Video: 2018 Golden Lock-In Livestream Recording

Livestream and learn.

Lisa and David all dressed up in black and gold.

We had a ton of fun with our first livestream on Wednesday night. We livestreamed the announcement of the 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards.

You can view it below. There were some audio issues in the first few minutes, but we got them sorted out.

That said, the audio isn’t perfect, so be careful with headphones. It gets spontaneously loud. 

Lessons For Next Time

We’re still getting comfortable with the video format. So here are a few things that we learned:

  • Don’t break the link… we accidentally started a new stream instead of activating the one that we had scheduled. Thankfully, some of our intrepid viewers figured out what was going on and filled everyone in via comments. I 💛 escape room players.
  • Turn on the right microphone input. That caused some chaos at the top of the stream. Thankfully I was able to clip that from the video.
  • Be more careful with levels. We sound way too quiet. We had two mics, so in theory we should have had that covered.
Brendan setting up the lights and technology.
  • MOAR LIGHT! Seriously, it felt like our living room had a sun in it… but it didn’t really shine through on camera.
  • Stage it better. While our couch is super comfortable, it didn’t really work as a set.
  • The live audience was so fun. We need to figure out how we’re capturing that audio without blowing out our listeners’ ears.
A large chocolate cake dusted in gold with the outline of the golden lock-in award in the negative space.
Lisa baked an amazing cake. It didn’t survive the party.

Thank You

A lot of folks made last night possible.

Brendan Lutz provided more technology than I am aware of. I literally do not know what we had running. He made all of this happen. He’s amazing.

Our friends all dressed up for the party.

Theresa Piazza, Theresa Wagner, and Ryan Byrne came over early to help with all manner of things. Like with the technology, I don’t exactly know what was going on… but I know that they helped with a lot of it.

Brett Kuehner loaned us the lighting.

Thank you to all of our friends for coming over and adding your energy to this silly project that started out as a joke and then profoundly snowballed… which is pretty much how our lives operate.

2018 Golden Lock-In Awards

2018 Golden Lock-In Award features an open REA padlock with a golden ring around it.

We played and reviewed 191 escape rooms in 2018.

This was an invigorating year of escape games.

We throttled down our playing a little bit (255 in 2017) and put an emphasis on hunting down amazing and unusual games in the markets that we visited. As a result of that decision, we have a diverse pool of Golden Lock-In winners that broadly span styles, budgets, and geography.

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 13 rose to the top.

Rules

  1. We only considered games that we both played in 2018.
  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.

2018 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order we played them.

The Blind Pig

Murfreesboro Escape Rooms – Murfreesboro, TN

In-game: a boarded up business with a sign out front that says, "Hammer Realty, the secret is in the name."

With its intimate setting, great puzzle flow, and hidden surprises, Murfreesboro Escape Rooms designed a remarkably tight and balanced adventure game. The Blind Pig was a traditional escape room where everything gelled.

Sasquatch

Escape the Netherworld – Stone Mountain, GA

In-game: A wood door chained shut.
Image via Escape The Netherworld.

What began as  a traditional cabin escape room became so much more as Sasquatch’s narrative hiked to a magical finale. Escape the Netherworld told an unusual story that was intense, exciting, and unexpectedly charming.

Catacombs

Logic Locks – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In-game: a wall of human skulls lit by a lantern.
Image via Logic Locks

In the depths of a church, we unearthed Logic Locks’ theatrical story of crypts and demons. As the puzzles built tension and the scenes became more dire, win or lose, Catacombs careened towards a commanding conclusion.

The Experiment

The Great Escape – Zwolle, The Netherlands

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Intimidating yet funny, The Experiment made us feel like we were truly escaping, more so than in any other game in our memory. The Great Escape designed around character building, both theirs and our own, which added depth to the experience.

Honeymoon Hotel

Escape Challenge – Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

In-game: A wooden bellhop's desk with a bell and a note.

Escape Challenge builds games that feel alive, haunted, and out to get you. Honeymoon Hotel transformed from mundane to insane as it pushed us through an exquisitely detailed reimagining of the H.H. Holmes “murder castle” story.

Cutthroat Cavern

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, LA

In-game: a large stone wall with a massive skull carved into it. The skull's eyes glow with fire.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

With towering ceiling and wet depths, Cutthroat Cavern was breathtaking. For 60 minutes we frolicked in our own Goonies adventure. The scale of this escape room is unrivaled. 13th Gate Escape’s latest creation is in a class of its own.

Playground

The Escape Game – Nashville, TN

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who would have guessed that returning to the classroom would be as joyful as it was at The Escape Game? With a playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay, Playground had us frolicking through school.

