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.

Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst [Review]

Meta masterpiece.

Author:  J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Release Date:  October 29, 2013

Page Count: 472 plus inserts

Price: About $30

Publisher:  Mulholland Books

REA Reaction

Ship of Theseus, also known as S., is hard to categorize. Presented in book form, it’s an ambitious piece of experimental fiction with many layers of story and meaning. Ship of Theseus started with an innocuous central premise — who is the author V.M. Straka? — and infused it with unique storytelling to create an epic reading experience.

Ship of Theseus felt more like a novel than anything else, but its supplemental documents and many narrative layers made it more involving than passively reading a regular book. At times, the unusual format felt as exciting as a movie and as nonlinear and interactive as a game.

Ship of Theseus title page.

There were ciphers embedded in Ship of Theseus, and deciding how to tackle the layers of story required some strategizing. But mostly the point was to explore and gradually gain familiarity with its rich fictional world of academia and intrigue.

Due to its length and complexity, Ship of Theseus was intimidating. If you’re looking for a straightforward read or clearly delineated puzzles, the setup may feel overwhelming. Just like with certain other J.J. Abrams projects, not all the open questions got clear answers. But even without uncovering all of its secrets, Ship of Theseus had a lot to offer casual readers.

If you love the feeling of exploring someone’s communications and unlocking a grand story piece by piece, Ship of Theseus was made for you.

Who is this for?

  • Avid readers who enjoy being immersed in a story’s world
  • Cipher enthusiasts
  • Fans of experimental literature

Why Read?

  • Rich, intricate world building
  • Impressive construction of story layers
  • Mysteries at every turn

Story

V.M. Straka wrote many novels, but his true identity remains shrouded in mystery. His final book, Ship of Theseus, followed a man with amnesia journeying to distant lands to discover his true identity and motivation. Straka’s translator published the novel posthumously in 1949.

Decades later, two students at Pollard State University meet by writing notes back and forth in a copy of Ship of Theseus left at the university library. By delving into Straka’s web of associations and solving hidden messages in the book, Jen and Eric connect over a shared interest in discovering Straka’s identity. Along the way, they’re thrown into a conspiracy story of their own with life-or-death stakes.

Ship of Theseus book and slipcover.

Setup

Ship of Theseus was presented as an old hardcover book. It had copious notes written in the margins and an assortment of paper mementos interspersed throughout the pages. Besides the authors’ names on the box, the entire package appeared to be an artifact from the story’s fictional world.

The novel unfolded as a stand-alone narrative within the literary intrigue surrounding the associates and scholars of V.M. Straka. 

In the margins, Jen and Eric discussed research about Straka, goings-on in their corner of academia, and typical getting-to-know-you topics. They also shared theories about secret messages hidden in Ship of Theseus. They wrote in different colors in different time periods, so part of the reading process involved untangling the timeline of their findings and the events they described.

By perusing the novel, the translator’s footnotes, the conversations between Jen and Eric, and the documents slipped between the pages, I attempted to puzzle out the concurrent narrative threads and eventually solve the central question: Who is V.M. Straka?

Sample pages of Ship of Theseus, along with a postcard that says "Greetings from Brazil."

Gameplay

Ship of Theseus was primarily a nonlinear reading experience, but certain elements felt a bit like solving puzzles. Determining the timeline of Jen and Eric’s notes based on the color of their pens gave me logic puzzle vibes. Piecing together details from different timelines and different sources helped deepen my understanding of the story world.

Ship of Theseus included a number of ciphers within its pages. The margin notes frequently pointed out odd details about certain passages and theorized about possible hidden messages. Jen and Eric wrote out solutions to several of the book’s ciphers in the margins.

Because Ship of Theseus was presented as a found object, no other solutions were available. The creators initially published websites and social media posts dedicated to solving the mysteries of Straka, in the vein of an ARG. These are cryptic, however, and some of the links may have decayed in the ensuing years.

