5 Things to Know about RECON ’21 (Don’t miss the early bird deal!)

We are so excited to bring you RECON ’21 this August! Here are the top 5 things you need to know right now.

RECON phoenix rising from the flames.

1: Basic tickets are pay-what-you-want

The Basic Ticket is pay-what-you want and it gets you access to every featured talk.

Bronze RECON Basic Access ticket - date: August 22-23, 2021.

We have a number of speakers announced already, with the rest of the lineup coming soon to the RECON website. If you’ve been wowed by Locurio, Post Curious, or Project Avatar, you won’t want to miss these speakers, and so many more.

  • headshot of Tasha Tarkhanova surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Summer Herrick surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Errol Elumir surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Aaron Hooper surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Rita Orlov surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Leanne Yong surrounded by a RECON fram
  • headshot of Karmisha Jawell surrounded by a RECON fram

2: VIP tickets will sell out

There are only a handful left.

Gold RECON VIP Access ticket - date: August 22-23, 2021.

If you’re interested in a curated RECON experience, we highly recommend you purchase a VIP ticket today.

3: The Virtual Escape Jam will also sell out

More than half the tickets are already claimed. The Virtual Escape Jam sold out last year, and the waitlist just kept growing.

Purple jar of Escape Jam, labeled, "Small-batch game design!"

If you want to design a game, this is a great way to get started, or brush up on your skills – all experience levels welcome!

4: New in 2021: Workshops

The RECON Pro ticket includes a workshop, an active learning small-group session where you take part in the creative process. You can choose between Game Design, Storytelling, Creative Puzzles, and Hospitality.

Silver RECON Pro Access ticket - date: August 22-23, 2021.

These are a new feature at RECON that we’re super excited about!

5: Early Bird Won’t Last Forever

The RECON Play Pass is currently only $50. It includes access to at least 2 limited-run games, unique player meetup opportunities, and much more.

A booklet labeled, "RECON Play Pass, exclusive games, discounts, and more. Reality Escape Convention." In the middle is the RECON 21 phoenix icon."

We’ll be announcing more details soon, and as soon as we do, the price will go up. If you love playing games and want games to be a part of your RECON experience, we encourage you to grab your Play Pass at the early bird rate. You can add it to any RECON ticket!

It could be yours in LEGO: The Room 4: Old Sins – Dollhouse

Front of The Room Old Sins Dollhouse.

He started with The Safe from The Room, the iconic video game series. Now, he’s back with another LEGO IDEAS project.

This time, Roger Schembri is bringing to life the Dollhouse from Old Sins, the fourth installment from The Room.

With enough support, it can become an actual, tangible reality, outside of the videogame. And it’s free to support!

We spoke with Roger about his first LEGO IDEAS project in October. That project now has more than 2,800 supporters. If a project reaches 10,000 supporters then the LEGO group will consider it to be made into an official LEGO set.

In that interview, Roger tells us all about his relationship with The Room (he’s one of the original game developers) and LEGO IDEAS. You’ll be able to feel his passion for these projects.

As fans of the The Room and of Legos, we’re pretty excited about both these projects. We’d love to create the enchanted dollhouse within which Old Sins takes place.

Bring it to Life

It’s easy. Just click the button above to go to the LEGO IDEAS project page, and support the project. It’s free to support. And if you know other people who’d like to build this video game dollhouse, please give this one a social media boost as well.

If you enjoy The Room, we hope you’ll check out our interview with co-creator Barry Meade of Fireproof Studios on The Reality Escape Pod.

New Jigsaw Puzzle World Record! Interview with Tammy McLeod

Tammy McLeod recently set the Guinness World Record for the “fastest time to complete the Hasbro puzzle” with a time of 9 minutes 58.32 seconds.

We recently chatted with Tammy (puzzler extraordinaire!) about this experience.

Tammy Selfie with the solved Guinness World Record oval jigsaw puzzle.

Interview

REA: What was involved in setting this record?

Tammy: This record is actually a pretty old one. The previous record was set in 2014. So, my first step was getting a hold of the puzzle. There is a specific puzzle required for the record and this puzzle is actually out of print! I had to track down a copy from the UK on Ebay. The next step was contacting Guinness. They have a specific list of requirements that need to be satisfied for a successful record attempt. I had planned to make an attempt in summer 2020 at a puzzle event, and of course, everything got cancelled. It was December 2020 before I figured out how to safely organize an attempt.