The Edison Escape Room

Palace Games – San Francisco, CA

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

The invisible adaptive intelligence within The Edison Escape Room floored us. Palace Games took ambitious design to another level by hybridizing escape rooms and video games into something  beautiful and new.

Lab Rat

Hatch Escapes – Los Angeles, CA

In-game: a massive hamster water dispenser, lit purple.

As we ventured through Lab Rat’s whimsical yet imposing world, we journeyed through a story. Hatch Escapes put narrative in the driver’s seat with gameplay that supported it… humorously, intensely, and ridiculously.

Stash House: A Los Angeles Crime Story

Stash House – Los Angeles, CA

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Story-driven and puzzle-focused, expansive and intimate, challenging and fair, Stash House achieved a balance that few escape rooms deliver. Through these oppositions, we were immersed within its imaginative and cohesive world.

Over the Falls

Escape City Buffalo – Tonawanda, NY

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

With an over-the-top build, Over the Falls was light on puzzles and high on adventure. We were engaged and enthralled with Escape City Buffalo’s vessel and its seafaring woes.

The Grand Parlor

13th Hour Escape Rooms – Wharton, NJ

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

In the vast expanses and the tight nooks of The Grand Parlor, we played a challenging puzzle game with a beautiful set that continually surprised us. Plus we  met 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ delightfully rambunctious actors (who only roam when the haunt is operating).

The Observatory

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Marvelously eccentric, The Observatory taught us how to unravel its mysteries through the act of playing. The Gate Escape crafted a fair and challenging game for experienced escape room players, with great  interactions to boot.

Congratulations to the 2018 Golden Lock-In Winners!

Past Golden Lock-In Awards

About Room Escape Artist

Room Escape Artist is supported by our generous Patrons. Their contributions make the blog and its events – like livestreaming awards – possible. Please consider visiting our Patreon page to learn more.

The Gate Escape – The Observatory [Review]

A revolution & revelation

Location: Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Don’t let the description of The Observatory fool you. This wasn’t just another room escape. This was something special.

The Gate Escape designed The Observatory for experienced players; it presented a stiff but fair challenge. They managed to nail this rare combination while putting a unique spin on their game.

This game made us feel so smiley.

If you find yourself in Boston, and you love escape rooms, it’s worth the hour drive to The Gate Escape. The Observatory is a must-play.

If you’re a newbie, we suggest starting with The Gate Escape’s other delightful games before you attempt The Observatory. This is a special game, and you’ll want to level up your skills so that you can truly appreciate it.

In-game: the wood walls of an observatory with orange galaxy paintings on the wall.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Ridiculous design choice… that works so well
  • Strong puzzles
  • High value (90 minutes for your $33!)

Story

The Observatory was a sequel to The Gate Escape’s first game, The Assistant.

While at a conference, Dr. E R Bridge had called upon us, his trusty assistants, to enter his lab and retrieve his hidden research notes. He needed us to get them to him before he made a fool of himself on stage before his peers in the scientific community.

In-game: a desk with assorted items and a strange wire running from it.

Setting

Nothing was as it seemed.

We entered a seemingly mundane office-like environment. The space was sparsely decorated with graffitied notes and equations left behind by Dr. E R Bridge.

This was one of those rare times where I want to tell you what’s special about the set of a game. I want to paint a picture that sells you on it… but you’re going to have to take me at my word that it’s special. Once you see it, you’ll understand why spoiling it would be tragic.

In-game: a star chart with unusual mathematical notation on it.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s The Observatory was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Analysis

➕ With The Observatory, The Gate Escape introduced a unique twist on the escape game format. When it dawned on us what was happening, we turned giddy.

➕ As we played The Observatory, we built mastery over the game flow. This escape room taught us how to play it without ever feeling heavyhanded. We were enthralled as we discovered how this game wanted to be played.

➕ At first glance, The Observatory felt overwhelming. As we became comfortable with the puzzle design, however, we recognized instead a creative thematic aesthetic choice.

❓ If you aren’t comfortable puzzling, this will be an especially challenging game.

➕/ ➖ The Observatory looked handcrafted. There was a charm in this aesthetic that worked with the setting and story. We could tell how much love went into this build. That said, we expect some players will find handwriting variation challenging, or simply less appealing. There was opportunity for aesthetic refinement.

The puzzles flowed beautifully from one to the next. They were largely tangible, satisfying solves. For the most part, we had to work process puzzles through to completion before seeing the solution, but these didn’t feel tedious. They felt like continual discovery. There was never a boring moment.

➖ One pivotal moment could have used additional cluing to refocus the players on… well, it’s an observatory.