Reading and rereading Ship of Theseus and its supplementary documents created an increasingly clear picture of Straka’s life and legacy. I felt comfortable putting the book down when the story seemed complete enough. Hunting for puzzles to solve felt like a whole new dimension — one that, in my case, eventually became a burden.

Analysis

Ship of Theseus felt like an artifact with a rich backstory. The paper and binding were yellowed and worn like a real old book. Maybe I’d imagined it, but the pages even smelled a little musty. This authentic design set the stage for the story to come. It also meant I didn’t have to be careful with the book. If you scuff it up or accidentally splash tea on the pages, that only makes it more lifelike.

➕ Between the novel itself, the translator’s footnotes, the inserts, and the margin notes, Ship of Theseus contained at least half a dozen points of view from several different time periods, all presented at once. It blew my mind to imagine the work that must have gone into keeping all these layers straight and combining them to create an immersive, cohesive story world.

A sample footnote plus margin notes from Ship of Theseus.

➕ As a novel, Ship of Theseus stood on its own as an odd but engaging piece of fiction. The parallels between the novel and the side stories added to the intrigue.

➕/➖ The expansiveness of the mythology was impressive, even extending to seemingly official websites and social media posts. But the book came out in 2013, and certain links are no longer live (if they ever were). I found online communities dedicated to solving the book’s mysteries, but the conversation had died down since its publication. At that point, I felt like I was on my own.

➕ Because of all the simultaneous layers, the material appeared out of order and without full context, especially the margin notes. This structure may sound daunting, but in practice it felt empowering to make connections among all the story threads. After I’d spent a few months with Ship of Theseus, it felt like a major triumph to have gone from utter confusion to near fluency with the story’s literary world. But that doesn’t mean less patient readers will get lost: even without deep knowledge of what everything means, the story feels complete, and regular plot reminders help keep most things straight.

➕ Jen and Eric were strong, fleshed-out characters, right down to their distinctive handwriting. Because of Ship of Theseus’s nonlinear design, they developed over time in a unique way. The older margin notes reminded me of my own college days. The more recent ones illustrated how the characters have grown.

➕ Most of the ciphers in the book were pre-solved in the margin notes, but usually not on the same page. I appreciated being able to consider them as long as I wanted before reading on to find the code explained. Cipher aficionados might prefer to spend more time poring over the text before moving on.

❓Sometimes the notes indicated a seemingly important detail that might be part of a code, but never resolved the mystery. My internet research didn’t turn up any answers about the importance of these details. If they are secret messages, they’re extremely hard to decode. If not, they’re just red herrings.

➖ Ship of Theseus felt like it contained a multitude of hidden messages, but I didn’t find much to actually solve. Of the ciphers explained in the margins, the average puzzler couldn’t solve most of them without help. Not that they should’ve dumbed it down — but it hurt a little to solve literally nothing on my own.

➕ As a whole, Ship of Theseus presented a message of hope and perseverance. The conclusion of the various threads felt emotional and satisfying — though it never exactly felt like the end, because I can always pick up the book again and revisit Straka’s world someday.

Tips For Reading

Some of the margin notes refer to things that happen later in the novel, so reading the novel before the notes would be an efficient way to set out…in theory. However, it’s hard to ignore the eye-catching notes in the margins. See what feels right. You could read chapter by chapter, or go through the notes again after reading the whole book in order.

Even if you don’t attempt any extra sleuthing, Ship of Theseus is not a weekend read. Because it’s a longer narrative experience, it helps to keep notes, however you approach your readthrough. With all the out-of-context references, it might even be worth making an index. It all depends on how serious you want to get.

If you aren’t interested in rabbit holes, you can read casually and have most of the details doled out like a regular book. Without the extra trappings, Ship of Theseus is still a memorable, satisfying story.

Finally, don’t let the inserts fall out. But if they do, you can find guides online that describe where they all go.

Buy your copy of Ship of Theseus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest 2019 [Reaction]

Press play.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: 1-2

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $95 per time slot

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The 2019 iteration of The Nest retained the poignant beauty of its original run in 2017, and added some new flourishes.

