Announcing Escape Immerse Explore: The Hayden Farm 2020

We are excited to officially announce our 2nd tour for 2020!

For Room Escape Artist’s 5th escape room tour, we’re doing something a little different – a small scale, 1-day event in our home market of NY/ NJ to visit one of our favorite companies… that happens to be a challenge to get to.

Escape Immerse Explore: The Hayden Farm 2020

13th Hour Escape Rooms has become northern New Jersey’s most consistently high-quality escape room company. They are a two-time Golden Lock Award winner (2017 & 2018).

Their escape rooms are all set in the whimsically murderous Hayden Family farm. The facility itself is fully themed against this backdrop. They build challenging, puzzley games in their grimly beautiful environment.

The Haydens are kind of horror, kind of funny, and very charming. We liken 13th Hour’s games to Tim Burton’s work (but with a lot less red, black, and white… and no Johnny Depp).

Date

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Location

13th Hour Escape Rooms, Wharton, New Jersey

Featured Games

You will get to play 4 of the following 5 games:

Buy Now

Early Bird – $349 – Available until Friday, January 31, 2020 at midnight EST (while supplies last; Montreal sold out quickly)

Regular – $399

No matter when you buy your ticket, you will play in teams of 4-6 players.

Buy your ticket this month for the early bird price!

Additional Information

13th Hour Escape Rooms is consistently a favorite among locals and visitors who can make the journey to Wharton, New Jersey.

We love their stuff… and we know a lot of folks in NYC (locals & visitors) can’t figure out how to make a trip to 13th Hour logistically viable. We figured we’d solve this problem by throwing a bus at it.

We will run a bus from a location in Manhattan to 13th Hour Escape Rooms. The bus will pick you up in the morning and drop you off at the end of the day.

During this 1-day tour, you’ll play 4 escape rooms, eat a meal, listen to a talk, and hang out with other escape room enthusiasts.

Learn More

We have written up the details of the tour and answered all manner of questions that are on your mind… and some that aren’t.

Learn more about Escape Immerse Explore: The Hayden Farm 2020.

If the link above doesn’t answer all your questions, please contact us.

SOLD OUT – Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2020… and News!

Sold Out

Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2020 is SOLD OUT.

This is our Grand Tour for 2020 and it’s our biggest tour yet with 57 explorers journeying to Montreal.

If you are interested in attending, please contact us to be added to the waitlist. We have an amazing group of people joining us.

Escape Immerse Explore logo in red and white, abstractly mimicking the Canadian flag.

Coming Soon

We will soon announce a second Escape Immerse Explore tour for 2020.

This will be a smaller scale tour, taking place in the United States.

Watch this website for details… coming very soon!

How to Tune in to the 2019 Golden Lock Award Livestream

We invite you to tune in for the 5th Annual Golden Lock Award Livestream on January 4, 2020.

Livestream Link

Golden Lock Livestream

Stylized image of a stream running through a canyon.

Key Details

• Date: Saturday, January 4
• Time: 8pm Eastern
 Duration: Less than 30 minutes

Join the Fun

We’ll have a live audience at this event… and we’ll all be dressed up all gold and spiffy.

And you can join in on the livestream fun in the comments. We’ll have someone following them.

Escape Room Safety Report 2019

Escape rooms are a broadly safe activity.

In every escape room we played in 2019, we could have freed ourselves from the game in the event of an emergency, except for in 1 game, for only the first 5 minutes.

There is a small minority of companies that makes bad decisions. Thankfully, the owner community has generally recognized the need for safety and adhered to fire code and common sense.

A green exit sign with a person approaching a door.

Background

On January 13, 2019, we published a Basic Safety Evaluation for our escape room reviews.

We wrote, “the most important aspect of escape room safety is that players have the ability to free themselves in the event of an emergency.” That was the premise around which we established our safety rubric.

In that piece, we wrote “during 2019, we will maintain a dataset of basic escape room safety in the games that we play. We will issue a report at the end of the year.”