➕ There was an incredible late-game teamwork-driven sequence.

➖ We didn’t feel particularly invested in the characters. There was a villain in this story, but that plot point was completely lost amongst the rest of the experience. The Gate Escape could also add character building to the protagonist to more fully connect the story and the puzzling.

➕ The Gate Escape brought us down from the climactic sequence with a humorous little puzzle that brought the escape room full circle.

➖ Although this escape room was fantastic, its marketing was not enticing. The Gate Escape’s website and game description simply don’t do it justice. If one were to casually look at The Gate Escape’s website, it would be easy to write this off as “just another escape room” and it isn’t.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.

Book your session with The Gate Escape’s The Observatory, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gate Escape’s comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Grand Parlor [Review]

Earn the urn. 

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 28, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The “grand” in Grand Parlor was not an overstatement. 

13th Hour Escape Rooms delivered a creepy interactive adventure, for a larger team, on a large scale. 

The Grand Parlor felt epic and delightful. 

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

While not every puzzle made sense in the experience, or was on the same level, the vast majority of the gameplay elevated the impressive gamespace… and the majority of our critique is about details that wouldn’t even get mentioned in our reviews of more average games. 

The big brother of the Hayden family with murder in his eyes.

We visited 13th Hour in October to experience the effect of actors on The Grand Parlor. We loved this augmentation, but your mileage will vary depending on your gameplay preferences (see below for a full explanation of the actors and how to get or avoid them).

If you are anywhere near northwestern New Jersey, and can enjoy an eerie and sinister vibe, we highly recommend an excursion to 13th Hour Escape Rooms. We’ve loved many of their escape rooms and The Grand Parlor was no exception. It rivaled The Great Room.

The big brother of the Hayden family choking David.
(Atypical customer service, David had this coming.)

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the creepy
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Expansive and immersive set
  • Large-scale interactive puzzles
  • Epic and joyous moments

Story

The ashes of Bishop, a notorious killer and beloved member of the Hayden family, had gone missing. If we could help the Haydens find Bishop’s urn, then they would let us leave their parlor unharmed.

In-game: View over the balcony to a wooden box with a faint red glow emanating from it.

Setting

The Grand Parlor was set in the most spacious area of the creepy Hayden family farmhouse. From the dark and foreboding entryway, it opened up into a massive space with height, depth, and hiding places. The props ranged from parlor staples to farmhouse essentials.

In-game: A view atop the balcony, the railing is casting an intricate shadow.

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

While the puzzles were not especially difficult on their own, the large gamespace and large-team dynamic raised the level of difficulty of the overall experience.

The older sister of the Hayden family with blood spattered across her face and dress.

Actors in October

13th Hour runs a haunted house in additional to their 5 escape rooms. On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentines Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The 6 actors roam the 5 escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters.

The father of the Hayden family looking creepy in a torn up suit.

The set, story, puzzles, and gameplay do not change for October. The escape rooms are open year round.

We visited The Grand Parlor during October to experience the actors in the escape room. Our other reviews of other 13th Hour games do not include this discussion because we did not visit those games when the actors were in rotation.

The younger brother of the Hayden family with a large eye wound.

➕ The actors were impressive. They added character to the experience. They surprised us at well-timed moments. They were a ton of fun. If you’re looking for feels and immersion over focused puzzles, I highly recommend playing these escape rooms with the actors.

➖ At times, the actors were heavy-handed. They were the hint system as well as added character for the space. If you want focused puzzle-play, don’t visit in October. You’ll be frustrated by the interruptions. You’ll also have less control over the hinting.

A visit to 13th Hour in October is an individual decision. The actors don’t make the escape rooms better or worse. They make them different. We loved the creepy, playful horde roaming Hayden’s farm. They improvise and have fun with you. It’s also perfectly reasonable to have zero interest in that added layer. 

Animation of the younger sister of the Hayden watching TV while holding her dolls. She occasionally lunges forward and sticks her tongue out.

Analysis

➕ The set was impressive. It was detailed and designed. The vertical scale and the decor were captivating. It was an incredible environment to explore and puzzle through.

➕ The gamespace opened up over the course of play with exciting, grand reveals as well as more surprising, quiet opens.

➖ It was easy to miss the best moments if they triggered while we were elsewhere in the gamespace, working on something different. The Grand Parlor would have benefited from gameflow that guided all players into position to witness the most exciting moments.

The Grand Parlor was creepy, playful, and joyous. Note for the timid: it was creepy, but not scary.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms produced layered, but approachable puzzles. We had to connect elements across the large gamespace, which forced communication and teamwork. This structure worked really well.