The first version of The Nest offered the unique, haunting experience of rummaging through an abandoned storage space and listening to snippets of a woman’s life on hidden audiotapes. The Nest felt so singular and complete that I hesitated to revisit it for fear of detracting from the original experience.

As returning visitors, knowing the story unavoidably took away some of the surprise and wonder of the original show. However, the changes in design, both large and small, moved us and added to the overall experience.

The original run of The Nest reminded me of playing through a video game like Gone Home (Nintendo Switch) or What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One) (Nintendo Switch), only in real life. Returning to see the updated version felt a bit like replaying an old favorite game rereleased with updated effects and new content.

A View-Master, a globe, and other curios sit on a desk under a lamp.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

What’s Different?

After Scout Expedition Co. crowdfunded this new run of The Nest, they set up shop in a new location, a former storage building reimagined as Los Angeles Storage Co. The new setting brought the story to life. Riding the freight elevator up to our floor and opening our storage unit felt magical.

Besides the location, the most noticeable change was the feeling of the space itself. The set felt dreamlike and abstract, like a symbolic representation of Josie’s life merged with an artful collection of her belongings. Subtle lighting and sound effects directed our focus and helped make our entire visit more cinematic and immersive.

Light shines on a cassette tape dangling from a piece of twine in front of a background of tree roots.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

A couple of new puzzly interactions were swapped in or added, along with some new technical flourishes. We also encountered a new area of Josie’s past. Overall, this iteration of The Nest was a bit less indie and more polished.

In this version’s backstory, rather than being Josie’s distant relatives, we had bought the contents of her storage space at auction. But at its heart, The Nest depicted the same story and the same Josie.

This time around, I walked away with a slightly less melancholy view of her story. But it’s hard to say whether that’s because The Nest changed or because, just like real memories, the experience changes ever so slightly each time you revisit it.

A cassette tape labeled "My 12th Birthday" sits on top of a tape recorder.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

Tips For Visiting

The Nest is currently sold out, but Scout Expedition Co. plans to release more tickets soon. Sign up for their mailing list or follow them on your social network of choice for updates.

  • Street parking is available.
  • The Nest requires at least one person to kneel and/or crawl.
  • The Nest has escape room elements, but it’s fundamentally an immersive experience with no ticking clock. Take your time and let yourself get swept up in the story.
  • Each time slot costs the same amount for one or two people. If you choose not to go solo, go with someone you trust to feel all the feelings with, and to share the flashlight.

When new tickets are available, book your hour with Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Scout Expedition Co. comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Night Escape Room [Review]

“This is not the afterlife I had envisioned.”

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 14, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $55-85 per player

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape the Night Escape Room was a limited-run experience that provided a memorable hour of adventure for fans of Joey Graceffa’s YouTube Premium series. It didn’t break new ground for escape rooms, but it offered plenty of entertaining interactions and detailed props to play with. Despite a few hiccups with some of the puzzles, we had a fun time and left interested in learning more about the show.

The approachable difficulty level and the in-room gamemaster made the Escape the Night Escape Room accessible to newer players. It wasn’t the best fit for seasoned escapers looking for their next challenge.

The story, set, and puzzles were all geared toward viewers of the YouTube series, which made it especially exciting for fans. But you didn’t have to be familiar with Escape the Night to enjoy the real-life version, if you didn’t mind the steep ticket price.

Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Fans of Escape the Night
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exciting interactions
  • Elaborate props
  • To play as characters from Escape the Night

Story

Playing as some of the characters who had previously died in Escape the Night, we had been trapped in purgatory by the Collector. We needed to find nine keys in order to recover the cosmic sphere and make our way back to the world of the living, or risk dying for good.

The premise roughly matched the premiere of Escape the Night’s fourth season, which began in July 2019.

