2017 Golden Lock-In Awards

We played and reviewed 258 room escapes in 2017.

Our escape rate was 96.12%. That’s 10 losses, including one game that appears on this list.

We traveled more than 58,000 miles in search of the finest escape rooms in the world. Our journey took us to:

  • 75 cities and towns
  • 15 US states
  • 7 countries
  • 3 conferences

We played more escape rooms this year than we have in all other years combined.

We also put a heavy focus on hunting down top games wherever we traveled, so in addition to playing more games, we mostly played games that ranged from good to phenomenal.

2017 spoiled us. These 17 escape rooms were the games that we enjoyed the most.

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again.

There were plenty of other amazing escape rooms, but we can’t honor them all. In the end these 17 rose to the top.

Rules

  1. We only considered games that we both played in 2017. (We did not consider either Time Run or any of the Polish games because only one of us visited these companies.)
  2. We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In.
  3. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
  4. A company could only win once for the year.

2017 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order we played them.

Lab Rats

15 Locks – Austin, Texas

Visually simple, yet deceptively complex, Lab Rats was the most phenomenal large-team game we’ve played because this colorful experiment optimized for collaboration across separated spaces through inventive game mechanics.

Dead Air

The Crux Escape  – Niagara Falls, Canada

Rock & roll might be a shambling corpse, but this rock & roll zombie apocalypse was alive. Dead Air was cohesive, elegant, humorous, and perhaps most shockingly… it made sense, story included. We sent so many attendees of the Room Escape Conference to visit this low-budget masterpiece and they all returned smiling.

Maze of Hakaina

Komnata Quest, Manhattan – New York, New York

Maze of Hakaina dropped us into a Japanese-inspired and video game-esque labyrinth that came to a very pointed climax.

The Vault

Sherlocked – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We raced from a parking garage to Amsterdam’s historic Beurs van Berlage and talked our way past a guard into a hidden and majestic basement. The Vault captured the heart-racing, blood-pumping feel of a Hollywood heist.

Girl’s Room

Escape Room Netherlands – Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Girl’s Room felt alive… and angry. The extensive and thoughtful technology made it feel like we weren’t alone in this dark and twisted thriller. While it was a trek to get to Escape Room Netherlands from Amsterdam, if you’re brave enough, it’s worth the journey.

Zoe

Escapade Games – Anaheim, California

F****** terrifying. In Escapade’s haunted house with escape room mechanics as gates, we were mind controlled and at the mercy of Zoe as she paralyzed us with fear… then made us solve puzzles.

Clock Tower

Escape The Room NYC – New York, New York & Boston, Massachusetts

Peak puzzles: Clock Tower was a love letter to escape room players. It looked beautiful and played even better. Technology seamlessly connected brilliant and occasionally devious puzzles and props, making us earn our victory.

Utopia

Riddle Room – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Utopia was an illusion. When we first entered the gamespace, we worried we’d hate it. Behind its deceptively simple facade we discovered brilliant physical and digital puzzles that carried a narrative and challenged our assumptions of what escape rooms could or should be.

The Lost Treasure

The Room – Berlin, Germany

The Lost Treasure was a masterpiece of game and adventure design. The energy, effects, and beauty of this game made us feel like we were Indiana Jones. When we won, we didn’t want to leave. Months later we are still amazed by how much detail The Room crammed into this game, yet it never felt distracting or misleading.

The Great Room

13th Hour Escape Games – Wharton, NJ

Slightly creepy and seriously playful, The Great Room impressed us on multiple levels. From the dynamic introduction, to the puzzles, to the gamespace itself, it was a great room.

Spellbound

RISE Escape Rooms – Tickfaw, Louisiana

Spellbound’s witches vs vampires drama brought together the old and new: hefty locks and magical opens, common puzzle types and new twists, all in a beautifully weathered set that gave way to so many surprises.

Tomb of Anubis

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I cannot think of an escape room moment more dramatic than the opening reveal of Tomb of Anubis. The scale of this adventure was as daunting as it was enchanting.

Inventor’s Attic

Escape My Room – New Orleans, Louisiana

Escape My Room’s themed facility, the DeLaporte estate, captivated us with its decor, characters, and eccentricity. Inventor’s Attic pinnacled their unified aesthetic through elaborate mechanisms, interconnected oddities, beautiful reveals, and smart puzzles.

The Man from Beyond

Strange Bird Immersive – Houston, Texas

Strange Bird Immersive’s theatrical escape room hybrid was so powerful that we teared up. In The Man from Beyond, the push and pull of actors and puzzles didn’t compete; they intertwined. The performance was as moving and fine tuned as the mechanical puzzles.

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure

Trap’t – Stamford, Connecticut

Time Chasers linked four seemingly unrelated escape room worlds into one grand adventure. Each segment was loaded with compelling details that enriched the story without bogging it down. Any individual room within this game could have carried a stand-alone escape room.