➖ The gamespace echoed a lot. With a large team of players – and the actors as well – the space was full of commotion. Communication became frustrating.

The 13th Hour Hallway
The entire facility is themed. This is their main hallway.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ entire facility is themed. Their lobby and hallways look more aesthetically impressive than most escape rooms. 

➕ For one simple puzzle, 13th Hour designed an original take on a common escape room trope. It was phenomenal.

➖ We spent a lot of time trying to solve one puzzle before we had all the information. We would have appreciated additional gating here, especially because the eventual solution didn’t feel like adequate payoff for the wasted time.

➖ A few interactions seemed to belong in a different game. One in particular didn’t make sense – conceptually or aesthetically – in the Hayden family’s parlor.

➕ One standard parlor prop surprised us with an impromptu, silly, and playful interlude. It was delightful. 

➕ The large-scale interactions supported the grandeur of the set. These contributed to nifty and satisfying puzzle solves that felt great in the gamespace.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • We recommend Hot Rods BBQ.
  • Most of the team needs to be able to climb stairs. While it is possible for a player or two to play The Grand Parlor without climbing any stairs, if you play this way, you’ll miss significant components of the game.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

A special thanks to the Hayden Family for allowing David to photograph them and live.

Escape City Buffalo – Over the Falls [Review]

“You’re aboot to die, eh. Soorry.”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Over the Falls took us on a trip down the Niagara River on an old cargo ship beset by nefarious Canadian pirates.

The ship setting was expansive, varied, and beautiful in a worn and weathered way. Over the Falls was brimming with fantastic effects and memorable events.

While the challenges varied, and leaned a bit too heavily on search, Escape City Buffalo crafted an incredible environment to house an adventure. Above all else, adventuring aboard this vessel felt grand.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo, this is a must play.

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Tourists to Niagara Falls
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The phenomenal set
  • The water feature
  • Tactile solves

Story

We had been traveling across the Niagara River when those infamous Canadian pirates seized our cargo ship, stole the goods, and abandoned the ship, leaving us on course to go right over Niagara Falls. We needed to avoid this impending disaster.

In-game: steaming furnaces.

Setting

We began Over the Falls handcuffed to railings in the furnace compartment of an old cargo ship and worked our way to the bridge. The set was sprawling, magnificently detailed, and weathered. The bowels of this vessel felt lived in. It looked and smelled like a cargo ship.

Escape City Buffalo built some elaborate and impressive features into the later sets of Over the Falls.

In-game: A closeup of a rusty and weathered porthole.
Look at that detail.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: engine controls.

Analysis

+ The set was incredible. Escape City Buffalo’s attention to detail created a gamespace that instilled a sense of adventure in us. It was a wonderfully fun environment to explore. It was gorgeous.

In-game: heavily weathered and rusting ceiling.
This was from the ceiling.

Over the Falls was well player-proofed. Escape City Buffalo’s epoxy game was solid. In this way they build detailed environments without leaving red herrings in their wake.

In-game: a workshop and a set of gauges and valves.

+ The initial furnace room set was especially fun to explore. We enjoyed the effects. A discovery felt like treasure.

– Over the Falls started with the team split between two different sides of the furnace room. This start felt uneven. One group had a lot more that they could accomplish than the other did.

+ There were a lot of captivating effects and memorable events.

In-game: The entrance door.

– Over the Falls relied heavily on search challenge. We lost a lot of time retracing our steps, scouring for minute details. The most exciting gamespace asked us to search for small details with weak light.

+ Our favorite challenges required us to manipulate objects in the gamespace to achieve our goals. These were satisfying, tactile solves.

– It was difficult to understand the captain of our vessel when he spoke to us over the speakers. We pretty much never heard a word he said.

– Over the Falls lacked a finale. In the end, a door opened as we escaped the cargo ship. It didn’t make a ton of sense (Did we set the ship back on course? Did we find treasure?) and it didn’t punctuate the victory with any of the grand effects we’d seen earlier in the game.

+ The water feature. Wow.

Tips for Visiting

  • Wear clothing and shoes that can get a little damp.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Hatch Escapes – Lab Rat [Review]

Human race.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Lab Rat created a world for us to explore. They built a fiction, presented a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and thrust us into it with scaled-up set design and fully justified gameplay.

Hatch Escapes produced an intense, joyous, and funny escape room that managed to be outlandish and grounded at the same time. It was quite a feat.

While we didn’t love the middle of the game as much as the opening and closing, this was the kind of game that shifted how we think about escape room storytelling.

Lab Rat is a must-play. It’s worth traveling far to test your human intelligence in this lab.

In-game: A sign that reads, "Keeps test humans alive. For a while."