A painting of the Collector collecting a soul.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Setting

The gamespace was decorated to represent different episodes of Escape the Night’s fourth season. We started in ancient Egypt, then the game transitioned to various other themes depicted in the show.

We encountered many of the same items used in Escape the Night, some of which evoked particular moments from the series. The detail of the props and puzzles contributed to the room’s sense of mystery and adventure.

The head of a minotaur under glass.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Escape the Night Escape Room was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation, searching, and basic math.

Escape the Night Escape Room generally emphasized adventure over puzzling, with the tasks split between traditional escape room puzzles and fun large-scale interactions. Though the puzzles tended to be simple, the room was packed with gameplay.

A grid of tiles depicting different hieroglyphics, with several squares lit up.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Analysis

➕ The Escape the Night Escape Room escape room had plenty to offer fans of the YouTube series. The story, props, and pivotal moments in the game related back to the show. The young superfan in our group could hardly contain himself.

➕/➖ The set design didn’t manage to fully disguise that we were in a pop-up space, but the room was filled with ornate props and set pieces that heightened our experience.

➕ Escape the Night Escape Room gave us a lot to do. The active, hands-on interactions felt adventurous. Whereas most escape rooms have one or two big moments, Escape the Night Escape Room had several.

The hilt of a sword in the foreground, with museum pieces including a bust under glass in the background.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ Our in-room gamemaster provided guidance throughout and ensured that the game ran as smoothly as possible. The gamemaster triggered certain events once we had solved the corresponding puzzles, and these moments mostly felt natural and seamless.

➖ At one point, when we tried a less obvious but correct answer to a puzzle, nothing happened until the gamemaster realized our answer also worked. More playtesting might have uncovered this alternate solution. Even better, designing the puzzle with just one solution would have prevented any confusion.

➕/➖ The puzzle flow kept us busy and avoided bottlenecks despite its linear structure. However, we noticed a couple of items left over from ghost puzzles and had to bypass another due to a prop malfunction.

➖ Certain interactions required a good amount of handholding. For example, at one point the gamemaster cleared items off a surface just before it popped open, presumably to avoid flinging treasure all over the room. A more self-piloting design would have preserved the surprise and kept us immersed in the game during these moments.

➕ We enjoyed solving one particular riddle that involved themed items in the room rather than outside knowledge or sudden insight.

➖ In another puzzle, we struggled to figure out the order of certain items, but it turned out the placement didn’t matter. This ambiguity caused us to spin our wheels longer than we needed to.

➕/➖ In a few exciting instances, one player took an action alone to move the game forward. At first we decided together who would participate, but for the last of these decision points, the outcome was decided by random chance. If we’d been given an interesting challenge or choice inspired by the show at the end of the game instead, we would have walked away with more to discuss and reminisce about long after the night was over.

Tips For Visiting

For promotional games like the Escape the Night Escape Room, if you’re not familiar with the brand, including at least one fan in your group will add a lot to the experience. If you are a fan, bring money for the merch table, and don’t forget your cosplay for the photo wall.

Escape the Night Escape Room took place in August 2019 and is not currently running.

Disclosure: Escape the Night Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

60out – Miss Jezebel [Review]

A tea party to die for.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: July 27, 2019

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $45 per player (minimum $135)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Miss Jezebel was a one-of-a-kind, actor-driven game that combined immersive theater and escape-room-esque gameplay with delightful results.

Part interactive performance, part sneaking around and solving puzzles, Miss Jezebel felt quite a bit like being inside a point-and-click adventure game like Maniac Mansion, only bawdier.

The actor playing Miss Jezebel took command of the game flow while making us feel like the experience was uniquely ours. Because of the improvisational aspects of the show, Miss Jezebel may even have replay value for those who want to experience the performance elements again.

Miss Jezebel poses in glitzy tea party attire.

If you just want to be left alone to solve puzzles with your friends, Miss Jezebel may not be your cup of tea. But for groups who know each other well and are comfortable with a raunchier style of humor and more intense interactions than the average escape room, Miss Jezebel is a must-visit.