The Elevator Shaft

THE BASEMENT – Sylmar, California

The Elevator Shaft was exhilarating and loaded with edgy practical effects. THE BASEMENT’s latest thriller locked us inside of a menacing elevator shaft reimagined in the image of the Death Star trash compactor.

The Parlour

Puzzalarium – San Diego, California

The Parlour combined puzzles with resource optimization, creating an intriguing hybrid tabletop game and escape room. Presided over by the puzzle purveyor, Puzzalarium’s abstraction was as peculiar as it was pleasing.

Congratulations to the 2017 Golden Lock-In Winners!

2016 Golden Lock-In Winners

2015 Golden Lock-In Winners

About Room Escape Artist

Puzzalarium – The Parlour [Review]

A whole from fragments.

Location: San Diego, CA

Date played: December 3, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket, minimum purchase of 3 tickets

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

J. D. Howell’s mind was shattered and he was lost within himself. The scientists of Streeper Industries tasked us with entering the broken man’s thoughts and puzzling them back together.

In-game: a small chest covered in labeled keys.

Set within a bepuzzled parlour representing our patient’s mind, we worked to gain access to various compartments in beautiful antique furniture. All of this was overseen by an in-room and in-character gamemaster perched behind a casino card table.

The set wasn’t complicated or detailed, but it was atmospheric. It set a mysterious mood.

Gameplay

This was not a typical escape room; we had to earn everything within The Parlour.

In-game: A deck of cards and a stack of poker chips.

“Fragments of thought” in the form of poker chips served as our currency. We earned them by scavenging as well as solving puzzles. They in turn could be traded to our mysterious gamemaster for the keys to new puzzles or hints.

Our goals were to earn the door key and exit with as many “fragments of thought” as possible.

Standouts

The Parlour was almost entirely puzzles. The minimalist set and deliberate lighting focused all of our attention on the gameplay. The puzzles were engaging.

“Fragments of thought” were both in-game currency and a scoring mechanism. We played a game of puzzles and of resource management and optimization. The Parlour even included bonus options, to further complicate that puzzle. We enjoyed this additional dynamic.

Our gamemaster was a character in The Parlour. He was a gate to the puzzles, confirming solutions and distributing new challenges. With some he played a more involved role than with others. He was a calculating and mysterious puzzle purveyor.

The Parlour had an inventive and amusing introduction and conclusion. The fail state ending was hilarious. We escaped, but it might have been more entertaining to lose.

In-game: A beautiful antique with many drawers, cabinets, and 3 shelves covered in preserved butterflies.

Unlocking the puzzles through currency and a gatekeeper created a different dynamic, unlike most escape rooms. That said, the room wasn’t entirely for ambiance. When a new puzzle opened, we had to turn back to the room to start making sense of it. The Parlour merged traditional escape room dynamics with other forms of gameplay.

Shortcomings

Our gamemaster was a character, but his persona felt forced. He was not a natural actor. This strained the game at times because the puzzle purveyor was a pivotal part of The Parlour.

Some of the items we unlocked in The Parlour needed a bit more polish. Puzzalarium could enhance the overall experience by replacing scraps of paper with more refined components. This was especially true for the small and hard-to-read items written by hand.

Should I play Puzzalarium’s The Parlour?

The Parlour was a puzzler’s paradise. The setting was moody and atmospheric, but set wasn’t the show. The puzzles and gameplay were the focus… They more than carried the escape room.

Everything within The Parlour was an abstraction meant to facilitate gameplay. In a lot of ways, The Parlour was more akin to a tabletop game than it was to most escape rooms. We had currency and stakes; much of the gameplay occurred on a card table. It felt different because it was different.

If a puzzle-driven game in an elegantly simple environment sounds like a good time, then Puzzalarium’s The Parlour will be an absolute delight regardless of your level of escape room experience.

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

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

Trap’t – Time Chasers: Race for the Cure [Review]

Hold onto your top hat; we’re going steampunk time traveling.

Location: Stamford, Connecticut

Date played: November 25, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

As members of the Time Chaser Corps, we needed to manufacture and deliver a cure for our terminally ill President Palmer. (There might be a few pop culture references.) We would travel back in time to glean information from those who had not survived this disease.

In-game: An elaborate ceiling hanging light, a wall of assorted clocks, and an illuminated control console.

Time Chaser Corps Central was bright and open. It had a steam punk-meets-lab aesthetic that fit the theme.

During Time Chasers: Race for the Cure, we traveled to different settings, in different times. With each shift, the aesthetic shifted completely. I’d tell you where we traveled, but… spoilers.

Puzzles

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure was packed with puzzles. These required observation, dexterity, logic, decipherment, counting, and reading comprehension, among other skills. There was more than something for everyone.