As we conclude 2019 today, here is the 2019 Basic Safety Report.

Data-Driven Analysis

This is a non-scientific study without random sampling. The dataset represents the games that we played in 2019.

We assigned a safety rating to 161 escape rooms that we played in 2019.*

This safety rating had two parts: Emergency Exit & Physical Restraints.

Emergency Exits

Room Escape Artist Emergency Exit Rating Scale:

We used this scale to evaluate every game we reviewed in 2019. The included percentages correlate to how often we gave a particular rating in 2019.

  • [A+] No Lock – 79.5% – Players are never locked in at all.
  • [A] Push To Exit – 16.77% – Players are magnetically locked in and may free themselves with the push of a button near the door.
  • [B] Emergency Key – 3.73% – Players may free themselves using a spare key hung near a locked exit door.
  • [F] No Emergency Exit – 0% – Players are trapped within the game and cannot exit unless they win or the door is opened by a gamemaster

In 100% of the escape rooms we played, we could leave the room through an emergency exit at any time.

96% of games met the industry standard of an unlocked exit or a push to exit button (A+ or A rating).

The remaining 6 games had emergency keys available to players next to the exit door.

Physical Restraints

Room Escape Artist Physical Restraints Rating Scale: 

We used this scale to evaluate every game we reviewed in 2019. The included percentages correlate to how often we gave a particular rating in 2019.

  • [A+] No Physical Restraints – 97.52% – Players are never physically restrained.
  • [A] Push To Release – 0.62% – Players are magnetically restrained and may free themselves with the push of a button within reach of their restraints.
  • [B] Mechanical Release – 1.24% – Players may free themselves using a mechanical release (like a safety switch on handcuffs).
  • [F] No Emergency Release – 0.62% – Players are restrained with no way to release the restraint other than winning the release or gamemaster intervention.

Physical restraints have become passé. Less than 3% of the games we played in 2019 had physical restraints of any kind. We explored the trajectory of this trend globally back in 2017: Escape Room Kink: Q&A On Physical Restraints.

Of the 4 games we played with physical restraints, only 1 game did not provide us a means to release ourselves.

Of note, while this one game absolutely failed, I will add that releasing ourselves from the handcuffs was the first puzzle. We spent mere minutes in handcuffs and as soon as we were out of the handcuffs, the exit door was unlocked. Nevertheless, we still believe that this is intolerable for an escape room in 2019.

Stylized image of handcuffs.

Data Breakdown

Safety RatingCount of Emergency ExitPercent of Emergency ExitCount of Physical RestraintsPercent of Physical Restraints
A+12879.50%15797.52%
A2716.77%10.62%
B63.73%21.24%
F00.00%10.62%
Total161100.00%161100.00%

*Some of the games we played in 2019 were situated such that they didn’t warrant a typical safety rating.

Data Bias

While this is a substantial dataset, it isn’t all-encompassing. We played a lot of escape rooms in 2019, but we didn’t play every escape room. (In fact, in some past years, we’ve played significantly more.) As noted above, this is a non-scientific study without random sampling.

This data is biased by where we played. We played mostly in the United States. During 2019, we played in 14 states, playing the most games in Colorado and Texas. We played in 4 other countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands.

When we travel, we put an emphasis on playing amazing and unusual games. We play escape rooms that are recommended by the community of escape room players. These tend to be escape games that are crafted with thought and care, which encompasses not only the gameplay and aesthetic, but also other aspects of design including safety.

A red sign reads "Exit" glowing in the darkness.

Conclusion

The overwhelming majority of escape rooms are safe for players. In all of 2019, with the exception of a few minutes at the start of one game, we were always able to free ourselves.

Anecdotally, I can add that in most games, we noticed emergency exit signage within the games, and before the game began we were briefed on how to exit the game in the event of an emergency.

We spent a lot of time in escape rooms and we always felt safe.