60out is planning more immersive theater experiences in the future. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Who is this for?

  • Adults 18+ who are comfortable with suggestive humor
  • Fans of immersive theater
  • Players who enjoy interacting with actors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Humorous, playful vibe
  • The thrill of deception

Story

We were detectives tasked with investigating an eccentric character named Miss Jezebel who was suspected of murdering a series of husbands. While attending one of her famous tea parties, we needed to surreptitiously search her home and uncover evidence of her crimes.

A table lamp next to a doorway with a beaded curtain featuring an open eye.

Setting

Miss Jezebel took place at the titular character’s home, in her dimly lit sitting room. At first glance, the decor seemed eclectic yet cozy, but closer inspection revealed an edgier side.

The scenery was fairly basic, but it supported the story and the gameplay effectively.

A sideboard filled with haphazardly stacked dishes.

Gameplay

Miss Jezebel offered a combination of immersive theater and escape room, with periods of actor interaction interspersed with bursts of searching and solving. The gameplay included a few classic escape room puzzles, but largely revolved around searching, stealth, and creative problem solving.

Our mission was to find evidence that would bring down Miss Jezebel without her catching on that we were investigating her. Therefore, we had to follow Miss Jezebel’s instructions and not get caught breaking her rules. Disobeying her could result in one of several “punishments” that were both undignified and time-consuming.

Because of the interactive format, much of the experience was improvised by the actor and the participants. Rather than following a strict puzzle flow like a typical escape room, the hour felt like it was broken into stages, with some variability in the interactions that could get us to the end of each sequence.

A lace-covered table lamp illuminates a dim room, including a framed monkey head.

Analysis

➕ Miss Jezebel bills itself as a “thriller/comedy,” and it did not disappoint. The pressure to achieve our goal was intense, but the scenario was so zany that we couldn’t help but laugh—a lot.

➕ The actor playing Miss Jezebel excelled at inhabiting a demanding role while also keeping track of our progress and subtly nudging us toward our goal. Miss Jezebel was a dangerous killer…but she was a fun dangerous killer. She somehow made us feel unsettled, entertained, and perfectly safe all at the same time. By the end, we were almost rooting for her to win.

➕ Due to the improvisational nature of our interactions with Miss Jezebel, it sometimes felt as if we were pushing the game forward by creating our own solutions. We enjoyed having the freedom to improvise our way out of each problem—or at least feel as though we were improvising. This variation also personalized our playthrough, making it feel like each group’s experience would be slightly different. It would be fascinating to see how other groups approached the same obstacles.

➕ We incurred a couple of penalties for getting caught breaking the rules, but they were so amusing that we didn’t realize they functioned as time penalties. These “punishments” were more fun than frustrating and provided some of the most memorable moments of the evening.

Miss Jezebel’s off-the-wall interactions were captivating and memorable. Despite the bizarre nature of the puzzles, we felt completely immersed in our adventure.

Miss Jezebel is 18+ primarily because it relies heavily on adult humor—approximately the level of debauchery you might expect at a bachelorette party. Miss Jezebel also included a handful of potentially awkward interactions along the same lines. Some players might find these elements embarrassing; others will find them hilarious.

➕ At times the gameplay felt remarkably like a video game brought to life. We loved the situational puzzles that forced us to improvise in order to cajole or distract Miss Jezebel. Of the more traditional escape room puzzles, one aha puzzle had a particularly creative solution reminiscent of an old-school point-and-click adventure game.

➖ The audio hints sometimes overlapped with the actor’s attempts to point us in the right direction. They were also occasionally more direct than we would have liked. Subtler hinting would have allowed us to feel we made the discoveries on our own.

➕ Miss Jezebel asked a lot more from us than the typical escape room, but we always felt safe and comfortable with what the game required. Our group of two seasoned improvisers and one timid puzzle enthusiast handled the game just fine. The 18+ rating and the “expose the killer” theme may sound intimidating, but we always felt like we were having fun.