In-game: A blue and purple glowing wall hanging.

Standouts

Trap’t researched thoroughly to fit this narrative together around historical characters. They paid attention to historical details at every turn. They even went out of their way to justify the inclusion of modern technology in historical settings. While Time Chasers: Race for the Cure doesn’t teach history, it doesn’t contradict it either. It fits right in with our known narrative.

Trap’t minded other, nonhistorical details that enabled smooth puzzle flow. For example, they used unique input forms at a crucial juncture that could easily have had players wasting time on unnecessary mixups.

In-game: Three steampunk goggles with different colored lenses.

While the narrative of Time Chasers: Race for the Cure was laid out from the beginning, the sets still managed to surprise us. In one instance, Trap’t substituted the expected reveal with an initial unexpected open. This was a nice touch.

We particularly enjoyed puzzles that used common escape room techniques differently. These were dispersed throughout the different sets.

Written clues were well designed so as not to be arduous. Reading took place in bright lighting.

With Time Chasers: Race for the Cure, Trap’t raised the level of their set design. In this escape room we traveled through 4 different sets, each a common escape room setting, and each more aesthetically pleasing than the majority of escape rooms with these themes.

Shortcomings

While the sets looked great from afar, upon close inspection, there was room for improvement. Some of the wall hangings were more polished than others. Additionally (and this is nitpicking), they could remove price tags and the like from their purchased props.

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure took us through multiple different settings, but our time wasn’t balanced. We entered the third set for only a short puzzle segment. Trap’t clearly put a lot of effort into constructing this segment and we would have liked to have spent more time puzzling through it.

We encountered multiple counting puzzles in Time Chasers: Race for the Cure. If Trap’t is looking to improve the puzzle distribution, we’d vote for fewer counting puzzles.

One puzzle was unnerving in that it seemed to require us to do something potentially unsafe (if you know what you’re looking at). This puzzle was brilliantly clued and perfectly safe, but it was unsettling all the same.

Should I play Trap’t’s Time Chasers: Race for the Cure?

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure combined multiple escape room sets into one cohesive narrative. This was a fun premise and exciting to explore.

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure was a challenging puzzle game. There were a lot of puzzles to work through. While most of these resolved pretty quickly, a few required a bit more process to implement.

We recommend Time Chasers: Race for the Cure for players who’ve completed a few escape rooms already. There’s a lot to puzzle through. Escape room veterans will also have an additional appreciation for the brief stopovers in familiar escape room settings and the framework that ties all of these together. Everyone else should play a game or two before enjoying this one. It’s worth leveling up your escape room skills to play it.

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure was a big leap forward for Trap’t. This is a special game and we really enjoyed racing through it.

Book your hour with Trap’t’s Time Chasers: Race for the Cure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap’t comped our tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Elevator Shaft [Review]

Crushing upgrades.

Location: Sylmar, CA

Date played: December 1, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $34 per ticket weekdays, $38 per ticket weekends

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

The Elevator Shaft was a new Chapter 2 in THE BASEMENT trilogy. This new game completely replaced The Boiler Room.

Following the events of Chapter 1, The Elevator Shaft, like The Boiler Room operated under the pretense that your team failed the first game. You were gassed and your unconscious body was delivered to Edward Tandy’s one of a kind body disposing, Death Star trash compactor elevator shaft.

Tandy did not know, however, that the engineer that he had enslaved to build the elevator had also hidden an override sequence. Could we uncover it and save ourselves?

In-game: The hyper detailed wall of an elevator shaft with a large steel elevator car above.

In keeping with what we’ve come to expect from THE BASEMENT, The Elevator Shaft had a dark, detailed, and badass set. Moreover, The Elevator Shaft environment felt alive. The set was always doing something different… whether you wanted it to or not.

Puzzles

The Elevator Shaft was a horror adventure where the interactions were born of the environment and necessity. It also had the most refined puzzle game of THE BASEMENT trilogy.

Close up of the wall, "Are you listening?" is painted in blood.

Standouts

The Elevator Shaft had an incredible set. It was detailed and believable, but it wasn’t busy. It worked.

THE BASEMENT created phenomenal and ever-changing practical effects for The Elevator Shaft. These kept us on edge for the entire experience.

The combination of set and effects delivered a true adventure game. It was exhilarating. There were incredible badass moments… both solo and team.

THE BASEMENT installed a couple of serious puzzles within this adventure. These layered, team-effort solves were fair and satisfying.

In-game: A closeup of a large old lever padlock against a gross and worn wall.

Shortcomings

THE BASEMENT sells 6 tickets to The Elevator Shaft, but it’s a 3-player escape room, 4 tops… unless you have teammates who primarily want to watch. Even with 3 players (which I think is ideal), at certain times The Elevator Shaft bottlenecked when only a single player could truly advance the game. THE BASEMENT should make this a flat-rate, privately booked experience.

