Vampire.Pizza – Chapter 1 [Review]

Hold the garlic.

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 1, 2020

Team size: unlimited; we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable; about an hour for the puzzles

Price: $32.99 per person (party of 2) or $27.99 per person (party of 4)

REA Reaction

Vampire.Pizza is an immersive game where pizza and puzzles are delivered directly to your door. Through online videos and paper game materials, Chapter 1 spun a story of vampire revolution that felt bigger than the average play-at-home escape game.

The puzzles weren’t diabolical, which made Vampire.Pizza family-friendly, aside from some allusions to the bloody business of vampirism. The gameplay supplemented a larger evening of dinner, light crafting, and creating our vampire personas. Hardcore puzzlers might crave more of a challenge, but there’s plenty for casual players to sink their teeth into.

A dossier reading "Vampires Only" with some game pieces shaped like pizza slices.

Vampire.Pizza’s creative mashup of story, puzzles, and takeout food was innovative. Acquiring puzzles via takeout/delivery added a personal touch, especially during a time when many of us are staying inside. 

Vampire.Pizza started in Los Angeles and expanded to Las Vegas and Philadelphia, with the possibility of other cities on the horizon. After playing Chapter 1, we’re eager to see how the story will unfold in future installments.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Pizza lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Themed puzzles
  • Feel like part of a movement
  • Pizza is included, for once
An envelope reading "Start Here" accompanied by a Fang Force Special Agent Profile sheet.

Story

By ordering a meal from Belle’s Family Kitchen in Los Angeles, we were part of a vampire revolution—spread via pizza delivery. Solving Belle’s puzzles could earn us a spot in the Fang Force.

Setup

Vampire.Pizza was a puzzle game delivered (or picked up) along with pizza, salad, and dessert. The game materials were well designed and evoked a somewhat gothic vibe.

Gameplay

Vampire.Pizza included a play-at-home puzzle game with a low-to-medium level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around pattern recognition, logic, and word puzzles (with optional role-playing and crafting).

The story unfurled via online videos, bookending the puzzles with narrative bites. The pizza, though related to the story, was separate from the gameplay. 

The puzzles were paper based, but more complex, colorful, and tactile than typical newspaper puzzles. We did encounter some tricky moments, but Vampire.Pizza included a handy hint/answer sheet in case we got stuck. There was no time limit; the puzzles seemed meant to be solved casually as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Some paper game materials, including a Hints & Answers booklet.

Analysis

➕ The IRL delivery method made Vampire.Pizza feel more immersive than the typical play-at-home game. The videos helped the story feel bigger. We appreciated those references to the outside world, especially during the current lockdown.

➕/➖ We enjoyed reimagining ourselves as members of the Fang Force by filling out the included profile sheets. However, we wished the sheets had been provided before the game arrived, to set the stage and help us get in character.

➕ At a couple points, we encountered a bunch of game elements at once. The nonlinear structure allowed multiple people to puzzle concurrently if desired. We considered sorting out these elements to be part of the challenge.

❓ With all the instructions at various steps, we sometimes wanted less hand-holding. However, players looking for less of a challenge may appreciate the guidance.

➕ The game flowed smoothly. We never got stalled while solving. All the puzzles felt fair and stuck to the theme.

❓At one point, we got tricked. Different players may have different feelings about this, but it made us chuckle.

➕ Puzzles aside, we enjoyed our meal. Pickup was fast and contactless. We appreciated that there were multiple menu options, including vegan pizza.

➕We never would have imagined a vampire-and-pizza-themed immersive puzzle game, but the unlikely combination worked. Everything pulled together into a unique, fun package that didn’t take itself too seriously.

A tag reading "Vampire Pizza" tied to a black box with red twine.

Tips For Players

Dim the lights and throw on a Castlevania soundtrack to get into the vampire vibe.

The party size you choose determines the amount of food and certain game materials included in the box. The key puzzle components are playable by groups of any size.

A portion of the Los Angeles proceeds go to the League of Experiential and Immersive Artists emergency fund, which provides relief to artists in the immersive community.

To be notified if Vampire.Pizza starts delivering to your area, you can fill out a form on their website.

Breaking Point Escape Rooms – Patient 17 [Review]

The doctor is running out of patients.

Location:  Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32-35 per player for public booking; private booking $35-$60 each depending on team size

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Patient 17 felt like an old-school escape room at heart, but the production design and attention to narrative elevated it above the average escape room. 

The relatively complex story (especially for a crime-themed escape room) subtly followed us through the experience to its conclusion. Breaking Point also developed a strong sense of place through the story, set, and puzzles. Patient 17 felt ominous and confining, but never claustrophobic or scary.

