Escapades LA – Disrupted Decades [Review]

Escape the shag carpet.

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Disrupted Decades was a nostalgic journey through the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s with a heavy emphasis on pop culture. It put an unusual twist on the flow of an escape room by having each room represent a decade and build to a meta puzzle.

We wanted to love this escape room as much as It’s A Doggy Dog World, but Disrupted Decades felt unfinished in comparison to Escapades LA’s other game. The story felt underdeveloped and the set was underwhelming. While we truly enjoyed the puzzles, it felt light on content.

This could and should be a fantastic game. Escapades LA has a solid foundation to build on. In its current form, however, we only recommend this to puzzle lovers who want to see a new take on escape room structure and players who want a taste of nostalgia.

In-game: a 1970s living room with shag carpet,.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Nostalgic nerds
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Nostalgic props
  • An interesting approach to escape game design
  • Some clever and unique puzzles

Story

Someone screwed with the space-time continuum and we had to traverse the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s hunting down anachronisms and setting things right.

In-game: a wall of CDs.

Setting

Disrupted Decades was a 3-room game where each room represented a different decade. Each individual space had props, furniture, and in some cases, carpeting that was emblematic of the decade we were visiting.

The props were generally authentic.

None of the sets were particularly eye-catching or immersive.

In-game: a 1970s living room with a small TV and Polaroid camera.

Gameplay

Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ Escapades LA produced an interesting escape room in Disrupted Decades. They emphasized exploring the props to determine which were out of place and how they worked together to solve a larger meta puzzle for each room.

– In practice, once we got the hang of how this game worked, it felt light on content.

+ It was enjoyable to take a journey back through the nostalgic items. Some of them stretched the limits of the props to deliver interesting interactions.

+ The ’80s had some high points when it came to puzzling.

– The set was subpar. It didn’t go far enough to convey the time periods. Each era would have benefitted from more details. There were a lot of small props, but the sets felt too bare. A few large and tangible set pieces would go a long way.

– The story felt underdeveloped. There wasn’t much of a beginning, ending, or feeling of consequence. It was just a scenario.

In-game: a franklin electronic dictionary and thesaurus.

+ In the ’90s room they had a Franklin Bookman electronic dictionary & thesaurus. I admit that this is insanely personal and nearly no one will appreciate this prop… but I used to lay in bed with a flashlight every night looking up words and synonyms, and playing word games on one of these things. Seeing one for the first time in over 20 years filled me with joy. Your mileage may vary.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapades LA comped our tickets for this game.

LA Dragon Studios – Knights of the Round Table [Review]

The Sword in the Puzzle

Location: Van Nuys, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $90 for teams of 2 to $280 for teams of 8, 15% discount for Monday – Thursday bookings

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Knights of the Round Table was a family-friendly adventure. Although the gameplay and the set design were uneven, the more tangible interactions delivered fun solves.

If you’re looking for a solid, traditional, family-friendly puzzle game near Los Angeles, check out Knights of the Round Table.

In-game: the entrance to Camelot.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Family-friendly adventure
  • The final interaction

Story

A darkness had fallen over Camelot. We took on the roles of Knights of the Round Table to save the kingdom.

In-game: a bridge over a moat.

Setting

We started our quest outside the castle: a facade crafted to look like the exterior wall of a medieval fortress. There were stone walls, a wooden door, and a drawbridge over a glowing moat. On the other side was the forest, largely represented by wallpaper, some cut wood, and fake hay.

Inside the castle, the sets looked less dramatic as we explored the rooms.

In-game: a sword, axe, shield, and wood.

Gameplay

LA Dragon Studios’ Knights of the Round Table was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The intro video to Knights of the Round Table foreshadowed some of the more exciting set pieces in the experience. Because it was filmed in the gamespace, the video added intrigue before we entered the escape room. We were excited when we encountered these set pieces in the experience.

– The beginning sequence didn’t instill energy in the group. Although we enjoyed exploring the initial set, the gameplay was too slow paced, especially as an opening.

+ LA Dragon Studios crafted some more hefty, tangible interactions that felt satisfying to engage with.

– The set design was uneven. LA Dragon Studios made some enticing details, but left other areas of the gamespace underdesigned.