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fun scenario
  • Scaled set design
  • A sense of exploration
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

In Lab Rat, we were the “lab humans” in a facility where giant rats tested human intelligence, or lack thereof. If we could complete the a series of tests and puzzles, the presiding rat scientist would be able to write his dissertation. If we couldn’t prove our intelligence and deliver him a passing grade, we’d end up in the chipper.

In-game: a massive hamster water dispenser, lit purple.

Setting

We were locked in a cage for lab humans with food, water, and our exercise wheel. Outside the cage we had access to a maze, created by the rats out of cardboard boxes and the like. The scale of the set punctuated our role reversal into the test subjects. We were tiny; cereal boxes, pencils, and toys were huge.

In-game: a food bowl with letters and symbols printed on it in a large cage. Beside it is a gigantic box of "Fruity Kibble."

Gameplay

Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large hamster wheel in a cage.

Analysis

+ Hatch Escapes built a phenomenal set for Lab Rat. The scale brought the escape room scenario to life. The maze made the set feel expansive and delivered a sense of exploration. The representations of the supposed construction materials were funny and supported the backstory. From the initial moments of Lab Rat the set upped our energy level.

+ Hatch Escapes provided backstory through entertaining video cutscenes. Since our time paused during these interludes, we could enjoy the videos without feeling a competing urge to solve the puzzles in those moments. Hatch Escapes incorporated video into the set with a thoughtful layout so that it never felt out of place.

+ We enjoyed one puzzle sequence that wasn’t as it had originally appeared and jabbed at human intelligence. It was amusing.

In-game: A box cover for "Grand Theft Otter"

+ Hatch Escapes used light, sound, and motion to bring the team together for a triggered event. This wasn’t even a puzzle, but it was a moment of joy, wonder, and anticipation that everyone enjoyed together.

– At one point, Lab Rat transitioned to a segment that didn’t live up to the rest of the experience. The gamespace felt a little out of place. The clue structure felt choppy; we could sense ghost puzzles haunting the space. While we appreciated the contrast between this space and the rest of the experience, we left unsure how to connect this segment to the larger whole.

+/- Lab Rat included a humorous late-game segment in an entirely unexpected gamespace, providing an unorthodox and surprisingly entertaining challenge. The gamespace operated a seamless transition to stage this segment. As players, however, we approached this unusual gameplay cautiously and could have benefited from more in-game cluing to get us rolling. Finicky tech also contributed to our hangups moving through this sequence.

+ Hatch Escapes incorporated a concept we’ve been waiting to see for… I don’t even know how long. It worked beautifully in the lab human scenario.

– One pivotal prop felt underused. It had intrigued us from the initial moments of the escape room, but when it came full circle in the culminating sequence, it didn’t deliver on the intrigue. It was one of the weaker puzzles in the Lab Rat in a moment that begged for something stronger.

+ Hatch Escapes presented Lab Rat as a theater piece. From the cutscene videos to the final credits, it was delivered as a narrative-driven, interactive piece of art. Authorship and credit is so often missing from escape rooms. We appreciated this delivery of escape room through the lens of another storytelling medium.

+ Hatch Escapes did a great job with story structure. Our tale had a beginning, middle, and end, complete with character development. Few have pulled this off and Hatch Escapes did it with style.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • At least one person needs to be comfortable climbing a ladder.

Book your hour with Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Hatch Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story

💵💵💵💵💵💵🚽

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 4-11; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: from $40 per ticket for teams of 4 to $30 per ticket for teams of 11

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Stash House told an exciting, humorous, and memorable crime story through experiential design and puzzles. From the moment we arrived, we entered a fully realized world that almost entirely nailed the details.

When we started tackling the gameplay, we found a traditional escape room presented on a grand scale and filled with layers of puzzling that fit with the narrative and were justified through internal logic.

If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles and are fine with the adult themes of drug use and drug distribution and some light sexual themes, Stash House is a must play.

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who think that Stringer Bell is one of TV’s greatest characters

Why play?

  • Immersive storytelling and cohesive world from start to finish
  • Strong puzzles
  • Fantastic small-group puzzling moments
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our meeting with local entrepreneur Ray Jones had taken a turn for the shady when Jones revealed to us that he was conscripting us into his organization. He had turned a seemingly normal Los Angeles apartment into a test to prove our smarts and knowledge of his products. With each challenge we would earn a baggie of coke. If we could finish his test and flush all of the drugs down the toilet before the police arrived, we’d have a place in his operation. If we failed, we were the police’s problem.

In-game: a large Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics poster hanging on the wall.
Accurate.