Announcing: Regional Escape Room Recommendations Guides

You may have noticed that the Regional Escape Room Recommendations Guides page appeared in our navigation, unannounced, back in October.

This is a new dropdown under “Find a Room” in the main navigation.

We’ve been writing these recommendations for a while, but now they are all collected in one place so that you can easily find them.

Stylized image of a hand holding a compass.

The Structure of Recommendations Guides

Room Escape Artist recommendations guides are divided into sections so that you can find a room that fits your needs. Common categorizations that you’ll find across many of the guides include:

  • Set & Scenery-Driven
  • Puzzle-centric
  • Tech-heavy
  • Newbie-friendly
  • Big Group Games
  • Spooky & Scary
  • Games with Actors

You’ll frequently find games listed under multiple categorizations.

The guides also include a “Market Standouts” section at the top. The games in this section could stand out because they are doing one thing spectacularly or because they are doing a lot of things well. They could be unusual creations or typical escape rooms executed really cleanly. Find them again in the categories to learn a bit more about each standout escape room.

Creating & Updating the Recommendations Guides

When we travel to a new region or city, we try to cover a wide range of games. We aim to visit multiple companies, trying at least one game at each. This helps us understand what the region has to offer and review in context.

We won’t pretend that these guides are comprehensive recommendations lists for each city or region. Due to time and travel constraints, we sometimes don’t get to all the games we would have liked to visit in a region.

Each recommendation guide is labeled with the date we last updated it. It sometimes takes us a few years to return to a city. If you’re looking at an older guide, it’s likely that new companies and new games have opened since we visited and they may not be listed. Refer to our escape room directory to see all the options in a given region.

Add Your Comments

If you visit a city and play something outstanding, please comment on these recommendations guides to let folks know about additional companies and games in a city or region. We encourage you to note a category in your comment, for example that a game is “puzzle-centric.”

Your comments will help traveling players, including us, next time we return to the city or region.

Coming Soon

You’ll see on the Regional Escape Room Recommendations Guides page that there are additional guides coming soon. We’re aiming to publish these and update others in the first part of 2020. Stay tuned.

Other Recommendations Lists

Golden Lock Winners

For additional escape room recommendations, check out past Golden Lock Award winners. This is the Room Escape Artist award for our favorite games we played in a given calendar year.

Tune in for the livestream of the 2019 Golden Lock Award winners on January 4, 2020.

TERPECA Winners

You can also refer to the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award (TERPECA), an attempt to find the best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the rankings of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world.

As we’ve said before, we recommend referring to the top 200 (or so) games on the TERPECA list as a collection of recommendations and ascribing less value to the specific ordinal rankings. There are tons of amazing games to play and many of them are on that list.

Keep Helping Us Find Great Games

Everyone needs help finding great games, even us. We can’t play them all and we’d rather shine a light on the fantastic escape rooms then wave the flag about the mediocre ones.

If you know of something truly amazing and worthy, we always love hearing about it. We keep detailed lists of the games that readers recommend. These are always at the top of our play-list if we end up near them.

Outside the Box – Darklight Disco Fight [Review]

Puzzle Dome

Location:  Webster, MA

Date Played: November 10, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6 (played as 3 vs 3) or 8 (played as 4 vs 4)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

At its core, Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive puzzle battle.

Outside the Box’s game design was deeper and far more nuanced than any other competitive escape game we’ve encountered to date. There were multiple ways to interact with and sabotage the opposition, and a great many opportunities for a team to approach the game strategically instead of just solving puzzles faster than the other folks.

This was a super fun, hilarious, high-energy game.

In-game: a flourscent glowing square with a dice and a big question mark besdie it.

The tragedy of Darklight Disco Fight, however, was that we had to play it to truly understand how to play it well, or with any type of strategy. Now that we’ve solved the puzzles, we can’t play it again the way we would have wanted to play it.