While most of the set and props were high quality, one prop looked so fake and party-store-esque that I was shocked to see it in a game from THE BASEMENT. The good news… this could be effortlessly replaced with something more appropriate.

THE BASEMENT fully commits to using electricity as an interaction in their games. I’ve written about this in past reviews and I’m not going to rehash my feelings on electricity once again. The Elevator Shaft had something that made a lot more sense than previous electric interactions. It was perfectly safe in this escape room, but had it been “real life,” under the circumstances we were in, this would have likely killed everyone in the room. Given that THE BASEMENT’s product is effectively horror realism, this turned me off.

It sounded like The Elevator Shaft had a dramatic conclusion around a fail state. The win-state conclusion that we saw, however, was anticlimactic, especially considering the thrill of the whole experience up until that point.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft?

I was sad when I heard that THE BASEMENT was closing The Boiler Room, as it was hands down my favorite game that the notorious horror escape room company had to offer. I am thrilled to report that The Elevator Shaft isn’t just a worthy successor; it’s a vastly superior one.

The Elevator Shaft was intense and smart. It contained a ton of cool moments. If you win, you’ll feel like a hero. I suspect that if you lose, you’ll really feel like a victim.

If you played and enjoyed The Boiler Room, you should revisit The Elevator Shaft. While you will instantly recognize a few key features, the gameplay, set, and overall experience is improved in all but one way: capacity.

The Boiler Room capped out at 4 players. While The Elevator Shaft has a much larger physical footprint, that physical capacity does not come with enough interactions to keep half a dozen engaged players active for most of the time. With only 3 players, we still had people standing around waiting for substantial periods of time.

If you like horror and are seeking set-born interactions, then you’re in for a treat with The Elevator Shaft. Bring the smallest team you can. Buy out the game if that’s a financially viable option or book at odd hours / last minute in the hopes that no one else will crash your game.

Note that you should wear clothes and shoes that you don’t care that much about to The Elevator Shaft. This goes for all THE BASEMENT’S escape rooms, but especially this one. Your stuff likely won’t be ruined if you don’t heed this warning, but there is some risk.

If you want nothing to do with horror, this clearly won’t be your escape room.

If you’ve never played an escape room, The Elevator Shaft will likely deliver a spanking to you and your team; this was a hard game. It’s winnable, but challenging. You should probably level up your skill before attempting it, or go in looking for a messed up adventure that you won’t “survive.”

Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

13th Gate Escape – Tomb of Anubis [Review]

Anubis: God of the afterlife and dramatic reveals.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

While following a boring guide through the Pyramids of Giza, we decided that it would be more fun to explore on our own… until we triggered a trap and discovered the corpse of another would-be explorer. There was no going back, only through. Could we find our way out of the Tomb of Anubis?

In-game: A narrow corridor in an Egyptian tomb with a circular series of wheels with symbols on the far wall.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

Tomb of Anubis was huge. The scale of this escape room was dumbfounding, as was the level of detail. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the set of Tomb of Anubis a work of art. From sand to sandstone, to carvings and statues, no detail was too small to ignore.

Puzzles

To solve the puzzles, we manipulated the gorgeous and expansive set pieces inside Tomb of Anubis.

To understand the puzzles, we pored over a small journal of diagrams and prose that contained the clue-structure. 13th Gate Escape divorced cluing from the environment.

In-game: A series of colored bottles on a ledge within an Egyptian tomb.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

While there was a lot of adventure, there were some strikingly challenging puzzles in Tomb of Anubis.

Standouts

When Tomb of Anubis revealed its inner depths, we were shocked. We’d never seen a space transform on such a scale. It was the most dramatic and exciting reveal we’d experienced in an escape room to date.

We were Indiana Jones exploring this tomb. The set reacted to us. On multiple occasions, the tomb revealed surprises. It was intense. It was badass.

Tomb of Anubis was a challenging puzzle game. There were a lot of complex puzzles to work through in the space. They involved beautiful props and the set itself.

We enjoyed one transition space that was a physically interactive puzzle, an elegant link to a previous solve, and a dramatic set interaction all rolled up into one. It was incredible to traverse.

Shortcomings

Inside the Tomb of Anubis, we found a journal that functioned as a run book for the puzzles. It lead us through the different tasks inside the tomb, one by one. We focused on this one prop – and struggled against an unclear font and little diagrams – rather than on the much more impressive space around us. We would have loved to have been able to spend this escape room 100% engaged with the amazing gamespace.

Because much of the clue structure was in the journal, the puzzles were less interconnected and the experience less fluid.

Our gamemaster warned us not to place items on a very inviting surface, so as to not compromise gameplay, but this intervention put a damper on a late-game reveal. If 13th Gate Escape made a small adjustment to the set piece, they’d enhance the drama of that one moment by removing the need for gamemaster intervention. It would be worth it.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Tomb of Anubis?

