Boxaroo – Mystery of the Magician’s Study [Review]

“The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”
– Alfred Borden, The Prestige

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: August 28, 2016

Team size: up to 9; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

From the minute we entered the magician’s study, we were transported into a magical realm. Thematically, it was an office space with a heavy wooden desk and wall-to-wall bookshelf. But in profound ways, this wasn’t your ordinary office.

We had limited time to discover the secret of this mystical place.

A dimly lit room with red walls. A typewriter sits in the foreground, dramtically lit. A bid cage hangs in the background illuminated by a series of wall-mounted candles.

Puzzles

In Mystery of the Magician’s Study, Boxaroo turned the standard bag of tricks inside out. They started with common escape room puzzles and delivered surprises; many designed to trick experienced players… and fool us they did.

This performance had no fluff. Every puzzle led us closer to the secret. Every puzzle mattered. Almost every puzzle fit neatly into the stage.

Standouts

As the story unraveled, Mystery of the Magician’s Study escalated. Boxaroo cleverly added drama where before there had been nothing. This design led to more than one wow moment.

The magic of this game was well concealed, as magic should be.

Boxaroo used legitimate stage magic practices throughout their game.

Shortcomings

One section of the game felt like a throw-away. It was unpolished, out of place, and boring.

A lot of the story was told through voice-overs that were difficult to understand. This made it challenging to follow the story. After the dramatic conclusion, we had to piece the story back together rather than feeling it as an integral part of the game.

Should I play Boxaroo’s The Magician’s Study?

The Magician’s Study is a must-play.

The standard puzzle types made it approachable for new players. Yet Boxaroo manipulated the space such that it tampered with the expectations of our experienced players. This escape room offered a fun and exciting challenge to both audiences.

Note that the ambiance included dim lighting and Boxaroo provides flashlights for all players.

Upon completion of the game, Boxaroo provided us with a stat sheet. It outlined the flow of the game and measured our progress against the average team. It’s rare to see a company keeping such detailed statistics.

Finally, this game was set inside in a massive bank vault in the basement of a downtown Boston office building. Mystery of the Magician’s Study had nothing to do with the bank vault apart from it providing a dramatic entrance to the game. I had to laugh because most companies would kill for a space like this to tell a heist story. Boxaroo chose to ignore the gigantic metal door and instead tell a different story. It was a bold decision that certainly worked.

Book your hour with Boxaroo’s Mystery of the Magician’s Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Boxaroo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Insomnia Escape – The Alchemist [Review]

A magical experience

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

The Order of the Alchemists has created the mythic and powerful Philosopher’s stone. We had to steal this stone from the library of the Master of the Order before the Order could use it to take over the world.

The library staging was both believable and fantastical. Despite the wealth of objects in the room, it wasn’t cluttered. Through the furniture and props, Insomnia Escape achieved an ornate and mythical ambiance that was dead-on.

The setup was a heist, which was as plausible as the fantastical could be.

In-game photo of a wizard statue, an intricately engraved human skull, and a stainglass window in the background.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Alchemist worked their way through the objects in the room. The game cleverly zeroed in on the important items so we didn’t feel trapped in a room of red herrings, even though there were more than a few items that weren’t incorporated into puzzles.

In part, this stemmed from a linear game flow. The escape room set clear intermediary goals and the puzzles marched forward pretty directly.

Additionally, The Alchemist told its story through the puzzles. It used a variety of interactions to continually escalate dramatic intrigue.

Standouts

The library of the Master of the Order was an intricate, beautiful, and fun environment to explore for an hour.

Double wood doors with runs painted on them, beset by a pair of black lion door knockers.
Quite the knockers.

The technology in The Alchemist was well hidden and seamlessly revealed additional information as the game unfolded. It was elegant.

In this escape room, Insomnia Escape flawlessly executed their own take on some typical escape room standards. Nothing felt cliche.

This library included quite a bit of reading material. However, we weren’t bogged down by the amount of text.