Outside the Box did so many smart things in this low-budget production. The struggle with producing something novel and new like Darklight Disco Fight is that it’s essentially a public beta for all manner of new concepts. Some work; some don’t. In this case, a lot of them could benefit from refinement.

I absolutely recommend Darklight Disco Fight to a group of evenly matched puzzlers who are in the area. To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The massive volume of puzzles
  • Competitive play
  • Opportunity to interact with and affect your opponents

Story

Two teams entered a head-to-head puzzle battle at the blacklight disco.

In-game: wide shot of Darklight Disco. There are an assortment of costumes hanging from the wall, and a glowing square on the floor.

Setting

The Darklight Disco Fight set was split into two identical and mirrored spaces. Each team entered their own space to compete against the team on the other side of the wall.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Darklight Disco Fight had a bare-bones, old-school escape room look. The focus was on the gameplay. The room was basically filled with puzzle components and locked compartments, all bathed in blacklight.

The gamemaster was a key part of the world as we regularly had to show solutions on camera or announce them audibly to earn points. This interaction added to the experience as our gamemaster brought a lot of personality to Darklight Disco Fight.

In-game: closeup of puzzle solution compartment, each is numbered and has a lock hanging from it.

Gameplay

Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving quickly. It was also imperative to understand the structure of the game and helpful to strategize an approach. Pay close attention to the rules video and ask questions.

In-game: closeup of a fishtank with a yellow submarine inside of it.

Analysis

➕ Darklight Disco Fight had an infectious energy. It was dark, but fluorescent, with an energetic soundtrack. It pitted us against our friends in competitive play. This upped the stakes and our exuberance.

➕ Our gamemaster added great energy. He interacted with us, verifying our solves, calling out when we triggered new challenges, and DJ-ing the game.

Darklight Disco Fight didn’t look like much. It was all about the puzzles. However, it had a gameshow aesthetic and it didn’t need anything else.

➕ Darklight Disco Fight was jam-packed with puzzles. These varied enormously in type of challenge and difficulty of solve. The puzzles also varied as to how they affected the gameplay, which added a level of complexity. There was something for everyone and every goal.

❓ The puzzles required more outside knowledge than typical escape room puzzles. We had to solve serious math equations, among other things. This worked fine because no team needed to – or would have time to – solve all the puzzles within the 60-minute game clock. If we didn’t know a reference, or couldn’t remember an operation, we could just skip the puzzle. This might irk some players, however, because it is different from typical escape room gameplay.

In-game: A strange puzzle that seems to take inspiration from Super Mario Brothers.

➕ We were equipped with the tools we needed to solve, including cipher charts and whiteboards.

➖ Outside the Box introduced Darklight Disco Fight with a video. This did not adequately explain the unorthodox gameplay. It covered too much information too quickly. While our gamemaster did give us a chance to ask questions at the conclusion of the video, we didn’t understand well enough to know what we were confused about. We had to figure out how to play as we played.

➕/➖ There could be tons of strategic approaches to this game. As an unusual set up with lots of variables, there could have been plenty of ways to approach gameplay. Unfortunately, our playthrough felt like a free-for-all due to our lack of strategic understanding. This neutered a lot of the depth that Outside the Box built into the game.

 Darklight Disco Fight lacked a clear way to keep track of puzzle progress across both teams. Although we had a scoreboard, it was limited. A bigger, more detailed board could have conveyed the action and taken over some of the organization that was put on the teams.

➖ The game structure enabled the teams to interact – to steal away puzzle components, rendering puzzles impossible for the other team, or to create other forms of sabotage. Not all of these were created equal. We could also trigger something we didn’t want to have happen.

Darklight Disco Fight was a canvas for our own fun. Solving puzzles was gratifying… so was heckling, sabotaging, and otherwise enjoying competitive gameplay with friends.