– While some decor was simply decor, much of it functioned as red herrings. It was frequently hard to differentiate set dressing from puzzle components.

+ We enjoyed finding a path through one substantial, late-game puzzle. It was challenging and fun.

– Two of the main puzzles in Knights of the Round Table were brute-forceable. It was too easy to bypass much of the gameplay, either on purpose or accidentally.

– Knights of the Round Table would benefit from additional clue structure and tighter puzzle design.

Knights of the Round Table delivered a satisfying finale. It was an entertaining culminating action, even if it was primarily enjoyed by one player.

+ LA Dragon Studios markets Knights of the Round Table as a family-friendly adventure. From the props, to the interactions, to reveals, it delivered on that marketing. Families will find a lot to enjoy here.

+ Yes, Knights of the Round Table made some of the Monty Python jokes you’d expect.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot behind the building.
  • LA Dragon Studios is in a medical facility. So don’t be baffled by that… you’re in the right place.
  • LA Dragon Studios also has a small arcade with some classic cabinets.

Book your hour with LA Dragon Studios’ Knights of the Round Table, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: LA Dragon Studios comped our tickets for this game.

Escapades LA – It’s a Doggy Dog World [Review]

Who’s a good room? Who’s a good room?

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

It’s a Doggy Dog World was a playful, whimsical, entertaining escape room that didn’t take itself too seriously. At its best, the set design zeroed in on a dog’s perspective and the puzzles asked us to think like dogs. While the build quality varied and sometimes lacked polish, Escapades LA created an adorably entertaining world that was a joy to dig around in.

If you’re in Los Angeles and looking for a game to play with your family… or you still have an inner child, consider this a strong recommendation for It’s a Doggy Dog World. 

In-game: an oversized doghouse.

Who is this for?

  • All ages
  • Dogs at heart
  • Active adventurers
  • Playful puzzlers
  • Scenery sniffers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t take themselves too seriously

Why play?

  • The amazing playful concept
  • Wonderful dog-inspired moments
  • A brilliant ending

Story

The mailman, our arch nemesis, had stolen our favorite ball. With our humans away, nothing could stop us from retrieving it.

In-game: a dog's view of a wood fence.

Setting

We were dogs escaping our home and yard. Everything was staged from a dog’s perspective, putting emphasis on the kinds of things a dog would fixate on.

The set itself had a homemade feel. Some parts looked unfinished; others looked dead-on.

Gameplay

Escapades LA’s It’s a Doggy Dog World was a standard escape room with an playful premise and a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ Escapades LA nailed whimsey in It’s a Doggy Dog World. The game was welcoming and playful. It was easy to get in character and know our role in the world.

It’s a Doggy Dog World was at its best when we were taking dog-like actions for dog reasons.

+ The scale and perspective of the set was smart.

– Some of the game shifted focus away from pure dog play. These moments were fine, but didn’t feel as inspired as when It’s a Doggy Dog World was laser-focused on what it was and who we were in the game.

+/- The set was uneven. Parts of it looked great. Parts looked unfinished. If felt like there were opportunities that weren’t fully realized.

– Some of Escapades LA’s tech was exposed and needed housing.

+ The ending was brilliant.

Tips for Visiting

  • Escapades LA has no relation to Escapade Games in Anaheim (the makers of the horror game, Zoe). These companies really couldn’t be more different if they tried.
  • There is street parking.
  • For food we recommend Republic of Pie.

Book your hour with Escapades LA’s It’s a Doggy Dog World, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapades LA comped our tickets for this game.

Locked: Escape Game Franklin – Antidote [Review]

Prepare your lab coats, nerds.

Location: Franklin, TN

Date Played: February 10, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Reaction

Antidote was a straightforward puzzle game in a lab environment. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it played well, with satisfying solves.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Puzzle flow

Story

On our first day of work at BTC Laboratories we were immediately exposed to poisonous gas. We had one hour to create the antidote or our life insurance policies would kick in.

In-game: A clean box with large arm holes in a blue and white science lab.

Setting

Antidote was a lab game that felt a little like a doctor’s office. It was clean, sterile, and contained lab equipment. A few puzzles and locks notwithstanding, it looked believable, which wasn’t the most exciting setting.

