Can’t Escape Love: A Reluctant Royals Novella [Review]

Innuendo Sauce

Location:  at home

Date Read: June 2019

Team size: 1; we recommend 1

Page Count: 139 pages

Price: $4.99 paperback; $1.99 kindle

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: HarperCollins

REA Reaction

In Can’t Escape Love, romance novelist Alyssa Cole brought together a nerd blogger and an escape room designer in a 2019 novella, as part of her Reluctant Royals series. I’m not a romance novel connoisseur, but when my sister mentioned this novella, I was intrigued to see how someone outside this industry would portray my lifestyle. After all, the main character was a nerdy, 100% focused, busy-all-the-time woman blogger.

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole's Novella cover depicts a woman in a wheel chair sharing ice cream with a man.

Can’t Escape Love cultivated the characters’ romance around a genuine issue: building escape rooms in established intellectual property and navigating the fandom that comes with that opportunity. The novel nailed what’s at stake in this scenario.

I found the writing hokey. To me, the characters’ relationship felt unrealistic, and at times downright silly. That said, I lacked the context of the larger series and the romance novel genre.

If you like romance novels and are interested in the idea of an unusual novella based around escape rooms, bloggers, nerd culture, and diversity, try this out.

Who is this for?

  • Anyone with experience in puzzles, escape rooms, blogging, or romance novels
  • Discerning romance novel aficionados looking for a lot more story than sex
  • Folks who recognize that representation matters
  • Best for people who have read Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals novels, given how novellas tend to work (see below)
  • People interested in how escape rooms are portrayed in other media

Why Read?

  • Worlds-collide crossover between escape rooms and blogging that plays out in a romance novella
  • An antidote to bodice-ripper stereotypes about romance novels (complete with three-dimensional characters, consent, and a heroine who doesn’t need saving)
  • A plot that addressed genuine issues, albeit in a magical version of the world where you can always expect a happy ending

Story

Reggie was a nerd blogger and a businesswoman trying to launch an online media company in the 21st century. (Sounds familiar!) Gus was a puzzle-obsessed designer tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular anime series for an upcoming con.

Reggie struggled with insomnia. Gus had the most soothing voice.

Gus couldn’t understand the appeal of the IP he was working with. Reggie was a huge fan.

When they traded his voice for her knowledge, they discovered a chemistry. Could they escape love?

Gameplay

Can’t Escape Love was a fairly typical romance novella in some ways (story structure and role in a larger series) and an emphatically non-stereotypical one in others (decidedly feminist and inclusive perspective).

There wasn’t any gameplay, per say. As a reader I could appreciate that the characters were enjoying puzzles, but I couldn’t solve alongside them.

Core “gameplay” revolved around reading.

Analysis

➕ Alyssa Cole captured the blogger life pretty realistically. I could identify with her portrayal of a nerdy blogger. Reggie had depth of character and her day-to-day was relatable.

➖ The puzzle enthusiast character lacked depth. I wanted more insight into the puzzles Gus was designing and solving. Puzzlers and escape room players will likely want more from this character and his work.

➖ The story felt corny. His voice? Really? I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but there were so many cringe-worthy lines as they started to fall for each other. For instance “… maybe it was the happy-anime endorphins rushing through her veins, but everything they said to each other seemed to be dipped in an innuendo sauce and served with a side of ‘let’s bang’ fries.”

➕ While I didn’t connect with the story, the emotions seemed heartfelt. I could empathize with the characters.

➕ In the story, Gus was designing an escape room based in a popular IP. Fans will play this escape room and judge it… as only the fan can. Alyssa Cole nailed this conflict. She also captured a fan’s excitement for a creative world.

Time Run faced these same hurdles in real life with Sherlock: The Game is Now. Creative Director Nick Moran alludes to this commitment to getting it right for fans in our interview from last summer, before the room opened. His talk at Up the Game in 2019 homed in on the challenges involved.

Gus was out of his element designing an escape room around IP he didn’t understand and couldn’t appreciate… until Reggie showed him what it meant to her, and convinced him of its value. As we see more escape rooms based in IP, this will be what sets the good ones apart.

