

YouEscape had made some significant improvements in game design from the earlier episode that we played last year. They incorporated a few incredibly clever interactions that only worked because we were playing online.

Last time around we played with one of our regular local escape room teammates. This time we played with friends from afar and that was way cooler (sorry Lindsay). If you have friends who live too far away to join you in a real-life room, give YouEscape a try. It’s great for far-flung puzzle lovers.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Friends who don’t live in the same place, but want to play together
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who are comfortable navigating between browser tabs and through Google Docs

Why play?

  • You can play with friends on the other side of the world (we did!)
  • Puzzles that you won’t find in traditional escape rooms
  • The challenge of instructing interaction with physical objects
  • Fun reveals

Story

We were poisoned, lost in a dense forest, and running out of time. We needed to signal for help.

In-game: Google Drive image reads, "Eating those unknown fruits was a bad idea after all. A rescue helicopter is on its way, however they won't be able to locate you unless you launch an emergency balloon. You have to find a clearing in the forest as soon as possible.

Setting

YouEscape games take place over the Internet.

We explained the set up in our review of YouEscape’s Magnum Opus.

Elements had a similar set up with the addition of a backdrop behind the props, which added ambiance.

In-game: The game table staged with puzzle components and locked boxes.

Gameplay

YouEscape’s Elements was an atypical escape game played over the Internet by a remote team giving the gamemaster verbal commands. Elements had a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, instructing, communicating, puzzling… and navigating various web-based content.

Analysis

➕ Many of the puzzles relied on sets, props, materials, or constructs that wouldn’t work in a real-life escape room, or a play-at-home escape room. They only worked in an Internet-based escape room.

➕ Elements had a meaty middle chapter. We “traveled” to a remote place and entered this set. While it would have been too busy for a real-life escape room, where players would have had too many items to touch, move, and destroy, it worked for the well-clued puzzles in the Elements. It was a fun place to puzzle around in.

➖ The first chapter didn’t play to the strength of YouEscape’s Internet-based gameplay. A good puzzle was made much more difficult by the need to visualize and instruct, and not in a fun way. To solve it, we really wanted to handle the puzzle components. Additionally, by starting off with this section, there was no onramp to help players familiarize themselves with the format and pick up momentum. It was a rough start.

➖ We struggled with each having only one screen. We were constantly moving back and forth between tabs. If a teammate had instructed the gamemaster to move a prop while we were working something out in front of information in another tab, we might look back at the props to find everything had changed. We found ourselves continually wanting to put various puzzle components side by side, but there wasn’t a good way to do that.

➕ The gamemaster manipulated all the props. If a lock didn’t open, it wasn’t user error. Our gamemaster tried every wrong combination so that we could see whether or not the lock would open. This was a nice touch because he could have just told us that we were wrong.

➖ Our gamemaster told us at the onset how we would send the distress signal to be rescued from the forest. We think there’s opportunity to have the players figure this out as they play. That would create an exciting aha moment.

➕It was fun to send our distress signal and watch the culmination of our efforts unfold in the final scene.

❓ The YouEscape format added a challenge of communication between the players and the gamemaster. Some of us enjoyed the puzzle of how to instruct the gamemaster to manipulate objects. Others preferred the puzzles to be in the puzzles.

❓If you’re not a native English speaker, Elements would be an especially challenging game. In addition to English language puzzles, it required constant communication between players and the gamemaster over the video call.

➕/➖ The Patreon subscription model is great if you want to play monthly… and a hindrance if you want to experience a one-off game or want to play only a few times a year. At $30 per month for a team, it would be less expensive than a real life escape game, but more expensive than many play-at-home boxed escape games. If you’re looking for teammates, there is a $10 per month option where you will team up with other Patreon backers, which could be neat. Your mileage with the Patreon model really depends on your play preferences.

Tips For Visiting

  • You will need a computer than can comfortably handle at least 6 browser tabs and a video chat without freaking out, a stable Internet connection, a microphone, and a notepad (physical or virtual, but we found physical to work best).
  • We recommend that each player use their own computer, from their own space, and communicate through Google Hangouts. This allows each player to move between the tabs/ windows as they’d like.
  • Have a notepad on hand and take screenshots liberally.

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

Disclosure: YouEscape comped our tickets for this game.

The Partnership behind Level Games in Los Angeles [Interview]

Doggy Dog World has been adopted! 🐶

Two Los Angeles escape room companies, Escape Chronicles and Arcane Escape Rooms, have teamed up to create Level Games, a new company taking over the space that formerly housed ESCapades LA. We were thrilled to hear about this collaboration, which brings so many wonderful creators together.

We recently caught up with Andrew Cefalo and Spencer Beebe, Co-founders/ Designers of Escape Chronicles, and Matt Tye, Founder/ Designer of Arcane Escape Rooms, to learn more about this partnership.

Spoiler… we’re excited about it!

In-game: an oversized doghouse.
Doggy Dog World

How did this partnership come about?

Level Games: Escape room owners in Los Angeles are generally friendly. The community has set the right conditions for a partnership like this. We all respect each other’s work.

We started sharing ideas for our future games and we got really excited about what we could accomplish together. We all wanted to spin traditional game narratives in future projects. The more we talked about it, the more we knew this would be really fun!

Since we are all tackling similar issues by teaming up, we decrease the overhead of running the business so that we can focus on the games.