Setting

Stash House was built as a nice, functional, and large apartment. It looked and felt like a place where a human with an identifiable personality lived. It was larger than our actual apartment. If they installed a shower, I’d live there.

There were secrets, of course, but spoiling them would do a disservice to the player experience.

In-game: the lobby/ lounge of Stash House.

Gameplay

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with an amusing character via text message.

In-game: a dining table in an apartment.

Analysis

+ The introduction to the escape room was so smart. It was entertaining and justified the game, established stakes, and made it clear why we needed to succeed.

+ Stash House established clear goals and provided a means of tracking progress that never felt like a scoreboard or some other artificial game construct.

+ Stash House felt like a fully realized world. It maintained its internal logic throughout the entire experience. As a result, we bought into some story elements that weren’t grounded in reality, but absolutely worked within this fiction.

+ The puzzles were great. Many were layered and structured such that we built mastery over the course of completion.

+ Even Stash House’s process puzzles were engaging. They used either satisfying mechanisms or humor to counterbalance the repetition.

– One puzzle dragged and didn’t lend itself to group solving. Another late game puzzle obscured critical information and slowed momentum at the wrong time.

+ The humor in Stash House served the narrative.

– Some of the humor required a lot of reading in dim light.

+ The hint system worked as a game-balancing tool. It could provide puzzle assistance, story, nuance, and humor all at once. It could be easily adjusted to any given team’s needs and it never felt overbearing.

? Some of Stash House’s finest moments happened in confined spaces for small groups. This meant that seeing one segment meant missing other great puzzles and interactions. I could see some players choosing to play Stash House again, at least in part.

– The “grill” in Stash House wasn’t even close to looking like a grill. I’m no expert on the subject… but my brother is.

+ We don’t often get excited to play in an apartment setting; it usually feels like a copout. That was not the case with Stash House. There was depth to this environment. It was large and interesting. It had secrets.

– One segment of the gamespace felt underdeveloped.

+ Stash House was a 90-minute escape room that filled the entire 90 minutes with intrigue. It never dragged.

+ The conclusion was brilliant.

In-game: a glowing set of lights that read "STASHHOUSE"

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • You need to be able to climb stairs to fully enjoy this game.
  • For decadent desserts, we recommend Milk Tavern.

Book your hour with Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story comped our tickets for this game.

Palace Games – The Edison Escape Room [Review]

💡34,000

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 20, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Palace Games succeeded in blurring the lines between real life and video game.

The Edison Escape Room was a brilliant display of technology in escape room design. The detailed set was phenomenal. The gameplay ranged from well-executed standard puzzles to wholly unorthodox challenges in the physical environment, all of which leaned into teamwork. Palace Games stitched these elements together with technology that brightened each element individually and energized the interconnected experience. The Edison Escape Room was as impressive as it was fun.

This escape room was a commitment. At 100 minutes there might have even have been too many challenges. A few too many of these felt like the final puzzle leading to an unnecessary anticlimax. Palace Games packed a lot of different twists into The Edison Room. 

Palace Games’ latest creation is a wonder of the escape room world.

It is worth traveling a distance to visit The Edison Escape Room.

In-game: an incandescent lightbulb labeled

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technology fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Radiant set design
  • Dramatic reveals
  • Unusual teamwork mechanics
  • The room reacts to the players
  • Incredible feat of technology in escape room design

Story

Thomas Edison had maintained a secret study in the Palace of Fine Arts during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. When the Palace Games team unearthed a telegram confirming the existence of this study, they did indeed uncover the space.

This study hid a secret: Since Edison had deemed his children unsuitable heirs to his businesses, he had crafted a series of challenges into his study in an attempt to find an acceptable heir. If we could solve all his challenges, we could earn the right to lead Edison’s businesses.

In-game: Promotional image of Edison's 1915 World's Fair Tower of Jewels, rainbow iridescent tower.

Setting

Edison maintained a small wallpapered study with a wooden desk, phonograph, and some wall hangings. A display of lightbulbs featured prominently on one wall. It was cozy and welcoming.

This classic study was a facade. The more exciting and dramatic elements of his challenges were yet to come, if we were bright enough to enter his lab.

In-game: an old phonograph on Edison's desk.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room began as a standard escape room and evolved to deliver highly interactive atypical sequences.

The Edison Escape Room offered a high level of difficulty. This difficultly, however, was adaptive. If a team wasn’t up to the level of challenge, the room would adjust to the give the players a better experience.

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

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

Analysis

+ The Edison Escape Room delivered phenomenal reveals. It was exciting, dramatic, and invigorating.