➕/➖ Can’t Escape Love was a crossover that could appeal to both puzzle nerds and romance readers, and especially to anyone who already likes both. I’m thrilled to see escape rooms featured in different genres of culture. That said, Can’t Escape Love didn’t quite build the necessary bridge. As someone who doesn’t know and appreciate the format of a romance novel, the story felt contrived and, at times, downright preposterous. Someone who reads romance novels but doesn’t know or appreciate escape rooms will probably feel similarly, wondering why the characters care so much about that weird thing people do for fun that seems terrifyingly like Saw.

❓Romance novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, romance novels can do good things in the world, and even more so when they represent the vast array of humans who fall in loveCan’t Escape Love is this kind of romance novel. While its style may not satisfy everyone’s desires, it’s written with intent.

Can’t Escape Love is a novella in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Novellas typically give more depth to minor characters who show up in the longer novels in a series. This makes novellas awesome if you’ve already read the novels and wanted to see a minor character’s happy ending. This also makes novellas a little confusing and light on context as a place to start. I read Can’t Escape Love without having read any of the novels that give it context. Without this, the culminating conflict fell flat. I could relate to the conflict as a person who is close to her sister, but I wasn’t invested in the characters’ own drama and I didn’t really understand a good portion of it. In contrast, my sister had already read the book about the protagonist’s sister and knew exactly what the final conflict was about (and could also relate as a person who is close to her sister!).

Speaking of my sister, this is her first appearance on Room Escape Artist. We co-authored this review.

Tips For Reader

  • You will get more out of the story if you either already like the romance genre or want to give it a whirl.
  • You will get more out of the story if you’ve read the novels in the Reluctant Royals series. I found it a bit hard to get into. I think my lack of a previous connection to the characters had a lot to do with this.

Buy your copy of Can’t Escape Love, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(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.)

Skurrilum – Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death [Review]

“This is a lovely room of death.” – Ace Ventura

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €99 per group for teams of 3 to €156 per group for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death did tons of unique things. We hadn’t played a game set in a zoo. This setting, in combination with Skurrilum’s ghost-hunting staging, gave Zoo of Death an unusual jumping off point.

Zoo of Death had some amazing moments and interactions contained within its beautiful set. It also had a fantastic door puzzle. (It’s well documented how much we love a great door.)

In-game: Overhead shot of a cage in a rundown zoo at night.
Image via Skurrilum

There was plenty to love in this game, but does it live up to the hype of Wailing Woman or the 9th best escape room in the world? That’s more debatable.

One critical prop that could turn dangerous didn’t feel sturdy enough and the story lost its way in the last act by taking itself way too seriously and not paying off that intensity.

Zoo of Death was an incredibly strong escape room. Critiquing a game like this can get dicey because we’re talking about missed opportunities in the finer points of execution, which can sometimes look like condemnation of the entire experience. That’s not our intent.

Skurrilum built an impressive and unique game in Zoo of Death. If you’re in Hamburg, you ought to check it out. But once again, as with Wailing Woman, leave your hype in their lockers.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Memorable interactions
  • Story-driven gameplay

Story

Ghost-hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson had given us a second case! This time he’d sent us to investigate grim and scary events at a nearby zoo.

In-game: A sign reads, "Do not make eye contact with the gorilla."
Image via Skurrilum

Setting

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death opened as Wailing Woman did: in darkness, with a voiceover establishing the story and setting the stage.

Once the game began, we found ourselves on the grounds of a rundown zoo. It looked old, creepy, and forgotten.

In-game: A tire swing hanging in a sad, dark cage.
Image via Skurrilum

Gameplay

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a brain cooked up to some strange device.
Image via Skurrilum

Analysis

➕ Skurrilum built two games in the world of ghost-hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson. In this second game, we had a strong sense of Ernie as a character and his world. It’s a world with infinite possibilities. We were excited to be back in it, in an unusual escape room setting, solving another case.

➖ The opening sequence of Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death bottlenecked severely. There was no way for most teammates to participate at all.

➕ Skurrilum used space brilliantly in Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death. The changes were unexpected and tons of fun.