The puzzles were mostly standard escape room puzzles, with nothing particularly flashy to offer experienced players. However, the game felt intuitive and flowed naturally. Some ambiguity slowed us down at first, but once we got going, we were in the zone until the end.

The Secret at Whitmore Estate is Breaking Point’s newer and stronger game, but Patient 17 is also worth playing while you’re there.

A dimly lit hospital exam chair surrounded by medical implements.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Thriller fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Creepy, isolating atmosphere
  • Thematic puzzling
  • The feeling of being part of a larger story

Story

An undercover agent investigating a doctor with connections to several missing women appeared to have blown her cover. We had been sent in to attempt a rescue.

A bulletin board with documents including a newspaper clipping with a headline reading "Doctor Arrested For Unorthodox Practice."
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Setting

Patient 17 took place in a dingy-looking hospital with an appropriately creepy vibe. Foreboding props and dark corners lent the game an ominous feeling, without ever veering towards scary.

A grimy hallway with solid doors, an electrical panel, and a single bare bulb.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Gameplay

Breaking Point Escape Rooms’ Patient 17 was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Breaking Point’s intro videos were among the best we’ve seen. The introduction for Patient 17 provided backstory that gave our mission urgency and emotional heft.

➕ The detailed production design made the escape room feel like a creepy hospital. The gamespace felt confining, but alluded to a larger outside world. This level of detail drew us into the story and heightened our sense of urgency.

A dirty sink splattered with blood.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

➖ Patient 17 could have used stronger gating early in the game. With so many puzzle elements available at the start, we struggled for a while before making real progress.

➕ The puzzling mostly involved standard escape room puzzles that coordinated well with the setting and the story. Solving them felt like making progress towards our goal.

➕ We were especially delighted when we discovered how to make use of one everyday item that initially felt too unbounded to contain a puzzle.

➖ We kept returning to a certain interesting-looking object that ended up having no bearing on the game. Replacing that object with a puzzle element or a less compelling prop would make it less of a red herring.

➖ The ending felt somewhat abrupt. We found ourselves wishing for a more exciting final scene.

➕ We appreciated the attention to narrative that threaded throughout Patient 17. After the intro, we encountered more information through the set and puzzles that enhanced our understanding of the story world without requiring excessive reading. The story felt original enough to stick in our minds while solving.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Breaking Point Escape Rooms’ Patient 17, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Breaking Point Escape Rooms – The Secret at Whitmore Estate [Review]

Now Whitmore Puzzles

Location:  Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: Public booking $32-35 per player; private booking $35-$65 each depending on team size

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was a well-rounded, well-designed escape room that immersed us in the story of the Whitmore family. Along with the beautiful set and decor, the memorable interactions and reveals scratched our exploratory itch.

The Whitmore family story weaved through the escape room via puzzles and narration and led us to a satisfying resolution. Despite a couple of slow moments, The Secret at Whitmore Estate flowed well and offered enough gameplay to keep several players busy.

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was spooky, but never truly scary. Though the story involved dark themes, the tone was more Haunted Mansion than horror movie.

If you’re in the area and you’ve ever dreamed of investigating a mansion for hidden secrets, check out The Secret at Whitmore Estate. If you’ve exhausted the Los Angeles escape room market and are looking for more worthy games, Breaking Point Escape Rooms is worth a visit.

A portrait of a stern-looking bespectacled man in a suit, lit by sconces.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A beautiful set
  • Story-driven gameplay
  • Dramatic reveals

Story

The Whitmore Estate’s one remaining resident had gone missing and neighbors had reported strange occurrences in the mansion. We were tasked with investigating what fate had befallen the last member of the Whitmore family.

Setting

The Secret at Whitmore Estate deposited us in a lush parlor with ornate props and decor that evoked an opulent mansion. Audio voiceover unveiled new elements of the story. Lighting and sound effects contributed to the spooky atmosphere.

Close-up of a lit candelabra with books and a globe visible in the background.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Gameplay

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, communication, puzzling, and making connections.

Analysis

➕ Breaking Point’s story intro videos were among the best we’ve seen. They were well produced and entertaining. The introduction for The Secret at Whitmore Estate gave us retro mystery vibes. It kept our attention and psyched us up to get in the manor and uncover its secrets.

➕ The beautiful set and decor drew us into the story world and heightened our sense of mystery and excitement.