Shortcomings

We felt a lack of supervision. We were supposed to speak to the camera to receive a hint, but the gamemasters weren’t very responsive. We know that it can be difficult to communicate through these surveillance systems, but even so, this was excessive. It may have worked in our favor, given that twice we ended up not needing a hint after we’d asked for one and not received it. (We never actually used a hint.) Regardless, we had asked and it didn’t come. This would likely be more frustrating for less experienced players, or players neck and neck with their clock.

Team victory photo taken in the Alchemist's study.

In a few instances, once we’d solved a puzzle and knew how to proceed, it became tedious to execute the solution.

Should I play Insomnia Escape’s The Alchemist?

If you like artful design, story, and beautifully hidden technology, then yes, this is your game.

The Alchemist was mystical and magical. It transported us into a solidly constructed, carefully crafted alternate universe. Furthermore, our mission was clear and we felt like characters in an unfolding fantasy heist.

This is not an ideal game for new players because they will likely have trouble finding and following the thread of gameplay. We recommend that players get a few games under their proverbial belts before taking on The Alchemist, as they will find it far more enjoyable if they have a firm grasp of escape room mechanics, tactics, and flow.

Book your hour with Insomnia Escape’s The Alchemist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Games NYC – The Experiment [Review]

“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”

― Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Location: New York, New York

Date played: June 6, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: It’s complicated

Emergency Exit: [A] Push to Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

Here’s the setup: “You wake up and find yourselves in a mysterious cube shaped room. Who put you here? How can you get out? What is ‘The Experiment’? As time winds down you will start to wonder if the experiment… is you!”

The story was minimalist. This game was about the puzzles and the unusual The Cube inspired environment.

The room had a great sci-fi insane asylum aesthetic.

In-game: A chain of locks in the foreground, a stark white paneled wall in the background.

Upon first glance, there was nothing in the room but a chain that was all bunched up with locks. With careful examination, we quickly learned that there was more to this room than met the eye.

Puzzles

The Experiment included a great mix of logic, dexterity, and task-based puzzles. The Experiment included a puzzle for everyone.

The puzzle design did an excellent job of ensuring that we always knew exactly where to input our solutions. From a player perspective, I can’t really understate how important this was.

Standouts

The look of the room was badass. I loved the game space.

The Experiment included an excellent mix of puzzles.

Escape Games NYC hand made many of the puzzles in this game; these creations were damn cool. I thought one was so nifty that after I had solved it, I stopped everyone from playing for a moment just to show them how it worked. I usually wait until after the game to do stuff like that.

Shortcomings

The Experiment included a set of dry mathematical puzzles that seemed lazily thrown in. Both the puzzles and their presentation felt out of place in this room escape.

Everything looked great at first glance, but upon closer inspection, many game components lacked polish such that they felt unfinished.

Narrative in generally a good thing. The Experiment, however, could have benefited from dropping the story entirely (there wasn’t much beyond the intro) and instead focusing on creating a completely polished, fully immersive environment.

Should I play Escape Games NYC’s The Experiment?

The Experiment pulled off a cool trick: By using an unusual environment, they created a game where the story didn’t matter anywhere near as much as the environment and the tasks that it demanded of us.

It’s a nifty feat. This is the strongest, most interesting escape room that Escape Games NYC is offering in 2016.

The Experiment is a great game that would be mind-blowing with a little more attention to the rough edges and a few finishing touches. It’s absolutely worth experiencing.

Book your hour with Escape Games NYC’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Games NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape From The 6 – Firefighter Rescue [Review]

Where the doors are your greatest nemesis.

Location: Oakville, Ontario

Date played: April 27, 2016

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 28 CAD per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

In Firefighter Rescue, we spent an hour as firefighters. In the middle of a mundane day at the station, we were dispatched to a call. And just like that, we landed in a search and rescue mission.

Firefighter Rescue took place in multiple settings, all custom designed and expertly constructed. The fire station was fun, but the “burning” building was practically a playground. We climbed through it and even manipulated it to complete our mission.

The rescue story was lighthearted and a little hokey. Yet, that didn’t dissuade us from the mission. In fact, it made the mission that much more approachable and fun.