➖ While impressive, we questioned the safety of one large set piece, its corresponding action, and its sturdiness.

➕ The best puzzles asked us to solve real-world problems in the zoo setting. If we wanted something from one set piece, how could we logically get it? This was an incredibly satisfying sequence of linked solves.

In-game: A decaying rodent in a cage.
Image via Skurrilum

➕ There was a beast of a puzzle. It was fun.

➖ The gameflow was choppy.

❓ The choppiness of the gameflow was exacerbated by a bad reset and the gamemaster failing to intervene even though we were repeatedly saying how we thought the puzzle was supposed to work and that something seemed wrong. We spun in circles for a solid 10 minutes until we finally received confirmation from the gamemaster that something was amiss and the issue corrected.

➕ We love a good door mechanism. Skurrilum transformed a classic puzzle type into an amazing doorway.

➖ While the narration was fun, in this instance, it felt like the story was told rather than experienced. Wailing Woman did a better job on this front.

➖ While Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death took us on an adventure, we wanted more from the culminating interaction. Narratively, the conclusion disappointed us by steering straight into the obvious cliche. We thought that Skurrilum was going to do something more interesting with the ending. It felt like it built-up drama only to fizzle out at the end.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 14 years old
  • You must be able to climb stairs and crawl to play this game.

Book your hour with Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Skurrilum provided media discounted tickets for this game.

EscapeDiem – JigSaw [Review]

An unpretentious yet quality SAW-inspired experience

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 12, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 71 € per group for teams of 2 to 135 € per team for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a solid SAW-inspired escape game in a sea of generally mediocre SAW-themed games.

In-game: Jigsaw behind chickenwire.

JigSaw was intense with some scary moments, but never overwhelming. It was far more puzzley than we typically expect from a game playing with horror tropes. It did a great job of throttling back the fear when we really needed to think.

JigSaw wasn’t a gamechanger, but it did a good job casting us into a freaky and eerie murder room and making us fight through puzzles while overcoming our nerves. If you’re in Hamburg and this sounds like your kind of fun, then you should absolutely book EscapeDiem’s JigSaw.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • SAW fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Compelling SAW-inspired gameplay
  • Some creative puzzle design

Story

We’d woken up blindfolded in an old bathroom and under the supervision of a serial killer. We had to play his game… or he would skip to the end.

In-game: "I want to play a game" painted in blood on a white tiled wall.

Setting

JigSaw was exactly what we expected from a SAW-inspired game. It began in a rundown, tiled bathroom-like environment with heavy weathering and a foreboding feel.

The escape game moved on to other dark and intimidating settings, continuing a sense of fear that was occasionally stoked by the gamemaster.

This was all tied together by an in-character hint system that was especially well-performed by our gamemaster.

In-game: An iron clawed bathtub in a rundown bathroom.

Gameplay

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Numbers scrawled in blood all over a white wall.

Analysis

❓ EscapeDiem’s take on a serial killer game was standard. This played out exactly as we would have expected.

➕ EscapeDiem used space well. Jigsaw felt bigger than it was.

➕ There was a standout lighting effect in JigSaw.

❓ The set and puzzle design felt a bit messy. Although the gameplay worked, the look at feel of the space, props, and puzzles was unrefined. That said, this was justified by the theme and set up.

➕ The gamemastering was phenomenal. Our gamemaster justified her existence in our experience. This was well-acted over a walky-talky. This wasn’t her only role.

➕ The puzzles were varied and flowed well, shifting from search-heavy in an uncomfortable environment to more substantial and challenging puzzles.

➕ EscapeDiem did a fantastic job of tuning the fear level of the room to the complexity of the challenges.

➖ The gameplay arc didn’t quite conclude. Because of the choice of final puzzle, our playthrough (and energy level) fizzled rather than rushing to a dramatic conclusion.

❓ We’ve played a number of serial killer-themed escape rooms. This one made no attempt to hide its inspiration. It was conceptually unambitious, but well executed.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 16 years old
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

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

Disclosure: EscapeDiem comped our tickets for this game.