In-game: A collection of lab flasks filled with colored liquids.

Gameplay

Antidote was a standard search-and-puzzle escape room with a heavier emphasis on puzzling.

In-game: a yellow canister mounted to the wall with a flammable sticker on it.

Standouts

One early effect upped the excitement and helped set the stage.

The puzzles in Antidote felt at home in a lab.

Antidote clearly laid out what was expected of us. The puzzles flowed well as we checked items off a list towards accomplishing our goal. This too felt lab-esque.

Locked: Escape Game Franklin added a lovely personalized touch to the game.

Shortcomings

The set was bland. With the exception of one effect, the gamespace was kind of forgettable.

While the puzzles worked, they weren’t exciting. The gameplay was emotionally level. The solves lacked memorable moments.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking out front.
  • We enjoyed The Tin Roof 2, especially their signature sandwich.

Book your hour with Locked: Escape Game Franklin’s Antidote, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Nashville, TN from July 27-29, 2018. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Mystery Room NYC – Chapter 5: Secluded Vault [Review]

Who gave Uncle Scrooge a vat of lacquer?

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: March 19, 2018

Team size: 6-10; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Reaction

Despite the uneven clue structure and set construction, we enjoyed many of the puzzles and nifty mechanisms in Secluded Vault. If Mystery Room NYC can remove debris from former puzzles and put a bit more attention into upkeep and cluing, Secluded Vault will deliver a more satisfying experience.

All in all, the fifth installment from Mystery Room NYC was a big step up from chapter 4.

In-game: a collection of gold coins lacquered to a silver table. The lacquer is clearly pooled around the coins.

Who is this for?

  • Observant players
  • Players who enjoy mechanical interactions
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions

Story

Our pursuit of Edwards, the recurring villain at Mystery Room NYC, had led us to a vault. We needed to solve our way past the security to steal a journal from within.

Although this was Chapter 5 of the Mystery Room NYC saga, it didn’t rely on any knowledge of previous chapters. It was only connected to those other chapters in so far as there was a recurring character as the backdrop for the escape.

Those of us who didn’t know the story going in had no idea that there was a story.

In-game: A bookcase with books a plant, and some coins all behind acrylic plasic shielding.

Setting

The set was an escape room-style office with a few bank-esque nods. A few desks, shelves, and bookcases-turned-display cases were set against barely adorned white walls.

Any decor not behind glass was lacquered down. The entire set felt like a giant still life.

In-game: A digital keypad against a silver table.

Gameplay

Secluded Vault was an observe-and-puzzle escape room. If we could move or manipulate it, we were going to have figure out how to use it by connecting it to something we could observe.

The clue structure varied enormously. Sometimes Mystery Room NYC told us exactly what to do and sometimes we had to grasp at connections.

Standouts

Secluded Vault included a few unusual mechanical interactions. We enjoyed these moments as many of them were particularly cool.

Mystery Room NYC thwarted our expectations with one prop that wasn’t used as we’ve come to expect. We thought we had this case cracked, but we were wrong, in a good way.

The reliance on observation of a larger gamespace facilitated teamwork.

Shortcomings

Since opening Secluded Vault, Mystery Escape Room had removed some of the puzzles, but left disabled set pieces or props. This created needless red herrings that persisted throughout the experience. It was also a disappointment because some of those props seemed like they should have done something cool.

In-game: A beat up contraption with odd symbols on it.

The set and props lacked polish and showed signs of wear. Some of this wear made the game look beat up; other instances obscured the in-game clues.

There were audio clues that were so garbled that we couldn’t understand them.

Secluded Vault suffered from inconsistent clue structure. At times, it was too direct. Other times, we were presented with unfamiliar objects and expected to intuit connections without any cluing.

Mystery Room NYC remains heavily committed to their ongoing narrative, but it is so loose that it’s irrelevant, missable, and forgettable.

Tips for Visiting

  • Mystery Room NYC’s downtown location is accessible by subway. Take the B/D/F/M to Broadway-Lafayette or the 4/6 to Bleecker or the R/W to Prince. There is also street parking.
  • For nearby food, we recommend Burger and Barrel (try the Bash Burger). There are lots of options around.