+ The set was delightful. There was always more to take in. A close look illuminated disguised jokes and puns. I spent a few minutes puzzling through these humorous tidbits that were entirely irrelevant to the larger puzzle game. I enjoyed every second of this time.

+ The puzzle design encouraged both parallel puzzling and group solves. The branching came back together repeatedly in interactive and entertaining group challenges.

In-game: A period appropriate Periodic Table of the Elements.

+ We enjoyed so many of the puzzles in The Edison Escape Room. These included typical escape room-style puzzles as well as atypical, interactive group maneuvering.

– One of the late-game puzzles felt underclued. Witnessing it play out, we liked the concept, but it seemed as if the game was dragging us through it rather lighting a path of clues that we could follow.

+/- The Edison Escape Room provided audible feedback to confirm that we’d correctly solved a puzzle. Some of the choices of confirmation tone seemed oddly out of place and immersion-breaking in an experienced grounded in 1915… even when they were amusing.

In-game: a grid of incandescent light bulbs all labeled with different words.

+ Palace Games intertwined gamespace and puzzle seamlessly; for much of the escape room these were interconnected on a level far beyond what we’ve come to expect from escape room design.

+ The gamespace responded to our actions. Furthermore, it adapted to the team’s ability. It was impressive.

+ The Edison Escape Room encouraged us to build mastery of the gamespace and the props within. We welcomed Palace Games’ unambiguous approach to prop reuse. It furthered our engagement with the gamespace. The props were enticing and we were eager to see them recalled and reimagined as the game progressed.

-The Edison Escape Room didn’t need to be 100 minutes long. Some of the late-game content became overly repetitive. On multiple occasions we thought we’d solved the final puzzle… and then Edison tossed us another challenge. Considering how much time we spend in escape rooms, it’s strange to say that this was too much escape room, but by the end, that’s how we felt. The energy of the space dimmed.

– The final puzzle – the actual final puzzle – wasn’t as climactic as some of the culminating puzzles that came before it. This contributed to the petering out.

In-game: An old 6 lever Winchester lock.

+ The technology driving The Edison Escape Room was impressive. We were in awe that it worked. While we don’t believe escape rooms need technology to be great, Palace Games incorporated this technology brilliantly to bring the elements of escape room design together.

+ The Edison Escape Room provided a continual sense of new discovery. In a gamespace as elaborate and interesting as this, discovery was invigorating. This was a ton of fun. I still can’t believe that this thing exists.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive to the back of The Palace of Fine Arts. There is parking.
  • For food we recommend Super Duper Burgers.
  • Accessibility: If you have mobility concerns, speak with Palace Games about adaptations to accommodate for these. The Edison Escape Room is highly adaptable.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

The Escape Game – Playground [Review]

Game on!

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Playground was a joyful escape room. The Escape Game captured the elementary school vibe with a bright and ever-so-slightly cartoonish take that made this relatable space entirely delightful to revisit (and one of the rare games to justify fluorescent tube lighting).

While the puzzling was at times chaotic, we could track our collective progress with a giant glowing report card, and the teamwork-centric gameplay kept us all engaged.

If you’re anywhere near Nashville or one of the other The Escape Game locations, Playground is absolutely worth visiting.

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who is this for?

  • Kids & kids at heart
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The playground
  • From a puzzling standpoint, there was something for everyone
  • It was joyful

Story

It was the last day of 4th grade and the start of the annual Summer Kickoff Kickball Tournament. We were set to play against our rivals, the 5th graders. If we couldn’t complete all of our assignments before the start of the game, however, we would be forced to forfeit… and that was an unacceptable option.

In-game: A pair of classroom desks with strange projects resting on top of them.

Setting

Playground let us loose in an elementary school classroom and adjacent playground. Both segments struck a fantastic balance of realism and bright fantastic fiction. It looked almost realistic, but better, in a Hollywood sort of way.

It was a joyous environment. We all took a turn wandering away from the gameplay to simply enjoying the wonderful gamespace with childlike glee.

In-game: A red apple sitting on the teachers desk in front of the classroom.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Playground was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty and a lot of content.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, dexterity, and puzzling.

In-game: The exterior of the school building with a PA and American flag.

Analysis

+ From the moment we entered the gamespace, we felt like excited children on the last day of school. When the gamespace opened up to a playground, we were positively giddy as we explored the set.

+ The set felt overly bright, but authentically so: elementary school meets Disney.

+ This was one of the rare games where fluorescent lighting felt appropriate.

+ If we didn’t know our teammates, introductions were built in, and stayed right up on the wall… as they would all year in the classroom.

In-game: A wall poster with balloons where each player (student) wrote their name.

+ The storyline was both ridiculous and relatable. This escape room didn’t take itself seriously, in a good way.