Tomb of Anubis had one of the most impressive escape room sets that we’ve ever seen. It was enormous, detailed, and interactive. When it changed, oh wow, did it change. It was breathtaking.

I only wish that I hadn’t spent so much of my time in Tomb of Anubis with my head in a little journal.

If you like escape rooms that transport you to incredible places you can’t see in real life, look no further than Tomb of Anubis.

Know too that Tomb of Anubis is no slouch of a puzzle game. Bring a larger team. Cooperate. Share the journals and the set piece interaction. You’ll have to puzzle hard to see this one all the way through.

The Egyptians did the afterlife right.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Tomb of Anubis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape My Room – Inventor’s Attic [Review]

Rube Goldberg’s bayou punk attic.

Location: New Orleans, LA

Date played: October 7, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

With the DeLaporte annual ball scheduled to begin in an hour, and the estate’s electricity malfunctioning, it fell to us to explore the home and determine the cause of the outages. All wires led to eccentric Uncle Remy DeLaporte’s attic, where he claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

In-game: an antique rolltop desk filled with books and trinkets next to a small bed.

Inventor’s Attic was gorgeous and unusual. This room escape took Escape My Room’s eclectic, antique-collection-of-curiosities aesthetic and bumped it up quite a few notches. Uncle Remy’s makeshift inventions were strewn about the space, each one strange and worthy of exploration.

Puzzles

Inventor’s Attic had a lot of nifty gadgets… and of course, these were puzzles. They were interactive and exciting. Inventor’s Attic also required observation and correlation.

Standouts

Escape My Room’s DeLaporte Mansion has an aesthetic like no other. Inventor’s Attic started off with a similar vibrant look similar to Escape My Room’s other escape rooms, but morphed into a more focused look that maintained the feel of the mansion while setting the attic apart. It was beautifully designed.

In-game: A Rube Goldberg machine with slanted shelves with a number of contraptions affixed to it.

We loved the Rube Goldberg-esque theme that ran through Inventor’s Attic. From the first moment of play, we were intrigued by the interconnected oddities.

With Inventor’s Attic, Escape My Room enhanced their spatial reveals. Two moments in particular stood out, where the space changed in surprising and exciting ways.

A lot of the gadgets within the Inventor’s Attic were, to the best of my knowledge, unique among escape rooms. We enjoyed so many of the puzzles that were the meat of this experience. One in particular was almost mesmerizing to work through and a lot of fun.

For one puzzle, Escape My Room included a player-friendly reset switch, something we’ve rarely seen with this type of challenge.

As a matter of philosophy, Escape My Room wants their players to spend as close to a full hour as possible in each escape room. They present bonus puzzles to speedy teams who win with time to spare. The way they introduced this puzzle was so smart.

Shortcomings

Inventor’s Attic didn’t always give us enough feedback when we’d solved puzzles. We sometimes couldn’t figure out what we’d earned. Additional springs or lighting or audio clues would enhance these little reveals.

One of the more involved puzzles didn’t have adequate cluing. We loved the concept, and how it pulled together the inventor’s aesthetic with that of the overall DeLaporte Mansion, but the puzzle within needed work.

The puzzling at the heart of Inventor’s Attic was largely non-linear. While some will absolutely see this as a boon, we were a little disappointed because many of the puzzles couldn’t really support more than 1-2 players at a time. This meant that each of us completely missed at least one of the amazing interactions in this room escape.

Should I play Escape My Room’s Inventor’s Attic?

I can’t think of a more cohesive escape room company than Escape My Room. Their entryway, lobby, series of lobby puzzles, hallways, and each of their escape rooms have all been crafted with the same aesthetic and story in mind. Even their gamemasters present themselves in character at all times. Everything they have to offer is built around the DeLaporte family, their estate, and their odd history.

It’s damn impressive… and Inventor’s Attic is a jewel in this beautifully strange collection.

Inventor’s Attic is a must-play for experienced room escapers. Its uniqueness, beautiful design, surprising reveals, and brilliant interactions all combined to make an unforgettable and challenging yet fair experience.

Beginners will certainly be impressed by what Inventor’s Attic has to offer, but they will likely be a bit bewildered by it. I would highly recommend playing at least one or two other escape rooms before attempting Inventor’s Attic. That will make this escape room more approachable and let you more fully appreciate how joyous Escape My Room’s latest creation is.

Book your hour with Escape My Room’s Inventor’s Attic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape My Room comped our tickets for this game.

RISE Escape Rooms – Spellbound [Review]

Like True Blood, but with more puzzles and less sex.

Location: Tickfaw, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 6-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

Recurring dreams and visions drew us to this rundown and abandoned witches’ den. The High Priestess had summoned us to a forlorn home where we had to gain entry, decipher spells, and discover all that we needed to end the Vampire Patriarch before he arose from his 200-year slumber and reignited his war against the witches.