Book your hour with Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 5: Secluded Vault, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thriller City – Da Vinci [Review]

Da Vinci is missing something.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: February 5, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

REA Reaction

Thriller City’s Da Vinci was a harshly difficult escape room with interesting interactions, some great set design, little clue structure, and an inflexible hint system. While there were lots of details to love in Da Vinci, this escape room felt seriously incomplete and in desperate need of improvements that put more of an emphasis on fun rather than frustration.

We’re rooting for Thriller City to succeed, but in its current state, we cannot recommend Da Vinci. 

Who is this for?

  • People who want a challenge
  • Players who don’t mind extensive reading
  • Best for more experienced players

Why play?

  • To try your hand at a game with a less than 5% escape rate
  • The transitions

Story

We were on a quest for the Holy Grail. It seemed that Leonardo Da Vinci knew where the Grail had been hidden and had left a series of clues. With an evil secret society on our tail, we needed to discover the legendary cup before they arrived and used it for their nefarious goals.

In-game: A dark cave with cobwebs and a glowing candle.

Setting

We began our quest for the Holy Grail in a dark cavern lit with a single LED candle. Once we determined how to leave the cave, Da Vinci opened up into a well-lit library environment.

The set was inconsistent. Some portions looked beautiful, creative, and polished; other parts looked unfinished or empty.

In-game: A wooden bookshelf covered in roped bundles of coverless books and glowing candles.

Gameplay

Da Vinci was brutally challenging. The owner of Thriller City told us that the game had about a 1% or 2% escape rate. I got the impression that we were the first or second team to ever win this game. It’s also worth noting that we deliberately circumvented a few puzzles to earn that victory.

While there were challenging puzzles to solve, the bulk of the gameplay centered on detailed pixel-hunt searching, parsing the clues from the red herrings, and figuring out how to operate the game’s mechanisms.

All of this was complicated by a stingy hint system whereby at the 30-minute mark a monk entered the room to provide us with a single hint. With 10 minutes remaining he returned for a second time to complete a task that none of us could figure out. We could not otherwise request hints, clarification, or support.

Standouts

Da Vinci hid its secrets well. It was especially thrilling to uncover transitions.

Thriller City built large mechanical puzzles. These were inviting, exciting, and satisfying.

Some aspects of set design were gorgeous. The opening gamespace transported us to another place and time through detailed construction, down to wall finish. Some of the art within the set was magnificent.

Shortcomings

Da Vinci was composed entirely of interactions. It didn’t include the clue structure. It lacked puzzle flow. It was impossible to latch onto the thread of gameplay.

In-game clueing consisted of many long passages to read off laminated sheets of paper. This was tedious. These clues were at best ambiguous and sometimes entirely opaque. We’d occasionally make sense of a paragraph retrospectively, after determining the intended interaction by other means.

Some of gorgeous wall art was intended to clue a puzzle, however opaquely. Much of it proved to be red herrings. There was absolutely no way to tell the two apart.

The majority of the set was overly spacious and barren. With large, sparsely furnished spaces, the scale felt off and unlike a library, despite the multitude of books.

We spent most of our time fixated on one puzzle that nobody could solve. At any given point, at least one team member was working on this puzzle. We knew we couldn’t move forward without it. Thriller City couldn’t hint this puzzle and with roughly 10 minutes remaining our gamemaster entered the room and solved it for us. Given the time constraints of an escape room, it felt unfair. It wasn’t a trick lock, but the same concept applied.

Thriller City offered one hint at 30 minutes (and eventually the solution to the aforementioned puzzle as well). We spent too much of our time in Da Vinci stalled. I have to imagine less experienced teams grinding to a complete halt. This wasn’t fun.

Da Vinci had a less than 2% escape rate. It didn’t want to be won. Through a mix of escape room experience, half-clued solves, outside knowledge, and two hints, we escaped with seconds to spare. We didn’t feel skilled; we felt lucky. It wasn’t satisfying.

Disclosure: Thriller City comped our tickets for this game.

 

IRL Escape – The WW2 Bunker [Review]

Let’s go kill mess with Hitler’s things!