Was there anything unusual about the Hasbro puzzle?

It’s a fairly standard cardboard puzzle. It’s oval shaped, and doesn’t come with a reference picture. The puzzle image features a number of other world record holders.

Tammy solving the Guinness World Record puzzle with a camera overhead.

What are the rules for this type of record setting competition?

Being a speed record, it required impartial timekeepers and witnesses, and slow-motion video documentation.

Wide angle shot shows Tammy solving the Guinness World Record puzzle with 3 witnesses and two cameras.

You’ve been competitively jigsaw puzzling for a few years. Tell us about the competitive scene and how people can get involved.

In recent years, I only knew of a handful of big jigsaw contests in the US, all in the Midwest. There were small local contests happening in a lot of places, but I think the St Paul Winter Carnival Contest was the oldest, the biggest, and the one that attracted the most serious competitors. I managed to find 3 other puzzlers willing to fly with me from California to Minnesota in winter. In January 2020, we attended for the first time, and we won!

Since the pandemic happened, however, a number of puzzle contests in the US have gone online, so all anybody has to do now to compete is register and get a contest puzzle shipped to them. There are now so many more opportunities to play against people from all around the country!

I helped found the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association during the pandemic, and we are working with the World Jigsaw Puzzle Federation. They’re the organizers of the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Spain. As a result of the lower barrier to entry into competitive puzzling, many new championship-caliber puzzlers have found their way into the scene. If things go well and the world championship takes place as planned, I think that the US will be well represented this year.

If someone wants to improve their jigsaw puzzling skills, what are your recommendations for leveling up?

Keeping in mind that the approach to competitive puzzling will be very different from recreational puzzling, to become a faster competitor, try different techniques to see what works best for you – for example, sorting or flipping first, or focussing on color versus shape first. I’ve noticed that improvement isn’t simply linear with practice. Figuring out the right process will result in huge jumps in speed. That having been said, be deliberate in the sort of puzzles you pick for practice. Expose yourself to a good variety, like random versus grid cuts, small details, color gradients, and textures.

You are a distinguished puzzler. In addition to this World Record what have been some of the other highlights of your puzzling career?

I won the 2009 US Sudoku Championship after being a finalist the previous 2 years. I was on the winning team at the 2019 MIT Mystery Hunt. I was on Team USA for the 2017 and 2019 Red Bull World Escape Room Championships in Budapest and London, respectively. I’ve now played over 500 real-life and Zoom-based escape rooms. In recent months, my escape room team won a number of virtual escape room contests: Cryptex Puzzle Hunt, Breakout Games Virtual Madness, and Paruzal Great Escape Tournament.

We met you through escape rooms and it’s been great to have you as a REA hivemind writer. What are your thoughts on jigsaw puzzles + tabletop escape room-style combo products?

I love them because they merge two of my interests. They tend to be challenging on both aspects, which can be harder for players who only have experience in only jigsaws or escape rooms. And because of the hybrid nature of the product, it isn’t very representative of the average jigsaw puzzle or escape room. Some people relish the challenge, and it might be a good way to get people to cross over into a new activity.

Congratulations Tammy. We can’t see what your next puzzling feat will be.

Thanks again! I’ll continue to share my jigsaw exploits on Instagram, and other puzzle-related activities on Facebook for sure!

EGOlympics: International Online Escape Game Tournament

We recently participated in the International Online Escape Game Tournament (EGOlympics), hosted by Escape Roomers DE, a review website for live escape games in Germany and Europe, and for remote escape games worldwide.

What are the EGOlympics?

It is a friendly competition with teams from all over the world.

Each week, every team plays the same remote escape game, ideally at the same time (usually on Sunday at 8pm CET / 2pm Eastern).

Given that this time is not convenient in some time zones (especially Australia and New Zealand), players can complete any time during the 24 hours before the actual start of the tournament.

EGOlympics banner

Industry Support

We love that the EGOlympics brings business to escape room operators worldwide in a challenging time. Every team books and purchases the game themselves. That’s a lot of extra revenue for the company of the week.

Community Building

The EGOlympics creates a sense of camaraderie for the global community of escape room enthusiasts. It’s amazing to be doing something together with like-minded people from all over the world.

You can share thoughts or questions about the game too, after you play, and find a whole bunch of people happy to converse. If you’ve been feeling isolated playing remote escape games, here’s an international community to share them with, practically in real time.