➕ 60out threw in a few amusing Easter eggs, including a reference to another of their games.

Tips For Visiting

  • Free parking is available in the rear of the building.
  • This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors.
  • Miss Jezebel isn’t scary, but it is socially challenging. Bring at least one or two people who are outgoing, hard to embarrass, or just willing to take one for the team.

Book your hour with 60out’s Miss Jezebel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 60out comped our tickets for this game.

The Best Medicine Productions – The Shadow Space [Review]

We will, we will haunt you.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 30, 2019

Team size: 10 tickets per time slot

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $50 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

With a simple setting and an elegant premise, The Shadow Space offered a fun and unique combination of immersive theater, escape room, and murder mystery.

As ghosts on a guided tour of the living, we got to experience the other side of a haunted house. Through observation, deduction, and some light haunting of the actors in the performance, we attempted to determine what had happened in the house and influence the characters towards a favorable ending.

4 hands on a ouiji board.

Playing as ghosts felt novel and invigorating. Being invisible removed the complexity and awkwardness of two-way communication that sometimes comes along with immersive theater, while still providing an entertaining new mechanic.

The Shadow Space will be back for a second run in October 2019. If you’re near Los Angeles and curious to experience a uniquely haunting hybrid show, The Shadow Space is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • Mystery lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Escalation
  • Collaborative mystery solving
  • The chance to be on the other side of a haunting for once

Story

As recently deceased ghosts, we were on a tour of the living. Our guides had promised us an evening of entertainment as we observed the inhabitants of a home on a day of celebration…and we encountered even more drama than we’d imagined.

The haunted house, a beautiful blue and white house with a yellow door and a porch.

Setting

The Shadow Space took place in a cozy Los Angeles home decorated with items of importance to its inhabitants. We haunted the first floor of the house, which included a kitchen, living room, study, and dining room where the two occupants were hosting another couple for a get-together. As we could not walk through doors, the rest of the space was off limits.

The house felt lived in, and the layout of the rooms allowed us to explore and follow the actors however we chose.

Rules of Haunting: No phones or smoking. The living can't hear you. Don't touch or block the living. Touch only what glows.

Gameplay

The Shadow Space was an immersive theater production with mystery and puzzle elements. Though it started out as a simple evening of ghostly entertainment, we eventually discovered that we needed to solve a mystery by uncovering clues and influencing the actors.

The Shadow Space emphasized the performances and the gameplay roughly equally. Though we encountered a couple of more traditional puzzles, most of the solving took place in the audience’s minds as we pieced together the clues to the central mystery.

As ghosts, we were invisible to the residents, but our hosts warned us not to haunt them too aggressively. Therefore, we could only touch objects that shone with a spiritual energy (i.e., items that lit up under a blacklight), and only when the living were not observing us. We could, however, interact with certain objects to spook the living—as long as they weren’t looking. We also could not pass through doors unless they were opened for us, which presented an interesting challenge.

Though it wasn’t all about winning, the gameplay had a medium to high level of difficulty. Between the puzzles and the central mystery, core gameplay revolved around observation, deduction, and timing.

Analysis

➕ The concept of a ghost tour and the presence of tour guides brought levity to a potentially somber and disturbing story. A pre-show icebreaker where the audience members revealed our (often humorous) causes of death also lifted tension, which helped prepare us for the experience.

➕ The premise of playing as ghosts haunting the living was inventive, and just plain fun. We enjoyed puzzling out how to affect the actors without interacting in the traditional sense.

➕/➖ Between exploring the house and observing the different actors, The Shadow Space provided a lot of possible threads to follow. On one hand, that freedom felt exhilarating. However, with nine audience members and six actors in the space, we struggled to keep track of everything, and communication became an additional challenge.

➖ For the sake of realism, the actors spoke at a normal volume, as if there weren’t a dozen other people in the space with them. This hindered our sleuthing somewhat, as we missed some moments that revealed key information about the characters’ relationships. If the more important conversations had unfolded in such a way that the audience couldn’t miss them, we would have felt more in control.