+ The introductory video was hilarious.

+ We could track our progression through Playground with our report card. This gave us a pretty good sense of how much longer we’d be in class before we escaped to summer break.

– The subjects were a bit abstract and we often had no idea what subject any given puzzle belonged to. One in particular only revealed its true colors upon completion.

In-game: the game's report card, featuring an A+ in every subject.

Playground included gamified dexterity challenges, which made sense on a playground.

+ Many of the puzzles required collaboration. These were some of our favorite challenges.

– When I graphed the data from this game, it became clear that one puzzle overstayed its welcome.

– Nobody wants to do math on the playground.

– One of the larger set pieces didn’t contribute to anything. It seemed like there should have been a puzzle climb.

In-game: a bookshelf, ant farm, and hamster cage.

? We opened up most of the gamespace pretty early in our playthrough. This immediately upped the group energy level. That said, it caused us some confusion as to where to focus our energy, even with the report card’s guidance.

+ The Escape Game created a sweet moment that filled us with a bit of unease, then cracked us up.

+ Throughout Playground, solves resolved to a variety of exciting reveals.

+ This was a low-stress escape room and a joyous experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Playground is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.
  • At least 2 players need to be able to step over, climb up, sit down, crawl… and generally play on a playground.

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

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape – The Experiment [Review]

The doctor will see you now.

Location: Zwolle, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2018

Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €135 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Experiment balanced horror with silliness. The Great Escape deliberately designed every moment of this escape room. While the puzzles were not narrative driven, they were fun to solve and they worked with the decor and the acting to deliver an exhilarating experience.

It’s worth traveling out of your way – and it probably is out of your way, if you’re a tourist to Amsterdam – to Zwolle to play the experiment.

In-game: the entry way for the "Wester Clinics national institute for mental health," beyond it is a lobby.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Intense actor-driven moments
  • Immersive gameplay
  • Fun and unusual interactions

Story

One of our friends had asked us to accompany him to an experiment he’d signed up for. As soon as we settled into the waiting room, we realized that this experiment was something more sinister… and we need to escape.

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Setting

We entered a medical waiting room. Chairs lined the walls. The waiting room was decorated with the typical plants, wall hangings, toys, and reading material that we would have expected. (I guess the cliched medical waiting room aesthetic is transcontinental.) All of this foreshadowed the medical theming of the rest of the experience.

Gameplay

The Great Escape’s The Experiment was an escape room that included elements of interactive theater. It had a higher level of difficulty and a high level of tension.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling, with a bit of improv as well.

In-game: a stack of intake forms in the lobby.

Analysis

+ Through acting, set design, and scent, The Great Escape built the world of The Experiment elegantly and effectively.

+ As we entered the gamespace, we were greeted with a new environment. More than the look, the smell alerted us to the nature of this experience. It worked brilliantly.

+ In the first scene, we got to know the characters. In the scripted part, the actors played off each other. This enabled The Great Escape to develop a menacing character without alarming the players. Interjected throughout the scene were the less scripted interactions with us, which further developed the characters’ roles as well as our place in the game’s world.

– While the puzzles played well, many of them felt arbitrary. They were more escape room-y than mechanisms to drive the plot forward.

+ That said, we enjoyed solving these tangible, large-scale puzzles, and their silliness contributed to the absurdity that balanced the horror-vibe.

– In one scene of The Experiment, we encountered multiple combination locks with identical digit structure. We recommend more variety to make this scene play more smoothly and not stifle forward momentum.

– Height was an advantage. One late-game puzzle presented a lot of information just slightly too high for me to comfortably work with it. The irony was that, given the type of puzzle it was, I was the natural person to solve it… and my three +6-foot (182cm) teammates looked on.

+ The hint system was charming. It worked with the staging.

+/- The Experiment built to a dramatic escape. Our teammates had differing opinions about this ending depending on the roles we took in accomplishing it. From my vantage point (which I shared with David), our clandestine escape operation delivered a dramatic conclusion. Our teammates in another role would have liked more threat of danger/ failure at this juncture. Their ending felt too soft for the experience.

+/- For people who are afraid of the concept of an escape room, The Experiment embodied exactly what they fear: being trapped in an uncomfortable setting that’s just a bit scary. These feelings can be off-putting. For the right players, however, these feelings can also be energizing and exhilarating.

The Experiment was silly-scary. It wasn’t overly horror, but it was intense. The acting, environment, and puzzles came together really well to deliver a deliberately crafted experience.

+ Hats off to the actors who delivered The Experiment to us in their second language. They did a phenomenal job.

Tips for Visiting

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

Disclosure: The Great Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.