That said, Facebook comment threads don’t really capture that post-game debrief in the same way as getting together in a bar or cafe.

Decision Fatigue

Even if you’re not a competitor, you might like the EGOlympics simply because through it, Escape Roomers DE is essentially choosing a game for you to play each week. You don’t have to do the research yourself. Just sign up, book the game, and play!

Our Experience

We participated in our first EGOlympics on April 25, 2021 with REA Hivemind writers Theresa W and Matthew Stein. This was the 37th EGOlympics event and the game of the week was The Warp Core – Part 3: The Witches of Salem.

We joined for this one mainly because it worked with everyone’s schedule (and our schedule can be a challenge!), but also because we were interested in the game.

Warp Core – Part 3 was a truly impressive Telescape implementation with collaborative puzzle solving and video cutscenes.

We had a ton of fun challenging ourselves (and my computer/ internet connection!) to solve as quickly as possible. This isn’t how we usually play games, and the added intensity was exciting!

That said, speeding through a game isn’t really our style. We prefer to take in every aspect of the experience, enjoy the interface design, and see how our teammates solved things we missed. We prefer to relax and enjoy escape games for the time spent with friends, as much as for the puzzles solves.

We finished the game in a respectable 44:02 minutes without hints, which was just 2 minutes shy of the podium, I believe.

Advice For Better Competition

A bit of unsolicited advice for EGOlympics. When looking at the podium, second place finished at 41:56, while Team Squared finished in first with a time of 26:30.

We know Team Squared well. They are experienced, talented, and speedy puzzlers. We also suspect that to achieve that time they had to be skipping videos… because there were a lot of them in The Warp Core 3 and they consumed a lot of game-clock time. We only just learned that you can skip videos in Telescape when we were trying to figure out how a time of 26:30 was even possible.

Since the games being played aren’t truly designed for competition, the community itself needs to decide what the norms are. While we wouldn’t skip videos, because we are interested in taking in the whole experience, there’s nothing wrong with that being a tool in the players’ toolbox. Still, it should be explicitly allowed, and the methods of doing so explained.

Different competitive communities handle the creation of norms in different ways. Super Smash Bros. was never designed as a competitive game, but it was made competitive with specific rules and norms. Road Rallies and other precision driving competitions set minimum times based on the course’s speed limits, so no one is breaking the law.

All is fair when the norms are established, and the players can go in knowing what is and isn’t in the spirit of the game.

We offer this knowing full well that we are not going to top a podium in an escape room competition, and it isn’t our goal. Our goal is community.

To form community, the specifics of the norms matter less than the fact that they are there.

How to Join the EGOlympics

Join the Facebook Group Escape Roomers DE and look at the upcoming events. Click on the event you’re interested in, and you can read all about that week’s game, how to book it, and which teams have already signed up to participate.

To sign up, post on the Facebook page with your country’s flag, your team name, and the names of the players. You can include a photo or logo.

You’ll need to book/ purchase the game yourself, and organize your team to play at the start time (or earlier in the 24 hour window).

When you finish, post a photo with your time and see how your time compares to all the others!

PlayMonster – Break In Alcatraz [Review]

The Puzzle Rock

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 13, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 2 hours

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

Break In Alcatraz was the first game in the series that we played, and the level of novelty felt through the roof.

It was incredible how the box opened up, revealing layers of new sets to explore.

From design, to game structure, to story, this felt like a special entry into the tabletop escape game world.

As a first in a new series and new style of play, I expected more from this game when it came to onboarding. It was more challenging to figure out how to get rolling than I would have liked. Once we figured things out, they flowed fairly well… with one exception…

There was a late-game puzzle that we couldn’t understand; even after studying the hints. This either revealed a flaw in the puzzle, the limitations of a restrictive hint system, or both. It didn’t break the game, but it was a notable low point for us.

Of the first two installments in this series, Break In Alcatraz was a fun, novel game, but it felt a little weaker than Break In Area 51. I strongly recommend starting with Area 51, and if you enjoy it, pick up a copy of Alcatraz.

I’m looking forward to more from this series.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual game from Break In.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Break In Overview.

Story

Our dear friend had been wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to the most notorious prison in the world, Alcatraz. It was time to hatch an elaborate plan to break in and liberate our companion from the island fortress.

Continue reading “PlayMonster – Break In Alcatraz [Review]”