➕ The moment of transition from ghost tourists to mystery solvers surprised us and ramped up the excitement. The change in our objective felt seamless.

➕/➖ One early haunting opportunity brought the entire group together for a shared experience. That moment was fun and engaging, but it felt disconnected from the rest of the show. It would have felt more rewarding if that moment had paid off later, or otherwise been incorporated into the story.

➖ Our tour guides left us alone at one point, and we weren’t sure whether we still had to follow the rules without supervision. A bit more guidance on how the game worked would have reassured us in that moment.

➕ The actors did an impressive job of performing while both monitoring and ignoring the audience. On top of all that, their dialogue and actions often suggested what we were supposed to do next. This built-in hint delivery was subtle and effective while maintaining immersion.

➖ The clues we needed to solve the mystery were hard to piece together in such a whirlwind environment, and we only had a moment to decide on what we thought had happened. We would have benefited from another couple minutes to discuss our findings as a group before voting on what course of action to take.

➕ “Haunting” the actors felt thrilling and unique. We found ourselves wishing the show had been a bit longer so we could have had some extra time to play around with the ghost mechanics.

Tips For Visiting

The Shadow Space had a limited run in May 2019 and is not currently playing. In future performances, the venue and other details may change. You can sign up for The Shadow Space’s mailing list to be notified about the show’s return from October 8 to November 3, 2019.

Update 10/1/19: The Shadow Space will be running October 8 – November 3, 2019 in Hollywood. Tickets are available and for a limited time people can get a 1/3 off tickets by using the promo code “RIP.” The show has moved to the historic Hartsock House in the heart of Hollywood that was built in 1919 to house missionaries. There is parking. 

This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; this is a low-pressure event for less outgoing audience members.

The Shadow Space was tense and unsettling at times, but never truly scary. However, the October run may change things up in that department.

When the show returns in October, book your hour with The Best Medicine Productions’ The Shadow Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

3D Escape Room: Frequency Podcast [Review]

An escape room for your ears.

Producer:  The Owl Field

Date Played: April 13, 2019

Team size: Potentially unlimited, but we recommend playing solo

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: Free

REA Reaction

3D Escape Room: Frequency was an audio drama with escape room puzzles built in so listeners could solve along at home. It felt a lot like playing a tabletop escape game, but with podcast tracks instead of envelopes and tactile puzzles.

Closeup of Apple Airpods.

Unlike most podcasts, 3D Escape Room: Frequency was comprised of a set of tracks meant to be navigated in a certain order to reach the end of the game, with decoy tracks thrown in to obscure the correct answers.

The Owl Field’s 3D sound design was immersive and engaging. Some of the puzzles depended completely on the audio format, which felt novel and intriguing.

Though 3D Escape Room: Frequency could be played with a larger group, playing solo seemed like the ideal experience. The puzzles didn’t involve collaboration, and it was more convenient to listen through one set of headphones. If you typically enjoy playing puzzle games solo, try this one by yourself.

3D Escape Room: Frequency probably won’t stump veteran solvers, but it’s still worth checking out, especially considering that there’s zero cost or travel barrier.

It was exciting to experience an escape room in this new format, and we’d love to see The Owl Field (or other podcasters) create more games like this.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of podcasts and audio entertainment
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Innovative audio format
  • Exciting storyline
  • The convenience of playing anywhere you want

Story

Madison and her friends go off the grid to check on Lenny, a reclusive conspiracy theorist who’s gone missing. They find themselves locked in his trailer full of old radios and recording devices, and they must solve his puzzles to escape… and maybe save the world.

3D Escape Room Frequency's staticy logo.

Setting

3D Escape Room: Frequency was an escape room built into a podcast format. The story and puzzles were conveyed through the voice actors and the audio clips the characters found.

The sound was binaural, so the action seemed to be coming from all directions through the headphones. The audio design was elaborate and well produced, adding ambience to this at-home escape adventure.