➖/❓/➕ Darklight Disco Fight needed better onboarding before we entered the gamespace. We spent the first few minutes explaining to each other how to play. There were plenty of key nuances that far too many people missed, but would have made play smoother. At the end, we all wished we could play again with a strategy. But unfortunately, as it was an escape room, we’d already solved far too many of the puzzles for it to be replayable. In its current form, Darklight Disco Fight is trapped in a Catch-22 where players need to play once to learn how to play well, but after playing once, can’t ever play again.

We hope Outside the Box will consider making a “B” version with new puzzles. There is a ton of replayability within this structure, and with new puzzles, we expect many teams would return with a competitive strategy. We certainly would!

Tips For Visiting

  • The entrance is behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot behind the building and street parking out front.
  • We highly recommend you play this one with friends where everyone feels comfortable together and wants to compete in a high energy puzzle showdown.

Book your hour with Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Analysis – 2019 Top Escape Rooms Project – Enthusiasts’ Choice Award

Congratulations to the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award (TERPECA) 2019 winners!

TERPECA’s stated goal is an attempt to find the very best escape rooms in the world.

This is not the same silliness as some of the ad-supported or attempted SEO-boosting click-fests. It is not the utter stupidity that is averaging Yelp or TripAdvisor or Google reviews. This is not a pay-for-placement publication. This is not an aggregator with only a handful of users.

We believe that the project succeeded in generating an immensely useful list of outstanding escape rooms. The winning rooms deserve this recognition.

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2019 logo.

At Room Escape Artist, we’re viewing this list as a collection. We hope that traveling escape room players won’t take the ordinal numbers as the gospel.

We’ll expand on these thoughts a bit more in this, our TERPECA Editorial Perspective.

2019 Award Winners

In its second year, the Top Escape Rooms Project expanded in many ways: recruiting more players, involving more countries, and updating the infrastructure to facilitate this.

The most noticeable change from 2018, however, might be the number of winners. The top 50 escape rooms are the 2019 TERPECA winners. We’ve reviewed 19 of the 50 winners; we believe they are all truly deserving.

In-game: The entry way for The Dome opened, a sign reads, "Butterfly Safe Zone.".
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Rooms

Here are the Top 10:

  1. The Dome – Escape Room Nederland (Bunschoten, Netherlands)
  2. Paradox Project 2: The Bookstore [Paradox Project 2: To Βιβλιοπωλείο] – Paradox Project (Athens, Greece)
  3. The Man from Beyond – Strange Bird Immersive (Houston, TX, USA)
  4. Cutthroat Cavern – 13th Gate Escape (Baton Rouge, LA, USA)
  5. The Edison Escape Room – Palace Games (San Francisco, CA, USA)
  6. Tomb Hunter: Akasha’s Legend [Tomb Hunter: La leyenda de Akasha] – Escape Barcelona (Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Spain)
  7. Chapter 3: The Morgue – Evil Genius Escape Rooms (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
  8. Abduction 3: The Exam – Abduction (Badalona, Spain)
  9. The Lost Treasure of Alexander von Humboldt – The Room (Berlin, Germany)
  10. El Exorcista – No Exit (Athens, Greece)
In-game: lisa, chris, and drew inside of a shark.
Escape My Room

Here are the REA reviews for games we’ve played that ranked 11-50:

*This review is coming soon. Join us at RECON 2020, our escape room convention taking place in Boston in August, and play this game as part of your trip!

For the full list of winners and finalists, visit the TERPECA website.

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.
Image via The Last Defender

Companies

As another change for 2019, the company winners were derived from the escape room votes. The voters did not vote directly for the companies. Companies that created multiple high-ranking escape rooms rose to the top. Because math.

From our vantage point, this worked well.

The top 20 companies are the 2019 TERPECA winners, again, an expansion from last year.