In-game: An old, dramatically lit house on the bayou. A locked truck sits in the center of the room with a glowing fireplace and lit candles in the background.
Image via RISE Escape Rooms

Spellbound was dark and grim. It never turned into a horror experience, but it also showcased some of RISE Escape Room’s roots in the haunt industry.

The set was beautifully weathered and detailed with tons of nooks to explore. The set design was top-tier.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Spellbound felt magical. When we interacted with the set and props, the escape room responded.

The earlier puzzles were generally self-contained. Spellbound built to multiple complex, layered puzzles.

Standouts

Spellbound was gorgeous. From the eerie outdoor porch, to the mystical inner space, Spellbound was a beautiful, engaging, and immersive space.

The locking mechanisms contributed to the feel of the space. Both the old-timey key locks and the magical tech-driven opens made each interaction – and all forward progress – a part of the world of Spellbound.

RISE Escape Rooms took a common escape room puzzle and put their own dark twist on it, transforming it into something far more compelling. This example demonstrated how it can be beneficial to take an old concept and cast a new light upon it.

Spellbound also used another common escape room trope, but augmented it such that it still presented a challenge even if you thought you knew how to do it at first contact.

RISE Escape Rooms manipulated space such that seemingly normal transitions would then yield exciting reveals and transitions later in the escape room.

Spellbound built to a badass conclusion.

Shortcomings

At times, Spellbound suffered from symbol overload.

In the dim light of Spellbound, it wasn’t always clear when we’d solved something. RISE Escape Rooms could add more feedback, through light and sound, or maybe through more magical effects, which would help keep the puzzling on track and contribute to the ambiance.

Should I play RISE Escape Rooms’ Spellbound?

Yes… if you have some prior escape room experience.

Spellbound was masterfully designed by a team who really gets escape rooms. It looked amazing, played smoothly, put smart twists on established puzzle types, and created a strong sense of adventure.

The catch here: if you don’t have any prior experience, you’ll get lost and miss everything that’s special about Spellbound. RISE Escape Rooms’ website flat out says, “DO NOT BOOK THIS GAME IF IT IS YOUR FIRST ESCAPE EXPERIENCE.” They are right and I respect their willingness to make this point clear to their customers.

If you’re an experienced player visiting New Orleans or Baton Rouge, it is worth finding a car or some means of transportation to Tickfaw, Louisiana. RISE Escape Rooms will not let you down.

If you’re a newbie, go play a few room escapes and level up so that you can explore the world of Spellbound. RISE Escape Room has two other fantastic games that would be perfect games for building up your skills (reviews to come).

Book your hour with RISE Escape Rooms’ Spellbound, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: RISE Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Strange Bird Immersive – The Man from Beyond [Review]

“I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life – all mystery and magic.” – Harry Houdini

Location: Houston, TX

Date played: October 7, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: $40 per ticket, $34 per ticket on Thursdays

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

Medium Madame Daphne had invited us to a séance for the magician Harry Houdini. All previous attempts to summon the spirit of the legendary performer had failed. On this night, however, something unexpected happened. It fell to us to unravel the mysteries of life and death.

Madame Daphne, dramatically lit, sitting in a large chair at her seance table. Her arms out stretched and eyes closed.
Image via Strange Bird Immersive

The Man from Beyond was a hybrid of escape room and immersive theater. It began and concluded with untimed immersive theater and seamlessly sandwiched a full escape room in the middle.

A large seance table with a tambourine, and handcuffed. A locked chest in the background.

The set was that of a séance parlor. Having seen a few in the past, it looked exactly like the staging of an early 20th century séance. Like the Houdini Séance Chamber in Los Angeles’ Magic Castle, this room was also filled with Houdini’s belongings and mysterious creations.

Puzzles

At times there were puzzles and at times there was theater. Either way, there was magic.

A straight jacket is affixed around a bow tied mannequin.

As we investigated the Houdini paraphernalia, we found the puzzles therein. These were primarily mechanical and observational, which supported the context. The puzzles were fantastic as standalone challenges and came together cohesively as well.

Standouts

Strange Bird Immersive masterfully combined theater with escape room gameplay. The Man from Beyond was an escape room wrapped in context, narrative, and performance. It was engaging, moving, humorous, and thought-provoking. It was so much more than a puzzle game and so much more than most theater.

The actors were incredible. They followed a script that branched according to our responses. They also improvised their own reactions based on our responses. Their characters were convincing and intriguing.

A large old safe that reads, "The Houdinis. Triumph Safe Co. New York."