Location: Edina, Minnesota

Date played: August 21, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

It was the closing days of the World War II’s European Campaign and we were given one last mission: break into Adolph Hitler’s bunker and escape with his plans.

The WW2 Bunker’s set looked 1940s bunker-esque with a decisively Nazi flair. There was a historically accurate world map along with a portrait of Hitler and a red Nazi flag. There was a fair amount of attention to detail, but it was clear to us that this escape room was absolutely NOT celebrating Hitler or Nazi Germany. (I feel like it’s important to definitively state this.)

In-game: An old jukebox illuminated by flashlight. The bottom of a Nazi flag in the background.
Image via IRL Escape

Puzzles

IRL committed to producing a room escape that explored history through puzzling and they largely achieved that. The puzzles were challenging and deeply tied to both the environment and historical facts.

Standouts

In The WW2 Bunker, IRL Escape paid close attention to the historical accuracy of many of their props and puzzles. This included maps from the era as well as reasonably accurate means of communication and cryptography for the time.

I kind of respect IRL Escape’s boldness in designing a game around Hitler’s bunker and not visually sugarcoating it. Literally the first thing that I saw upon entering was a swastika. It wasn’t welcoming, but in a strange way, I greatly preferred this to being in a generic and sterilized “dictator’s bunker.”

Shortcomings

This section is long. It isn’t because The WW2 Bunker was horrible so much as because its flaws were interesting. 

Parts of the set needed more upkeep and maintenance. A hot maglock that was attached with an adhesive literally ejected from its housing when a door popped.

Minor Spoiler Warning

This is also revealed by imagery on IRL Escape’s website: The WW2 Bunker used a functionally accurate recreation of the German Enigma machine. This beautiful piece was one of Mark Tessier’s Enigma replicas. He let me borrow one for an evening last year at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago and I saw firsthand how incredible they are. This device was not ideal for an escape room environment. It was complicated. While I think that IRL Escape implemented it almost as simply as they possibly could have, it still came with a lot of written instructions which we misinterpreted… probably because I knew how the thing worked going in. The other issue here was that in simplifying it down so much, the device also lost what made it special in the first place. If you didn’t know how it worked going in, it was just a cool-looking and finicky keyboard cypher tool.

[collapse]

It’s time to address the Reich in the room. I’ve written previously on the subject of politically sensitive topics in general and concluded that if an escape room creator was committed to conveying history, I think that it would be possible to create something special with the escape room medium. The WW2 Bunker got halfway there. IRL Escape built a lot of accurate history into this escape room’s story, but they fixated on incredibly strange minutia about people like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s bunker itself. All of those factoids about their personality quirks were strangely humanizing, but I am 99% certain that this was an accident. All of these nitpicked details were carefully conveyed at the expense of the larger historical context. We were spies seeking to learn Hitler’s plans, which in the game were of global domination… but by the time he was battening down the hatches of the bunker in which he eventually killed himself, he had no global plans. He had already lost war, was under the influence of heavy narcotics, and was giving orders to armed forces that no longer existed.

This is all to say that IRL Escape had and still does have an opportunity to use The WW2 Bunker to show the scale of the damage that the Third Reich did to their own people as well as enemy forces in the final death throes of the war.

Additionally, a number of the puzzles for The WW2 Bunker were buried deep in historical minutia. There were many times where we absolutely could not tell whether we were looking at facts for facts’ sake or in-game puzzles.

Should I play IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker?

Neither Lisa nor I found The WW2 Bunker offensive. It was clear to us that IRL Escape created this escape room with devotion to conveying history. There was nothing malicious about it whatsoever and it has potential. It needs a ton of editing and a little rethinking about the larger historical context of Hitler’s bunker at the end of the War. I believe that IRL could get there. There is value in using gameplay to explore dark periods in history.

In its current state, The WW2 Bunker is an interesting game for experienced players who are not turned off by the subject matter. This was an escape room loaded with unique design decisions, some of which worked and some of which could use some work.

The puzzle flow, subject matter, and quirks of the game are a little too rough to recommend that new players visit The WW2 Bunker.

Choose your team carefully, as there are people in our lives that we know for certain would not be thrilled to play a game in the shadow of Hitler and a swastika.