Both the story and the setting were interactive and immersive without becoming serious.

An illustrated image of two fire fighers hosing down flames. Red text reads,
We didn’t get to discharge a hose or a fire extinguisher.

Puzzles

The early puzzles trained us for the dispatch call. They weren’t particularly challenging, but they relied on the set and served a greater purpose.

The later part of this escape room was scavenging heavy, but not in the typical sense. Instead of searching for bits and pieces of hidden puzzles, which can become annoying, we searched in order to rescue. This scavenging had purpose. It also culminated such that we knew when we’d completed the search.

Standouts

Escape From The 6 used simple practical effects brilliantly to enhance the drama of our firefighter dispatch.

This room escape did not rely on technologically driven interactions. The set and its puzzles were hands-on, which fit the theme and story.

Escape From The 6 added technological elements for atmospheric enhancements.

Firefighter Rescue incorporated a fun call back: information from the fire station became crucial later in the game. This was a clever, thematically appropriate design detail. Players who don’t pay attention will land in an amusingly difficult situation.

Shortcomings

Neither the fire station training nor the rescue mission were particularly challenging.

There was one room that felt a bit grimy; piles of clothes in escape rooms are generally gross.

Should I play Escape From The 6’s Firefighter Rescue?

Firefighter Rescue was beautifully designed and constructed. It provided a fully immersive set that enabled more physical interaction than most escape games. Yet, it also wove multiple stories into a coherent plot. This gave us a rare additional level of satisfaction in mission completion.

Furthermore, it was clear that the game designer had a deep knowledge and love of this theme.

This escape room was a rescue mission. It wasn’t scary, but it could prove intimidating to children. It would be an approachable game for all players, with the notable exception that firefighting requires physical mobility.

Book your hour with Escape From The 6’s Firefighter Rescue, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Image via Escape From The 6

Escape Games Canada – Crossroads [Review]

A dark story, magnificently staged, with some serious consequences.

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Date played: May 1, 2016

Team size: they recommend 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

We were a team of detectives tracking a serial killer before he reached his next victim.

The setting was beautifully foreboding, and deliberately crafted. It was well designed, solid, and polished. The atmosphere expertly sidestepped that raw vibe of many murder-themed escape rooms that is off-putting to some players, while still maintaining a creepy feel.

A close up of intricaately worn metal.
A teaser image from the set. Everything was this detailed.

Additionally, Crossroads included a crossroads decision game mechanism that elevated the drama of the story.

Puzzles

The puzzles unfolded linearly. At any given point in time, there wasn’t enough to keep a full and experienced team occupied simultaneously.

That said, Crossroads relied heavily on indexing puzzles. Throughout the game, these varied in complexity. Newer players will find additional minds beneficial for holding and sorting this type of information.

Standouts

As implied by the name Crossroads, we had to make a choice. Our team’s choice had consequences for both the story arc and the difficulty of the puzzles. This feature set the game apart from the standard room escape where are rarely consequences for player decisions.

Escape Games Canada designed some pretty cool tech to power this game.

Shortcomings

The puzzles in Crossroads weren’t particularly mind-bending. The game was far more about the experience. This could be a feature or a bug depending upon your perspective.

Early in the game, a combination lock failed.* We spent a lot of time unable to solve anything else because our critical puzzle jammed. We called for a hint to confirm that the lock was dead. The time was credited, but our game master should have been able to figure out what was happening before we did.

*Escape Games Canada let David punish the offending lock with bolt cutters (and proper safety gear). This put a largely positive spin on a disappointment.

Should I play Escape Games Canada’s Crossroads?

Escape Games Canada targets an adult audience. Crossroads’ setting and story was intense and dramatic. The choice further complicated the disturbing plot.

Because of the style of puzzle design, newer players may prefer to play this game with a larger team. Because of the linear flow, this will be a smaller team game for more experienced players.

Bring the right number of players with the right sentiments and you’ll have a great time.

Book your hour with Escape Games Canada’s Crossroads, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.