Strange Bird Immersive incorporated minute details into this set. While unremarkable in their own right, together these brought authenticity to the set and props. This made the narrative that much more believable. Having previously attended a Houdini Séance at the Magic Castle, amongst true Houdini memorabilia, I appreciated the attention to detail that Strange Bird Immersive built into their own creation.

The puzzles in The Man from Beyond leveraged the set pieces and props, all of which belonged to a previous era. We particularly enjoyed the mechanical puzzles crafted into these items. These mechanical puzzles were actually mechanical and were brilliantly reminiscent of The Room video game series.

We’ve encountered few hint systems that were as completely a part of the experience as this one. It greatly enhanced the piece by making hints feel like they were part of the ride.

Minor Spoiler: Game Structure Discussion

The Man from Beyond gave one player an individual scene, apart from the rest of the group. Unlike so many similar moments in other games, the rest of the team remained actively puzzling and entertained. We each enjoyed this time, despite the differences we experienced.

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There were some great sounds cues.

Strange Bird Immersive created an air of mystery around the entire experience. The room reacted. The actors reacted. And we reacted. Sometimes in unpredictable ways.

It has proven challenging for many escape rooms to deliver story and gameplay in a single hour with a ticking clock. In The Man from Beyond, Strange Bird Immersive avoided these pitfalls by removing the countdown timer entirely during storytelling segments and allowing the team to puzzle with little interruption during the gameplay segment. This elongated the length of the experience and worked magically.

At the onset of the experience Strange Bird Immersive served us small Prohibition-era cocktails; they were fantastic. They will also serve beverages without alcohol or sugar if requested.

Shortcomings

The Man from Beyond started with an onramp interaction, to help newer players learn how to interact with an escape room space. While this introduction tactic was clever, it never resolved; it simply got us exploring a little. Throughout the experience, we continually wondered whether this opening scene would factor into something or whether it would unravel into a plot twist. This part lacked closure.

Multiple readers have reported that this item has been removed: One visually loud prop looked like something that it was not. This created some confusion and burned a fair amount of time. The prop seemed like a really bad puzzle, but it wasn’t. It just looked like a familiar bit of bad design. Ultimately this was a distraction and The Man from Beyond would have been better with something else in its place.

Hiding a few cables and tubes would improve the overall game and reduce the risk of players screwing up their own experience.

While the important narrative elements came from the experience itself, there were additional details to be gleaned from written texts. These were too small and wordy for everyone to enjoy.

Should I play Strange Bird Immersive’s The Man from Beyond?

Without a doubt, if you’re anywhere near Houston, Texas, you should visit The Man from Beyond, and bring everyone you know.

The Man from Beyond was fun, beautiful, moving, puzzley, and somehow managed to be both intense and approachable at the same time.

A navy blue room with the walls covered in stars. Strange tagged cages hang above a pair of antique chaise lounges.

Strange Bird Immersive’s first experience was masterful. It stands out among escape rooms. It stands out among immersive theater.

At $40 per ticket, for up to 2 hours of immersive theater and escape room gaming in a beautiful environment, with great puzzles and actors, Strange Bird Immersive is one of the highest value experiences that we’ve encountered to date.

I left The Man from Beyond feeling incredibly emotional because it was a beautiful story…. and because Strange Bird Immersive created an experience that realized what I’ve hoped to see from the escape room medium.

Book your hour with Strange Bird Immersive’s The Man from Beyond, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Strange Bird Immersive comped our tickets for this game.

 

The Room – The Lost Treasure [Review]

Lived up to the hype.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 4, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 35€ per ticket for 2 players to 24€ per ticket for 5 players

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

A construction crew repairing a Humboldt University building had found a mysterious vault that was not in the blueprints. The government had tapped our archeology team to uncover the secrets contained within its depths.

Our Indiana Jones meets Warehouse 13 meets The Goonies adventure ensued after we navigated our way through a narrow maze and entering a mysterious ancient chamber.

In-game: an assortment of steam punkish items, the Philosopher's Stone, and a glowing bowl of purple orbs.

The Lost Treasure’s set was world-class. It was detailed and gorgeous with hidden nooks and interactions laced throughout the gamespace.

In-game: A light passing through a number of focal points and then reflecting off of a mirror as a beautiful hazy beam.

Puzzles

The Lost Treasure was a fantastic puzzle game. We had plenty to solve and the challenges were real, but fair. Additionally, the puzzles were born of the environment and the adventure.

In-game: An ancient chamber with a large ruined turn table, and assorted animal samples, documents, and books.
I wish this came out a little sharper, but the light fog in the space made wider shots a little difficult.

Most puzzles required or encouraged at least 2 players’ cooperation to resolve.

The Room didn’t beat us over the head with exposition and story. They did, however, enable us to feel our own narrative arc as we worked through the experience.

Standouts

Almost everything…

As mentioned above, the set design was world-class. It was hyper-detailed, but it never felt confusing or burdened with red herrings.