Call for REA Escape Room Directory Updates

Have new escape room companies opened in your area?

Have companies closed, moved, or changed their names in your area?

Local and traveling escape room players want to know!

Updates Wanted

Please take a look at our escape room directory and send us any updates.

We will make your updates as quickly as possible so that they will be part of our 2019 report on the industry, to be published in August.

Stylized photo of a map of the north eastern quarter of the United States

New Directory Infrastructure Coming Soon

We know that we have long outgrown the Google Sheet / Google Map format that made sense when this directory launched in 2014. Stay tuned for a new interface, coming soon!

YouEscape – Demo [Reaction]

It’s like Facetime but with puzzles.

Location:  the Internet

Date Played: April 14, 2019

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

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $0 per player

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

YouEscape created a free demo to help entice more puzzlers to play their Google Hangouts-based escape games.

It was quick, but emblematic of what YouEscape was all about. If you’re curious about YouEscape, read a review of one of their full games, Elements.

In-game: A hand reaching in and hitting play on a radio.

YouEscape has waded into some interesting waters where they’re creating unusual puzzle games designed for play in-browser.

This style of game is best for people who would love to play escape rooms together, but cannot because they live too far away from one another.

I’d like to see YouEscape continue to push the boundaries of what they’re producing, as I think that there is a lot of untapped potential in this format.

If clever puzzles made from unusual inputs are one of the bigger draws of escape rooms for you, then you should give YouEscape’s Demo a try. It might not be a mind-blowing experience, but I really get a kick out of playing an escape room with friends in London from the comfort of my dining room and pajamas.

Post-game screenshot of all of the boxes opened, a sign reads "REA Escaped April 2019"

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Geographically dispersed friends
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • You can puzzle with friends from afar
  • It’s affordable
  • YouEscape does some clever stuff

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.

Contact YouEscape to book your session, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Big Break Hamburg – Insomnia [Review]

High stakes therapy

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 10, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 75 € per Group for teams of 2 to 144 € per Group for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Big Break Hamburg had us drift off into a dream world for Insomnia. Conceptually dreams are one of our favorite escape room settings because they allow the designers to justify a lot more than a setting in normal reality… and Big Break Hamburg took advantage of this freedom.

Insomnia had a number of otherworldly sights and moments that really stuck with us.

While there were a few interactions that could have used a little more grounding or better cluing, this was a great game. If you’re in Hamburg, you should confront Insomnia.

In-game: a red heart beating in a sea of blood.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Dreamers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A fantastic concept
  • Some great moments

Story

I’d been suffering from insomnia and it was becoming maddening. One sleepless night, I had found an article about an experimental cure for insomnia.

The strange treatment required gathering my friends and having their consciousness enter my dreams so that we could conquer my inner demons.

This procedure came with a catch… if the group successfully defeated my inner demons, I would be cured. If we failed… all of our minds would be lost in my dream.

In-game: A glowing rotary phone ad the foot of a bed.

Setting

Insomnia was set inside of an eerie (not scary) dream world. Centered around a strange tree growing in a bedroom, the dream justified the presence of just about any imaginable object and Big Break Hamburg took advantage of the opportunity.

In-game: a large tree growing out of the wall with a strange hole in it.

Gameplay

Big Break Hamburg’s Insomnia was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ We entered Insomnia just as one usually enters a dream world. This was an amusing and enjoyable opening.

➕ The dream world scenario afforded Big Break Hamburg the luxury of randomness. It can be challenging to pull together unconnected objects into a cohesive puzzle experience. For the most part, they pulled it off. Because of it, we got the opportunity to engage with a shocking prop or two.

➖ Since anything was possible in a dream, we couldn’t necessarily intuit cause and effect. Sound or light clues would help players follow the dream world connections.

➖ Big Break Hamburg introduced a concept that flipped our assumptions. It was nifty, but not entirely consistent, which became confusing.

➖ A few of the puzzles didn’t flow quite smoothly enough, including some momentum-killing search puzzles. A bit of additional gating could add more energy to the escape.

Insomnia included some of our all-time favorite light switches. Through these, the game blossomed and then hit full swing.