Structure

3D Escape Room: Frequency had 40 separate audio tracks: 10 puzzle tracks and 30 decoy tracks. Each puzzle’s solution code matched the name of the next track players needed to access in order to find the next puzzle and advance the story. The game proceeded in a linear fashion through each puzzle track to the conclusion.

As each puzzle track progressed, the hints became increasingly transparent. As soon as we determined the solution to the puzzle, we could advance to the next corresponding track. Listening through to the end of the track ultimately revealed the solution to the puzzle.

The total runtime of all the puzzle tracks is greater than 60 minutes; final solving time depends on how quickly the player finds the codes within each track and moves on to the next.

Gameplay

3D Escape Room: Frequency was an interactive podcast escape room with a linear structure and an approachable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around listening, pattern recognition, and simple math. Some of the puzzles could have been presented in written text but were transformed by the audio format. Others completely relied on sound.

Analysis

➕ The Owl Field created a slick product out of a unique idea. This audio escape room format could easily be repeated with all sorts of themes and still be fun and exciting, just like live escape rooms.

❓ Technically, 3D Escape Room: Frequency could be played in a group, but it makes more sense as a solo experience. The puzzles were relatively simple and unfolded one at a time, which precluded the teamwork element of most escape rooms. Plus, it would be hard to communicate with others while concentrating on audio puzzles.

➕ The 3D audio design was surprisingly cool. It added to the immersion, and it made the overlapping dialogue easier to understand. The binaural effect also provided certain puzzles with extra depth.

➕/➖ 3D Escape Room: Frequency used some of its puzzles to reveal bits of the story, and hinted at a larger narrative through snippets of dialogue and sound. Though the dialogue was sometimes a bit goofy and certain plot elements remained unexplained, the voice acting and audio design carried the game and the story well.

➕ The characters periodically reported how many puzzles they had left to solve. These regular progress reports felt natural and helped track progress through the game.

➖ The introduction instructed players to write down which tracks they’d listened to in case they made a mistake and needed to backtrack. Since most of the decoy tracks appeared to be tied to a particular puzzle, it would simplify the gameplay if the decoy tracks indicated which track to return to.

➕ The puzzle tracks repeated the pertinent information multiple times, with the characters providing subtle hints, then increasingly less subtle hints, and eventually revealing the solution at the end of the track. This in-character hint delivery felt authentic and seamless. Listening to the characters attempting to solve the puzzles provided gentle nudges towards the solutions.

➕ The answer confirmation also worked smoothly. The 30 decoy tracks made it counterproductive to guess at an answer until it was 100% clear. Also, since the decoy tracks revealed incorrect guesses after 30 seconds, each track was padded to the same length. This obscured which tracks were relevant and which were decoys.

❓ Distortion was a key element of certain puzzles. Some players might find this frustrating; others might enjoy this particular sensory challenge.

➖ The ending felt a bit abrupt. Considering the format, it would have been cool to receive different endings for the win and loss states.

➕ In a podcast-based escape room, the additional dimension of time could easily have created chaos if players decided to skip around searching for clues. 3D Escape Room: Frequency’s linear design avoided this potential confusion. It kept things simple, and it worked.

Tips For Listening

  • For best results, listen with headphones in a quiet room. It’s not 100% necessary to use headphones, but the overlapping dialogue and distorted puzzles will be much easier to understand. Plus, it is an audio drama, so immersion is part of the experience.
  • If you’re playing with others, make sure to sync up the tracks at the same time, and use a podcast player you’re familiar with to avoid technical issues… Or use a headphone splitter.
  • Unlike other podcasts, 3D Escape Room: Frequency requires your full attention, so don’t plan on multitasking while you listen. As the introduction says, a pencil and paper for taking notes is key. And keep a timer handy if you’re feeling competitive.
  • This podcast contains some instances of swearing, but otherwise it’s totally kid-friendly.

Add 3D Escape Room: Frequency to your podcast queue, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.