Book your hour with IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: IRL Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

Liberty Escape Rooms – Revolution [Review]

When in the Course of human events…

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: June 25, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Story & setting

In the winter of 1777, we embarked on a secret mission to thwart General Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the American Colonies. His men were dangerously close to stealing the Liberty Bell, a prominent symbol of rebellion against Britain. He planned to capture the Bell and melt it into bullets to break the rebels’ morale.

General Howe’s office was built in an actual historic building that was owned by one of the founding fathers of the United States.

In-game: Closeup of a handwritten letter with a quill pen and ink. A red British officer's jacket hangs on the wall in the distance.

Puzzles

In addition to some more standard escape room interactions, Revolution largely featured encoding and enciphering techniques from the latter half of the 1700s. While not 100% historically accurate, Liberty Escape Rooms was clearly committed to historical puzzling and it worked.

Standouts

I normally find office settings stale, but the historical spin changed that. Revolution hid interactions that turned what should have been a mundane gamespace into an exciting one.

In game: A regal red wooden rocking chair beside a painting of King George III.
My deciphering throne.

Liberty Escape Rooms did their homework and used history to create a compelling room escape. Furthermore, they knew where they had deviated from historical accuracy for the sake of game design, and even went so far as to explain this to us in the post-game debrief.

There were a lot of great moments in Revolution that are going to stick with me.

Shortcomings

One critical interaction felt metaphorically forced. As a result, it seemed like many teams, ours included, may have physically forced it a little too much. This one interaction was beat up and should probably be rethought.

I would have appreciated a little more layered complexity in some of the puzzles. Many of Revolution’s puzzles would have benefitted from having an extra step after completing a decipherment.

Should I play Liberty Escape Rooms’ Revolution?

I have a degree in early American history and a passion for the history of cryptography. I was nervous going into this escape room because I thought that my outside knowledge would sour the experience. I was dead wrong; it made a great escape room even better.

Regardless of your experience level, I wholeheartedly recommend Revolution. It’s approachable, interesting, well-constructed, and filled with beautiful, authentic props and good surprises.

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

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

OutIn60 – Insane Asylum [Review]

I learned a lot about madness.

Location: Hoboken, New Jersey

Date played: July 3, 2017

Team size: 3-12; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

While observing a dangerous patient’s therapy session, a horde of zombies broke out in the asylum. We had to escape before the zombies reached us.

The set was fairly nondescript. It was a large space with some basic furnishings and the occasional bloody handprint and blood spatter. If I hadn’t been told that I was in an insane asylum, I probably would not have been able to guess the theme.

In-game: A typewriter on a desk in a dark room. A large maze hangs on the wall in the distance.

Puzzles

Insane Asylum was a tech-driven search-and-puzzle game.

OutIn60 produced a series of puzzles that usually put an interesting twist on a standard puzzle or interaction.

Additionally, Insane Asylum had an automated hint system that delivered new information based on a combination of sensor triggers and timers. The hints essentially made the puzzles easier over time, whether we wanted that or not.

Standouts

I loved one massive puzzle that honestly occupied all 4 members of our team. I love a good oversized puzzle that necessitates teamwork.

There were a number of smaller, nuanced interactions that offered a novel take on things we’ve seen before.

Shortcomings

The story and set didn’t work at all. We never felt like we were in an insane asylum. We never felt like we were in the midst of a zombie outbreak. In fact, we’re still not sure why those two themes were amalgamated in Insane Asylum.

Over time, the automated hint system, which had intrigued us in OutIn60’s first escape room, made us feel rushed, frustrated, and annoyed. It continually pushed us hints while we were actively solving the puzzles. It also tended to do so in the most condescending tone possible. Then at the end of the game, when we truly wanted a hint… silence.

In-game: a TV depicting a doctor speaking with a restrained patient in a padded cell.
These two “guided” us through the room escape.

One puzzle was missing an entire section of clue structure. We solved it because we had teammates who could read music. Without that knowledge, we would have had to wait until the automated hint system pushed the solution to us.

Insane Asylum had a serious lack of feedback from the set. The puzzling was linear. Accomplishing one step made the next one possible, but the set didn’t do much of anything to indicate that something new had opened. We were continually stuck waiting for the hint system to tell us where to focus.