➕ Big Break Hamburg hid Easter eggs in the escape room. Ask about these at the end of your playthrough!

➕ There were a number of memorable moments that really stuck with us. This game was weird in a great way.

Tips For Visiting

  • At least one person needs to crawl.

Book your hour with Big Break Hamburg’s Insomnia, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Big Break Hamburg comped our tickets for this game.

Hidden in Hamburg – Neptune’s Curse [Review]

God of the Sea

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 30€ per player (minimum ticket purchase of 5)

Ticketing: Public Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Neptune’s Curse was the kind of escape room that really highlights what’s fantastic about this whole form of entertainment.

Hidden in Hamburg packed great, tangible puzzles into an incredible, authentic space. Built inside of a ship, this game had a setting that couldn’t be duplicated. It was really cool.

If you’re anywhere near Hamburg and value puzzle quality just as much as the adventure and setting, Neptune’s Curse is a must-play.

In-game: a narrow wooden stairwell the shadow of a trident
Image via Hidden in Hamburg.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Incredible use of space
  • An authentic set
  • Fantastic puzzle play

Story

We boarded the Rickmer Rickmers, a retired ship-turned-museum. As we toured the vessel, we entered the captain’s quarters. There, the angry voice of Neptune, god of the sea, demanded that we return his trident, stolen by the long-dead captain of the ship… or suffer the wrath of a god.

In-game: A wooden ship's comaptment with unusual crates and storage containers built into the walls.
Image via Hidden in Hamburg.

Setting

Hidden in Hamburg was built within the Rickmer Rickmers, an actual ship docked in the Elbe River. Once aboard, we made our way to the actual crew’s quarters. That’s where our adventure began.

The set of Neptune’s Curse was as authentic as it could get. Initially, it seemed quite bland. We were within a fairly cramped ship’s quarters. As the game progressed, however, we began to see how Hidden in Hamburg used the idiosyncrasies of the old ship to present a one-of-a-kind experience.

The front of the docked tall ship, the RICK RICKMERS.

Gameplay

Hidden in Hamburg’s Neptune’s Curse was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

The bow of the RICK RICKMERS.

Analysis

Neptune’s Curse was set aboard the ship Rickmer Rickmers. The ship was a phenomenal escape room setting. The gameplay made use of the space. It was a fun place to move through, and move we did. This added to our sense of adventure in Neptune’s Curse.

➕ Hidden in Hamburg fit a lot of puzzle content into these ship compartments. The puzzles flowed well, making use of the space and often requiring teamwork.

➖/➕ We encountered one instance where Neptune’s Curse lacked necessary gating. We spent too long reaching for one puzzle before it became available. (We loved this puzzle once we were able to properly access it.)

The mast of the RICK RICKMERS.

Neptune’s Curse ramped up the difficulty slowly. The first scene was relatively tame, in both setting and puzzles, giving players a change to find their sea legs before diving into the deep end. The puzzles became substantially more challenging – and the gamespace more challenging to navigate – in subsequent scenes, before tapering off to allow a high-momentum, triumphant conclusion.

➖ With the setting aboard the Rickmer Rickmers, there was opportunity for additional world-building. With a few more details in staging, setup, and storytelling, we would have felt more a part of the world of Neptune’s Curse.

➖ The story lacked an emotional connection. We didn’t feel invested in the characters or their plight.

❓ While the puzzles in Neptune’s Curse were thematic, they didn’t impact the story. Rather than a narrative-driven experience, Hidden in Hamburg built puzzle-driven, adventure-forward gameplay into this vessel.

➕ Neptune’s Curse delivered many theatrical moments. Hidden in Hamburg directed our attention before triggering reveals. While the direction was heavy-handed at times, it enabled everyone to experience the these cinematic, memorable moments together.

A beautiful long wooden table in the middle of the crew's quarters.
Hidden in Hamburg’s lobby.

Tips For Visiting

  • Players must be able to maneuver through tight spaces, down stairs, and over uneven surfaces. This room might not be right for players with balance issues, vertigo, or claustrophobia.
  • Minimum age to play is 12, anyone under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • This game is located on board a ship called Rickmer Rickmers. Note that their other games are located on board a different ship called Cap San Diego.