Here are the Top 10:

  1. The Room (Berlin, Germany)
  2. 13th Gate Escape (Baton Rouge, LA, USA)
  3. Escape Barcelona (Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Spain)
  4. Skurrilum (Hamburg, Germany)
  5. Mad Mansion (Spain)
  6. Palace Games (San Francisco, CA, USA)
  7. Unreal Room Escape (Spain)
  8. Wyjście Awaryjne (Poland)
  9. Paradox Project (Athens, Greece)
  10. Locurio (Seattle, WA, USA)

Here are the REA Reviews for Companies we’ve visited that Ranked 11-20:

For the full list of winners and finalists, visit the TERPECA website.

In-game: an old dusty organ in a study, the walls are adorned with trophy skulls and taxidermy birds.
Image via Skurrilum

Hype

Our Story

When last year’s TERPECA winners were announced, we had played 8 of the top 10 escape rooms, but we hadn’t played #1 (and 10, both from the same company).

This year we took a trip to Hamburg, Germany specifically to play “the 2018 best escape game in the world.” We bought the hype of #1.

On that trip, we played a stellar game. As we wrote in our review, Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman “was a fantastic escape room filled with many dramatic and unusual moments.”

In the year leading up to that trip, however, we’d seen some of these concepts executed better. As much as we tried to check our hype, we’d set our expectations way too high. The game couldn’t live up to its ordinal ranking.

A Word of Advice

Whether you’re planning a trip to The Dome, Paradox Project 2: The Bookstore, or The Man From Beyond, we recommend approaching the game as a truly fantastic escape room, highly recommended by many escape room enthusiasts, rather than as 1 of the top 3 escape rooms in the world.

We’re going to play Paradox Project 2: The Bookstore in 2020. We had a trip to Athens in the works before the award winners were published. We’re beyond excited to play this game. We’re also excited to play the other games in Athens that won awards and ranked in the Top Escape Room Project. We trust that they will all be outstanding escape rooms in their own ways.

Image via Strange Bird Immersive

By the Numbers

I like to dive into data projects, but TERPECA creator Rich Bragg has done an amazing job with that already, looking into every potential data issue, as well slicing, dicing, and delivering stats. Here are some stats he collected:

  • 105 nominators (people who played 200+ rooms) from 15 countries
  • 1,445 individual nominations
  • 507 eligible rooms nominated from 31 countries
  • 11 new countries with at least one nomination: Brazil, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan
  • 229 finalist rooms from 22 countries
  • 370 voters (people who played 50+ rooms) from 23 countries (over five times the number from last year!)
  • 82,865 rooms played combined from all participants
  • 10 countries with their first ever TERPECA winners: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Israel, Poland, Switzerland

About the Project

The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the rankings of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world. To learn more, read our call for nominators and voters and livestream announcement, and, of course, the Top Escape Rooms Project website.

What Do You Think of the List?

We think this is a fantastic list. We’re confident that all of the TERPECA winners (top 50) are worth playing. We know the ones we’ve played are absolutely worth a visit.

In fact, as we read through the list, we’re confident that you can find outstanding escape room recommendations past #200.

(There were a few rooms on the nominations list that baffled us as to why they were there, but these did not rise to the top, so other voters were probably confused too.)

The Top Escape Rooms Project delivered a valuable collection of games that are well worth playing.

In-game: Close up shot of a control computer.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Are you Surprised by the Order?

The value is the collection of escape games. The precise ordering has far less value. This is an aggregation of subjective thoughts.

It’s fine if you prefer Tomb of Anubis (50) over The Observatory (41). The Observatory is one of the best humble games we’ve ever seen. Tomb of Anubis is anything but humble. They have different gameplay, scale, intent… and jaw-dropping moments. We’re thrilled we got to play them both. We enjoy experiencing what makes each one special, not whether one is better. If you’re near one of them, you really ought to play.

If you’re surprised by the order, remember that it’s a result of more than just opinions. It’s impacted by how many people have played the game (and when they played it). There are many variables at play here.

The Challenges of Ranking & Time

The challenge of ranking rooms increases with time.

We have more rooms to rank, yes, but also, different metrics to rank them against. Time passed since playing a game is a variable that’s difficult to account for.