There were a few broken and loose components that really threw us off. This issue was magnified because our gamemaster made a big deal in the pre-game briefing about how “everything works really well and if it’s meant to open, it will be easy to open.” We were delicate with the set and props, but there were at least two points in the Insane Asylum where we needed to not be so delicate.

Should I play OutIn60’s Insane Asylum?

Insane Asylum was a tragic escape room. It was honestly innovative and it was made up of many interesting puzzles, moments, and technology. The problem was that it didn’t come together into something cohesive. It felt like less than the sum of its parts.

The hint system, in which OutIn60 has clearly invested their effort and money, solves a problem that they don’t have, while whitewashing their real problems. OutIn60 operates 2 escape rooms; they aren’t operating at a scale where this level of automation is saving them massive amounts of money. The automated hints, however, cover up flaws in puzzle design. Instead of having the gamemaster watch teams be baffled, they simply wait until the computer pushes the teams more information than they need to solve the puzzle in a satisfying way.

It’s a shame to look back at a room escape that innovated in so many ways, yet felt like it didn’t amount to its potential… but that’s Insane Asylum. I love that OutIn60 focused on creativity, but that should not come at the price of constant player frustration.

Full disclosure: OutIn60 comped our tickets for this game.

Mystery Room NYC – Chapter 4: Forgotten Library [Review]

50 shades of brown.

Location: New York City, New York (Mercer Street facility)

Date played: June 26, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We followed Mystery Room NYC’s evasive villain into his fourth crime. This time we were attempting to rescue an abducted girl by following the clues in a small, private library.

The set was large with bookcases, desks, and a card catalog. Most of the bookcase shelves had still lifes in them, protected by plexiglass. Aesthetically speaking, Forgotten Library was a step up for Mystery Room NYC.

In-game: A dimly library environment with a white stone bust sitting on a shelf.
The lights can be made brighter. Lighting was not a challenge in this room escape.

Puzzles

All of Mystery Room NYC’s escape rooms have been built around puzzling and Forgotten Library was no exception. Many of the challenges focused on the library components of the space, while others explored additional, stranger themes that were slowly introduced as the plot progressed.

Standouts

Most of the bigger, more critical puzzles in Forgotten Library played well. They made good use of the environment and resolved to satisfying conclusions.

Shortcomings

While Forgotten Library was a big step forward in terms of set design, Mystery Room NYC needs another leap or two forward in order catch up to the level of set design that we’ve come to expect from escape rooms.

Mystery Room NYC elected to up their set design by putting a lot of the nicer things behind plexiglass. This could work in moderation and in environments where putting things behind glass makes sense. In a private library, it was weird to have things permanently behind glass. They used this approach a lot.

Triggered events were a little funky. There were times where we knew that we’d released something, but had no idea what or where to look. Better feedback would have made these moments more triumphant and exciting.

The story in Forgotten Library was incredibly silly, which could have been ok if it hadn’t taken itself seriously.

On the subject of story… I appreciate Mystery Room NYC’s commitment to building all of their room escapes around one recurring villain, but he isn’t a compelling or believable character. This would have been a better experience without him and his bizarre crime.

The final puzzle was ambiguous and annoying and I was happy when it was over.

Should I play Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 4: Forgotten Library?

In Chapter 4: Forgotten Library, Mystery Room NYC delivered exactly what I was expecting to see, but not what I was hoping to find. They are a company that has consistently delivered puzzle-y room escapes with weaker sets and zany recurring crime stories. That’s what we received again in their fourth installment.

If you’re looking for grand adventure, brilliant story, interesting technology, or an immersive experience that will leave you wanting more, this is not the escape room for you.

Wide open, unthreatening, and family friendly, Forgotten Library would make a fine escape room for introducing newbies who are a little afraid of the escape room concept, but are excited by the prospect of solving puzzles.

Mystery Room NYC isn’t out of the race, but they haven’t been keeping up with their competition. I’m hoping that their eventual Chapter 5 signals a rebirth.

Book your hour with Mystery Room NYC’s Chapter 4: Forgotten Library, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mystery Room NYC provided media discounted tickets for this game.