In-game: A collection of beautiful crystals, and stones.

The puzzles were challenging, fair, and well executed.

The interactions, reveals, and general use of technology were phenomenal.

The sound design was among the best that we’ve heard… not that there are all that many companies even striving to include top tier audio.

With a small exception below, the lighting was dramatic and useful.

The use of space, select use of darkness, set transitions, and the overall layout of The Lost Treasure were brilliant.

In-game: an ancient map beside a golden bell.

The historical, mythological, and pop cultural Easter eggs in The Lost Treasure were entertaining and fit well in the game.

The entire final act of The Lost Treasure was fantastic. You are going to want to win this game because the sequence of events at the end blew us away.

Shortcomings

There was one interaction that triggered its feedback a little too early. As a result, I didn’t fully complete the interaction which made for a minor complication that Lisa was petite enough to sneak past. If the feedback came upon the absolute completion of the interaction, this would eliminate the issue entirely.

Our flashlight was a little funky and difficult to control in The Lost Treasure. It’s difficult to discuss without minor spoilers, most of which you learn in the game’s briefing:

Minor flashlight spoiler

We had a sort of haunted flashlight that would disable in certain areas of the game and stay dead for a little while. The effect was cool, but when we wanted a flashlight, it almost never worked, and we never truly needed one anyway. We simply abandoned it.

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The Room’s The Lost Treasure cannot be enjoyed by all players. The game has many tight spaces and you physically have to pass through a narrow passageway to even enter the game. Their booking website is up-front about this stating:

“All players must

  • pass through narrow passages
  • be fit and healthy
  • not have a fear of darkness
  • not suffer from claustrophobia and asthma”

The sizing issue is real and the narrow passageway at the beginning ensures that people who will get stuck in the game cannot even begin it. There are a lot of great things that happen in The Lost Treasure as a direct result of these design decisions, but it’s also a shame that there are some escape room players who simply will never be able to play it.

Should I play The Room’s The Lost Treasure?

If you can fit into The Lost Treasure and aren’t claustrophobic, then without a doubt, you should go play this escape room.

In-game: An assortment of animal samples with a large stuffed bird staring into the camera.

You’ll need at least one or two players who can crawl and are not afraid of the dark to make it through this adventure.

The Lost Treasure was one of the most hyped games that we’ve played to date; it resoundingly beat our expectations.

Lisa and I played this on our own and we methodically tag-teamed nearly every puzzle, taking our time and milking it for all it was worth. When we won in the final minutes, we didn’t want to leave.

I can comfortably declare that to date, I have never had this much fun in an escape room… and this was my 405th escape game.

If you’re near Berlin, please go play The Lost Treasure.

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

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: The Room comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Games – The Great Room [Review]

[At the time of this review, 13th Hour Escape Games was called Haunted Scarehouse.]

The name doesn’t lie: the room was great.

Location: Wharton, NJ

Date played: September 11, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

When the Hayden family of murderers caught us trespassing on their property, they locked us in The Great Room of their farmhouse. We needed to escape in order to survive.

In-game: A dilapidated banister, a door beyond reads "Dave" written in blood.

The Great Room was a grand ballroom-esque space with a high ceiling, a large dining table in the room, and smaller furnishings along the walls. The open space was dim and eerie, but not scary.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Great Room facilitated teamwork. Any given puzzle might engage different parts of the space in different ways. Many of the puzzles were more complex than they originally appeared.

Standouts

The Great Room surprised us. It was exciting when the space revealed something entirely unexpected.

The set looked phenomenal.

In-game: 4 skulls resting on a small table in an old rundown room. The largest skull has a knife protruding from it.

The layered puzzles flowed well, connecting set pieces and encouraging teamwork. They were also designed so we couldn’t cut corners.

The puzzles engaged the full space. The gameplay was interactive and tactile. It was hands on puzzling.

Haunted Scarehouse went the extra mile. They used both the introduction and conclusion to The Great Room to add levity and fun.

Shortcomings

Since most of the puzzles were presented or revealed, we found a single search element to be unnecessarily challenging by virtue of it being out of context.

Haunted Scarehouse designed an interconnected set and puzzle room escape, but it didn’t convey narrative. The next level for them will be to use the gameplay to take players through a story.

Should I play Haunted Scarehouse’s The Great Room?

The Great Room was pretty great. It was a series of fun, tangible, interconnected puzzles. These solved into some exciting reveals.

The Great Room took place in low light (with adequate flashlights). It was a little bit creepy, but not scary.

Make sure that at least one person on your team is agile.

We recommend The Great Room for the puzzle-minded, regardless of experience level. It will be pretty challenging if you are new to escape rooms, but the gameplay is approachable. It still has new intrigue to offer more seasoned players.

Book your hour with Haunted Scarehouse’s The Great Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Haunted Scarehouse comped our tickets for this game.