Close-up of a trunk on the floor, padlocked shut.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

➕ The nonlinear gameplay flowed naturally and kept our large group mostly busy. At times several puzzle elements were available at once, but we didn’t get sidetracked with combining items fruitlessly. It generally felt clear what we needed to do.

➕ We enjoyed interacting with the more complex puzzle mechanisms. All the tech components were concealed so the effects of our actions felt natural. Whether tech-driven or not, the puzzles were tactile and enjoyable.

➖ One key puzzle involved trial and error, and seemed designed to slow us down. We wished we’d had a way of determining the solution without resorting to guessing.

➕ Solving the central mystery proved a fun and intriguing goal. The narrative arc threaded through the experience, and its conclusion felt satisfying. However…

➖ The last puzzle was somewhat ambiguous and slowed our momentum, especially because it only required a couple people to solve. This bottleneck made the finale feel a bit lackluster compared to the rest of the game.

➕ Multiple moments in The Secret at Whitmore Estate delighted us with exciting reveals. Breaking Point allowed us to live out our childhood dreams of exploring a fancy mansion filled with hidden secrets.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Breaking Point Escape Rooms’ The Secret at Whitmore Estate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Trapped! – Down the Rabbit Hole [Review]

Fantastic Mr. Rabbit

Location:  Upland, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32-40 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Down the Rabbit Hole was a charming escape room with a lighthearted premise. Even with the small space and humble scope, Trapped! transported us to an adorable fantasy world.

Though we encountered references to Alice in Wonderland, Down the Rabbit Hole stood alone as a Wonderland-adjacent adventure. The story wove through our experience via puzzles, interactions, and audio guidance.

The playful theme and lower difficulty make this escape room especially appropriate for families. Still, Down the Rabbit Hole provides a low-key escape for anyone who’s young at heart.

If the theme sounds appealing and you don’t require a serious challenge, Down the Rabbit Hole is worth a visit.

A bed draped with sheer fabric sits under a wall covered with various clocks.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Animal lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Adorable premise
  • Magical moments
  • Whimsical puzzling

Story

Our dog had a habit of running away and bringing home unusual objects. We had followed him down a deep, dark hole into a curious burrow. We needed to rescue our dog and find our way out.

Setting

We found ourselves in a modest but cozy rabbit hole, complete with half-size props and furniture. The theme fit the relatively small space nicely. We almost felt like we were underground.

A large mirror hangs between a fireplace and a chalkboard in a rustic den.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Down the Rabbit Hole was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, making connections, and puzzling, with an emphasis on logic.

Analysis

➕ Down the Rabbit Hole was just plain adorable. From the story to the set to the puzzles, this escape room warmed our hearts.

Teacups, candles, and fruit on a doily-covered table.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ The story threaded throughout the hour and provided a sense of cohesion and lighthearted adventure.

➕/➖ The audio story/hint delivery contributed to the quaint atmosphere and fit into the whimsical woodland world we’d stumbled into. However, because of its limited range, we missed the beginning of certain messages while heading towards the speaker.

Down the Rabbit Hole was on the easy side, but it didn’t stoop to hand-holding. We always knew what we needed to do without the solutions being overly obvious.

➖ One puzzle slowed us down as we scratched out the solution on a chalkboard. This puzzle felt slightly out of place in an otherwise hands-on game. Solving this puzzle with tactile props might have better preserved our momentum.

➕ Despite the humble premise and setting, certain moments felt magical and memorable.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Trapped!’s Down the Rabbit Hole, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

So You Wanna Save the World – Episode 0 [Review]

Who wants to save the %#(@ world?

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2019

Team size: Unlimited; we recommend 1-2

Duration: Variable; probably 2-3 hours

Price: Free

REA Reaction

So You Wanna Save the World is envisioned as a monthly puzzle subscription service intended to replicate the feel of playing an escape room. The monthly package hasn’t launched yet, but this free prequel episode offers a taste of what the creators have in mind.

Considering the online setting, Episode 0 felt a lot like a puzzle hunt, but with more of a story focus. The secret agency backstory provided a clever meta-explanation for the physical mailer format. Using websites, videos, and phone calls upped the fun factor.

The gameplay itself felt uneven at times, as some moments of insight came significantly more easily than others. Trial and error played a role as we determined which components fit together. The puzzles ranged from delightfully challenging to frustratingly opaque.

Logo with text reading "So You Wanna Save the World: An Online Escape Room Experience."

The tone of So You Wanna Save the World was edgy bordering on aggressive. Players who prefer a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere should probably look elsewhere.