Book your hour with Hidden in Hamburg’s Neptune’s Curse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Sleuth Kings – Case 020: Blood P.I. [Review]

Bloody actors

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 26, 2019

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

Duration: 1-3 hours

Price: $29.95 per month ($83.85 for 3 months, $159.60 for 6 months)

REA Reaction

Sleuth Kings has come a long way since we played Case 001: The Guilty a year and a half ago.

19 cases later, it’s still a fun and solid puzzle game. The gameplay flowed well and the solves were satisfying.

Sleuth Kings has cleaned up the response time issues and minimized the emailing by adding an alternative hint system.

In-game: a Sleuth Kings file folder filled with clues.

Sleuth Kings’ cases are more challenging than escape rooms, but still quite approachable. If you’re looking to expand your puzzle solving skills outside of escape rooms, this is a good choice. Its consistent puzzle content delivered to you in a well-organized format with as much hand-holding as you want. For more experienced puzzlers, it won’t offer anything novel, but it will give you a monthly puzzle fix.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Players who want a monthly subscription

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Interactive gameplay
  • There’s a new one every month!

Story

In Case 020: Blood P.I., we had to identify who’d been stalking Rosalyn Neal, the actress who played Rebecca Blood, the lead character in a popular vampire detective show. She’d just been shot, and while she would recover, we were under the impression that this stalker was behind the incident.

The illustrated game box, a charcoal image of a woman in a detective's office.

SETUP

Sleuth Kings sent a slick cardboard box containing a case file with various printed materials. These included an investigation report and various clues to the case. Everything was clearly labeled for orderly solving.

We emailed Detective Sullivan King to begin our investigation.

In-game: Sleuth Kings Case 020 envelope.

Gameplay

Sleuth Kings’ Case 020: Blood P.I. was a play-at-home detective game with a moderate level of difficulty.

The puzzles were more challenging than typical escape room puzzles, but quite approachable. They were substantially easier than you’d find in a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, decoding, puzzling, and emailing the detective.

In-game: An assortment of photos of eyes, one natural blue, one an unnatural red.

Analysis

➕ Case 020: Blood P.I. delivered varied and interesting puzzles. Some resolved with aha moments. Others took a bit more process to complete. Overall, it was a satisfying collection of solves.

➖ Although the puzzles were solid, they weren’t revolutionary or particularly memorable.

➕ The story made sense. It was a bit hokey, ridiculous even, but I don’t think it needed to be believable. The gameplay worked within the story.

➖ There was a lot of reading involved in solving this case. The story was told through text rather than through the puzzles themselves. Additionally, in a couple of instances, the font choice was a tad arduous.

➕/➖ Case 020: Blood P.I. contained generally high quality printed materials. That said, it still felt a bit homemade, some pieces more than others.

➕ The mailing was well organized and clearly labeled. It was easy to get started. While there were a lot of materials, they never felt overwhelming. The gameplay flowed smoothly.

➕ There was a nuanced hint system. A Clue Analysis was included with the Investigation Report in the mailing. Players who need a nudge can take a peek. The detective’s assistant, Celest, had a website where we could find additional hints. We could always email the detective. He replied pretty quickly, but if there was lag time, we had this other tool at our disposal.

❓ Although I liked the organization, and always knowing where to focus my attention, this may come across as too much hand-holding for some, especially when coupled with some of the additional hint-y materials available in the package.

➕ While there was still lag time in the detective’s responses, it was no longer momentum-killing, as it was when we first played. Sleuth Kings has minimized the emailing; we had a quarter as many email threads this time around. In this playthrough, the emails made the game more interactive, in a positive way.

➕ Sleuth Kings has managed to churn out one case a month. Although we haven’t played the others, we hear the puzzle quality is consistent and the meta mystery through the series is interesting.

Tips For Player

  • Required Gear: You need an internet-connected device (we recommend a computer), and pen and paper for taking notes.

Subscribe to Sleuth Kings, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Darren and Melissa for sharing their copy of this game with us.