The Vanishing Act won a Golden Lock Award in 2016. We played that game almost 4 years ago. It’s hard to rank it against the games we played this fall. Memory is a funny thing. Nostalgia, even more so. It’s difficult to rank memory against present-day reality, especially knowing that our rubric was so different when we created the memory.

Does that take away from The Vanishing Act? No. But it does make it very hard to rank it.

Up Next: The Golden Lock Award

It’s awards season. Although we sat on the advisory board for TERPECA, this award is not produced by Room Escape Artist and is not the same as our Golden Lock Award.

We’ll give out a different award on January 4, 2020. Tune in for the livestream. The Golden Lock Award is the Room Escape Artist award for our favorite rooms we played in any given calendar year.

It is an unranked list of favorites. Some of the games are newer than others, but we played them all in 2019. It’s a different rubric, a different voting system, and a different set of winners. It’s another collection that you can use as a guide.

Will there be overlap? Tune in on January 4th.

Esscape Room – The Real Kitchen Nightmare [Review]

Out of the frying pan & into the fryer.

Location:  Long Island City, Queens, NY

Date Played: November 25, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: starting at $30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set within a commercial kitchen with a horror twist… and it felt right because the creators of this game own a couple of actual restaurants nearby. The environment delivered with an authenticity that greatly exceeded the norm.

In-game: A frying pan on an restaurant stove beside a deep fryer.
Image via Esscape Room

Esscape Room’s gameplay was brutally hard. It felt like 2014-level difficulty, which was jarring after half a decade of the industry at large shifting to more approachable gameplay. But it was fair. Our team of 5 very experienced players finished the game with 5 minutes to spare and used 0 hints. It was winnable, but we were only the second team to do so. This was a shame because the best part of the game was, without a doubt, the cleverness of the ending… which most players never see.

Our biggest knock against The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a rule about “not making a mess of the kitchen” which ultimately ran contrary to the search-heavy nature of the game. Beyond this, there were a lot of smaller issues, which is common for a company’s first game.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was an impressive first outing from a brand new company. The game was memorable. The New York City escape room scene has really aged and it’s exciting to welcome a newcomer. This is one of the stronger games that the market has. If you like horror, we recommend it. Bring a mighty team, or it will smoke you.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • 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?

  • A realistic set
  • Tons of puzzle content
  • A fantastic ending – if you can get to it

Story

After mysteriously closing, 3 Michelin star celebrity chef Francois ‘Le Boucher’ (the butcher) Hellerstein had finally reopened his flagship restaurant. Hellerstein was world famous for his incredible food and intense rage. We were investigating him because the entire staff of his last restaurant had disappeared without a trace.

In-game: a portrait of a beautiful woman smoking, hung on a brick wall.
Image via Esscape Room

Setting

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set in an old, run down restaurant kitchen. It felt real. Essentially all of the props were originally from a restaurant kitchen, and the owners/ creators of this game also own a pair or nearby bars/ restaurants… so they have a pretty good idea of what a restaurant kitchen is supposed to look like.

In-game: A red tinged view of an restaurant kitchen.
Image via Esscape Room

Gameplay

Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a standard escape room with a very high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A door covered in padlocks with an exit sign above it.
Image via Esscape Room

Analysis

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare felt real and raw. The set was a restaurant kitchen.

➕ Esscape Room used sounds and practical effects to amp the intensity.

➕/➖ The gameplay was solid, yet dated. The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a search-heavy, lock-heavy game, where much of the gameplay was in uncovering what props connected to which puzzle and which lock. Many of the puzzles were only there to give players a hint for another puzzle. The puzzles were thematic, but grounded primarily in escape room logic. Despite feeling dated, the gameplay worked. Connections became clear and each solve marched us forward.