So You Wanna Save the World made big promises of being cinematic and game-changing. Episode 0 delivered a slick and entertaining game, but with some rough edges. Producing fun, balanced content every month isn’t easy, but with lots of playtesting, future installments could live up to those promises.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles
  • The edgy, roguish vibe
  • To banter with a smart-mouthed AI

Story

We had been recruited by the Mail Marshals, a secret government agency embedded inside the post office. Two Mail Marshals agents, along with an experimental AI, provided evidence and secret messages for us to decipher in order to prove our worth and catch the bad guy.

Two agents sit at a desk labeled "Mail Marshals" in front of a giant screen showing a close-up of a globe.

Setup

So You Wanna Save the World used websites, phone numbers, and videos to present a series of puzzles enmeshed in a secret agent story. An online account saved our progress in a Case Notes section, complete with writeups of our progress so far. We could confer with other players via the Recruit Network (a Facebook group) if we needed help.

In future installments of So You Wanna Save the World, each episode will start with a physical mailing sent to players’ home addresses. This introductory episode began with a digital version of one of these mailers.

A mailer for Anderson and Sons Plumbing, with additional marketing text and a man in a jumpsuit giving a thumbs-up.

Gameplay

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 was an online puzzle game with a high level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation and cracking codes.

The puzzles varied in difficulty and usually involved aha moments. This meant some puzzles took just a few moments to figure out and others took far longer.

The puzzles were presented in tandem with a story about the case we were working on. The tasks mostly emerged authentically from the story and the puzzle’s medium (video, audio, or graphic).

Analysis

So You Wanna Save the World integrated websites, phone calls, and physical mailings. The puzzles felt natural in all of these habitats.

➕/➖ The website, videos, and other materials went a long way towards making the experience immersive. The production value was slick and professional, but the characters lacked a sense of urgency. We found ourselves wishing the videos had expressed the intensity that saving the world would ostensibly require.

➖ Our interactions with Tachyon, our AI helper, were persnickety. We sometimes had to experiment to find the specific wording that would get her to react. When she didn’t understand, she berated us with insults that quickly became repetitive.

A chat window with a robot avatar saying "Oh look, it's Recruit Willson here to waste my time."

❓ Speaking of Tachyon…So You Wanna Save the World was explicitly not for children. The cursing was gratuitous and unabashed, and the story included descriptions of violence. This may limit the potential audience somewhat, particularly for families interested in puzzling together.

➕/➖ So You Wanna Save the World presented bonus evidence and Easter eggs concurrently with the main storyline. We enjoyed searching for the extra hidden content. At times the bonus puzzles stood out more than the ones on the main branch of gameplay, so we accidentally forked away without realizing. Further playtesting might help even out the difficulty of the branches.

➕/➖ Solving puzzles and determining which components to combine often required trial and error. Many of the stand-alone puzzles provided satisfying moments of insight. When we needed to choose which clues fit together to make progress, the lack of structure made things more challenging, and occasionally frustrating.

➖ Because we didn’t know what style or caliber of puzzle to expect, we had trouble getting our bearings at first. We spent almost an hour on the first puzzle before the insight necessary to solve it dawned on us. An easier start or some form of onboarding would give players a better idea of what sort of challenge awaited.

➕ The Case Notes section of the website recorded our progress and included recaps of previous puzzles. This helped us keep our findings straight and reorient ourselves after stepping away from the game. The Case Notes also helped show how a puzzle was solved when we weren’t quite sure how we’d done it.

➖ The first-person format of the Case Notes became jarring when the notes expressed attitudes opposed to my own. Late in the game, Recruit Willson praised a character whose actions I would never support in real life. Seeing my actual name on this entry was unsettling. A more neutral stance in the notes would preserve immersion.

➕/➖ The Facebook group was a creative in-game way to get hints. It was tricky to describe where we were stuck, since the puzzles weren’t linear or explicitly named. The other recruits’ posts were helpful, though we had to dodge spoilers for puzzles we hadn’t reached yet. Also, the group could become more or less useful in the future as the community grows or shrinks.

➕ The Mail Marshals backstory explained the purpose of the physical mailer components cleverly. Episode 0 started online instead of via snail mail, but searching through actual junk mail for secret messages in future episodes sounds like fun.

Tips for Playing

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 requires an internet connection and a US phone number. A pencil and paper will come in handy, but otherwise you don’t need any special equipment.

Playing alone or with one companion seems ideal, since the puzzles aren’t particularly collaborative. If you typically like approaching puzzle hunts and similar games solo, try this one by yourself.

And ignore Tachyon when she tells you you’re a useless $*@%. You’ll show her.