Note that your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game. Case 020: Blood P.I. as other past cases can be purchased here.

Kamer 237 [Review]

A lot of play and some work

Location:  Volkel, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: € 118 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

“Kamer” being Dutch for “room,” Kamer 237 was a love letter to both Stephen King’s and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

This The Shining homage was a marriage of traditional escape room puzzles with strong ambiance and clever effects.

In-game: The front desk, with uniformed staff handing us the key to room 237.

At its best, Kamer 237 warped our perspective on how an escape room ought to work. In its weaker moments, it felt like an old-school escape room with disconnected puzzles.

All in all, this was an strong escape game. We’re thrilled to have played it. It had exciting and memorable moments. It wasn’t an earth-moving game, but it was quite moving in the moment.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A great introduction
  • A few brilliant interactions and moments
  • Strong puzzle play

Story

Inspired by The Shining, in Kamer 237 Charles Grady, his wife, and his daughters had checked into a hotel while he worked to finish his novel. As Grady became more enthralled with his work, he lost his connection to reality… and then he disappeared.

In-game: An elevator door viewed from the front desk.

Setting

The facility hosting Kamer 237 was structured as a hotel. The lobby was the hotel bar and our gamemaster was the costumed front desk attendant. The next game existed in a different hotel room.

The game took place on one floor of the hotel. We explored the hallway and multiple rooms, each reflecting the characters that inhabited them. Kamer 237 found an interesting way to manifest the distortion of Grady’s reality.

In-game: Close up the the hotel's key storage. The key for room 237 clearly the focus of the image.

Gameplay

Kamer 237 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The hotel world was charming. From the lobby, to the gamemaster, to the rooms themselves, it was a complete world.

➕ Although a hotel wasn’t the most inventive of sets, this one looked great. The build was polished. Additional details beyond the rooms themselves elevated the experience.

➖ Although the environment was well themed, some of the puzzles felt arbitrary and disconnected from the game world. There were moments where Kamer 237 turned into an old-school puzzles-for-puzzles’-sake escape room.

➕ There was one truly unforgettable moment in this escape room. When you activate it, you will know what we mean.

➖ We encountered a journal that was sort of a runbook because it added some cluing, but added more red herrings than anything else.

➖ While we enjoyed many of the puzzles, in some instances Kamer 237 could have provided tighter cluing.

Kamer 237 provided a good tool for solving the most challenging, layered puzzle in the experience.

➖ A lockout safe was especially annoying given its position in the experience and the type of coordination needed to derive a solution for it.

Kamer 237 was personalized in a small way that enhanced the creepiness of the experience.

❓ This escape room presented some seriously challenging puzzles, and at times lengthy solves. It was also a creepy game that may be scary for some, which makes it an especially challenging solving environment. Your success with these puzzles and enjoyment of this experience will likely vary based on individual preferences.

➕ We played Kamer 237 with the biggest King fan that we know… and she felt that this was a very strong homage.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking.
  • Minimum age of 18; minimum are of 14 with adults
  • Available in Dutch or English
  • At least one person will have to climb.

Book your hour with Kamer 237, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Kamer 237 comped our tickets for this game.

San Antonio, Texas: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: June 19, 2019

TransWorld’s Escape Room Conference is coming to San Antonio this August.

If you’re going, we’re delivering a free State of the Industry talk and David will be on the Safety Panel.

For conference attendees and other travelers, here are our escape room recommendations near San Antonio, Texas.

Stylized image of The Alamo at night.

Market Standouts

Extreme Escape is the company to visit in San Antonio. We haven’t played all of their rooms yet, but we really enjoyed the two we did play. We’re looking forward to checking out some of their other games in August.

  1. The Cursed, Extreme Escape
  2. Master of Illusions, Extreme Escape

Set & Scenery Driven

Puzzle Centric

Tech Heavy

Traditional

Big Group Games

Nearby Austin has a vibrant escape room scene, and we highly recommend visiting if you’re in the region. These cities are only an hour apart.

You are always welcome to contact us if this recommendation list doesn’t answer your specific questions.