➖ At times instructions and cluing felt at odds with the gameplay. For example, because of in-game cluing, we thought we’d encountered an order preservation puzzle. Everyone knew how to solve it, but nobody touched it for far too long because of misleading cluing. We’d also been instructed “not to make a mess of the kitchen,” but in a search-heavy room, those explicit instructions misguided us to gameplay errors that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

➖ This kitchen didn’t have a timer. In easier escape rooms, we’d rather not have gameclock present because clocks don’t usually make sense, and we’d rather play for the experience than for our time. In The Real Kitchen Nightmare, however, the absence of gameclock was problematic. It was a difficult game where hints and time were a resource to manage. We knew we could easily lose, and without a clock, we had no way to gauge whether we should ask for a hint. Having seen this game through to the end and won, we think teams would have a better experience if they were armed with a kitchen timer.

❓ The Real Kitchen Nightmare was really hard. We won with 5 minutes to spare, having taken zero hints. We like challenging puzzle games, but they present a structural challenge. Since the linchpin of this escape room is near the end, if players don’t get to that moment, they miss out on a lot. At the time we played, less than a handful of teams had reached this moment, regardless of win or lose. Since Esscape Room doesn’t show players the rest of the game when they fail, losing teams can walk a way with a substantially lesser experience.

➕/➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a stellar introductory scene. It set up the experience. From a tonal standpoint, it delivered. From an experiential standpoint, it enabled the game to come full circle. That said, it primed players for a different type of escape room gameplay than they would experience in the next hour.

➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare needed onboarding. It had an intense introduction, in character with a horror game. That said, players will be able to enjoy the game more if they are presented with a fair onboarding that explains things such as where to find the the bathrooms, hint system instructions, and in case of emergency safety instructions.

➕ Esscape Rooms had a really interesting design aesthetic that is shared with their real restaurant. It was cool.

➖ There were legitimately dangerous, movable props in this escape room. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Esscape Room should strongly consider further dulling down these items. This was a horror experience and people will be jumpy.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a cool transition.

➖ While Esscape Rooms set up a story, they didn’t deliver it through play. There was opportunity to make the story resonate as we solved the puzzles within the main sets of this experience.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare built up in intensity. Horror escape rooms typically struggle with players becoming comfortable as they get to know the space. Esscape Room didn’t fall into this trap. They were able to keep us on edge.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare delivered quite the mind%&*#. Cheers to Esscape Room for pulling this off.

Tips For Visiting

  • Esscape Rooms is located in Long Island City, just off the Queensboro Plaza Stop – N,W & 7 train – and a few blocks from Queens Plaza & 21st Street Stops – E & F train.
  • The folks behind Esscape Room also own the The Huntress, a restaurant and bar on the same block. We recommend stopping by after your game.

Book your hour with Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Esscape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Coming Soon: Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts' Choice Award 2019

Tune in this Saturday, December 21, at 1pm PST / 4pm EST / 9pm GMT / 10pm CET / 11pm EET / 8am Sunday AEDT for the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award (TERPECA) 2019 winners!

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2019 logo.

All the Time Zones

The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the rankings of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world… and to do so, the team behind TERPECA reached out to escape room players from across the globe.

In phase 1, the most experienced players (over 200 games played) nominated their top 20 escape rooms. In phase 2, highly experienced players (over 50 games played) ranked these rooms. And then TERPECA creator Rich Bragg did lots of black magic complex math to bring you the winners.

TERPECA is not a Room Escape Artist project; however David and I are on the advisory committee. We’re excited about this announcement! We’ve seen the results and we’ll be publishing an analysis after they are made public.

Details

Follow the TERPECA Facebook Page for updates and details on how to watch the livestream.

Following the livestream, the results will be published on the TERPECA website.

More Information

Learn more about TERPECA in this earlier announcement calling for nominators and voters.

This is the second year of Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award. Read about last year’s winners here.

To reiterate, this award is not produced by Room Escape Artist. It is not the same as our Golden Lock Award, our award for our favorite rooms we played in any given calendar year. Our 2019 Golden Lock Award livestream and announcement will take place on Saturday, January 4, 2020.