In-game: a rolltop desk beside a stack of crates and an artest palet.
Escape Chronicles

What inspired you to take the ESCapades LA space?

We were all already discussing sharing a larger space and working collaboratively when the ESCapades LA space became available. We took a tour of the space and it was love at first sight. The space is huge and really freaking cool! The fact that we get to adopt Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for a little while is a big bonus.

What’s your plan for the current games, especially the beloved Doggy Dog World?

Doggy Dog World is the fan favorite so we don’t want to make any big alterations. We’ll only make minor tweaks to adjust game flow and better protect props and electronics from players. If you’ve played the game before, we haven’t changed it enough to warrant a replay.

We’ll continue running Disrupted Decades as well. We bolstered the charm of the room with some tasteful tech, new and tweaked puzzles, and a new narrative on top of the original foundation. Our playtest groups are loving the revamped Disrupted Decades!

If you’ve played Disrupted Decades before, you could play it again. The updated version is about 70% brand new content. We actually added too much and we really liked all of it… so we made it a 75-minute game!

In-game: a dog's view of a wood fence.
Doggy Dog World

We plan to keep Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for at least six months. We’ll aim to build out new rooms to fill in the unused areas of the space before closing down Doggy Dog World. We haven’t purchased the games from ESCapades LA; we are just borrowing them for a while… Doggy Dog World could pop up somewhere else in the future.

Who is designing the new experiences in the space?

The Level Games experiences are all based on ideas that each company had dreamt up individually. Each team’s eyes lit up as they heard the others’ ideas! When we started pooling our creative efforts on the projects, everything just clicked.

Each project will have its own lead, but everyone will be designing puzzles, gameplay elements, story elements, etc. Since we all have different strengths, it’s working out really nicely. Although these started as individual ideas, they have all already become joint ventures.

In-game: A wooden wall with pipes and a big red valve mounted to it.
Arcane Escape Rooms

What is your timeline for new experiences?

We’re spending every waking moment working to complete the designs and construction of the new games and loving every minute of it! Most likely, you can expect to see 1-2 new Level Games experiences in 2019. That said, even though we’ve done a lot of work already, we don’t want to feel pressure to meet dates for no reason, so please don’t hold us to that.

Is anything changing at Arcane Escape Rooms and Escape Chronicles?

Matt: Arcane Escape Rooms is absolutely staying where it is. The Hideout and The Agency are still running and we just opened our new game The Ghost of Mentryville in October. There will be at least one more game from Arcane Escape Rooms in the future.

Andrew & Spencer: We’re out of space to build new games at Escape Chronicles, but our current games Smugglers Tunnels and Testing Facility are still going strong. If we get the sense that interest is falling we’ll most likely look into replacing the rooms with something new, but hopefully that’s a ways off. Right now our creative efforts are focused on Level Games and we have our hands full. Plus, it’s really great to build collaboratively!

How is your vision for Level Games different from that of your other escape room companies?

Level Games intentionally does not have “escape” in the name. In addition to building escape rooms, we will try some riskier ideas that depart from the escape room formula.

We’re working to change the fundamentals of how the “escape room” works. For example, we’re developing a game that we ourselves can play and have the same experience and challenge as new players.

We also plan to make Level Games a place for the community to hang out. We plan to host tabletop games – we love board games! – and large party games in the space. We want to share lots of kinds of games with the community.


Our Talks & Plans for Escape Room City in St. Louis this March

TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis includes Escape Room City, an area dedicated exclusively to the room escape and adventure game industries.

We will be speaking as part of the Escape Room City seminar series.

Show Details

  • March 21-24, 2019
  • St. Louis, MO
  • America’s Center (701 Convention Plaza)

Seminar Details

We have two sessions at this show, both of them are free (included with your ticket).

Panel:

The Elephant in the Room: Escape Room Ethics – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and How We Can Come Together to Change It!

I will be moderating this panel of escape room industry veterans:

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Thursday, March 21
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe that escape room owners and operators can come together to address topics such as safety, intellectual property, and competition. Through collaboration, we’ll grow a more sustainable escape room industry for the future.

Talk:

Setting Expectations for Escape Room Design in 2019

We will provide context and recommendations for anyone opening or operating an escape room business in 2019.

We will cover how haunted attractions owners have raised the bar and pitfalls they need to look out for. We will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds, painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go.

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Friday, March 22
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe there are many opportunities for creating escape rooms in 2019. Join us to think about out how you fit into the bigger picture.

Early… but Free

We will be on stage first thing in the morning two days in a row. We promise not to book too many late escape rooms the nights before these talks.

Escape Room Mixer

We will be attending the Escape Room Mixer on Saturday night. Find us there!

  • Saturday, March 23
  • 5:15pm – 7:15pm
  • Holiday Inn, Broadway/Washington Rooms
  • Free to all conference attendees
  • Cash bar

Visiting in St. Louis

This will be our first year attending TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show and Escape Room City. We are excited to see the show, play escape rooms, and meet new people.

Recommend an Escape Room

This is our first trip to St. Louis.

Do you own or operate an escape room in St. Louis and want us to visit? Do you have a favorite escape room in St. Louis that we should visit?

Please contact us with recommendations.

Meeting Up

We will not have a booth at this show… but we’re still happy to meet up with folks.

Let’s schedule a time and a place to get together and talk escape rooms… or other things. Please contact us to schedule a time to meet at this show.

We look forward to seeing you at Escape Room City!