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.

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.

 

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.

SOS Escape Room – Planet SOS [Review]

Lost in translation.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: June 13, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

With the Earth in turmoil, our team of scientists sought to send a message to alien beings in the hopes that they might be our salvation.

Planet SOS was a small set in a dark space lit largely by flashlights. The walls were decorated with stick-on and projected stars.

A dark room filled with speckled blue stars, a large stick-on star, and a console with 16 glowing white buttons.

Puzzles

Planet SOS was made up of about half a dozen challenging puzzles. They were all solvable, but they were difficult to understand due to sloppy execution.

Standouts

A couple of puzzles in Planet SOS were genuinely interesting.

Shortcomings

Planet SOS desperately needed editing from a native English speaker. SOS Escape Room’s entire experience, include the website, would benefit from this. They could probably hire a college student for an hour or two and significantly improve the quality of their written puzzle and promotional materials.

The tech in Planet SOS was haphazardly implemented. Even when it worked correctly, it felt broken. We solved puzzles and then waited 15 seconds for confirmation from the tech.

Even the most interesting puzzles overstayed their welcome.

Should I play SOS Escape Room’s Planet SOS?

Planet SOS was a strange escape room that did not feel cohesive or refined. Even the genuinely interesting portions of the escape room felt slapped together.

In speaking with the gamemaster, I got the impression that they are truly passionate about their escape rooms. It also felt, however, like they have no concept of the escape room market in New York City in 2017. I probably would not have recommended Planet SOS three years ago and I certainly cannot today.

Enigma Escape Rooms – The Masterpiece [Review]

White bread makes a perfectly fine sandwich.

Location: Buffalo, New York

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

After a billionaire art collector died, hundreds of millions of dollars were unaccounted for. We broke into his office to steal the missing fortune.

The Masterpiece took place in a rich guy’s unremarkable office. The paintings on the walls were the single nod to his interests and fortune. He didn’t have expensive taste.

In-game: An office with a computer and a fireplace.

Puzzles

The Masterpiece required different types of thinking as well as some interacting. A number of the puzzles rewarded keen observation.

Standouts

In multiple instances, The Masterpiece relied on standard escape room props and puzzles, with execution well above average. We enjoyed the clarity of a particular visual puzzle and the streamlined used of one technological interface.

The Masterpiece flowed well from start to finish.

Enigma Escape Rooms built a few well-hidden surprises into this office.

Without saying too much, Enigma Escape Rooms included a few items that could easily have been dreadful, but they used them in such a way that they were fair and fun.

Shortcomings

The gamespace for The Masterpiece was an unremarkable office. It did not develop a character or set a compelling stage for this heist. The space was boring.

While many of the puzzles were well designed, they never built energy or tension. The escape room didn’t have a lot of drama, a climax, or memorable moments.

Should I play Enigma Escape Rooms’ The Masterpiece?

Enigma Escape Rooms checked a lot of important boxes: flow, cluing, structure, reliance on observation, and fair puzzle implementation.

Where The Masterpiece fell short, however, was in excitement. Neither the set nor story was compelling. The puzzles – while well designed – weren’t particularly memorable either. Everything worked, but nothing left an impact.

This would be an excellent entry point for escape room beginners. It will be a challenging, but fair opponent. More experienced players will likely appreciate some of the finer points of puzzle design.

There is a strong room escape in The Masterpiece. From this first outing, I can tell that Enigma Escape Rooms understands the escape room building blocks. I hope to see them kick it up a notch with their next adventure.

Book your hour with Enigma Escape Rooms’ The Masterpiece, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

Perplexity – Perplexity Lab #42 [Review]

The answer to the universe?

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per ticket

Story & setting

Our lab partner called in sick on the very day that emergency decontamination triggered. We had an hour to find his half of our research and escape before the incinerator toasted our lab.

Perplexity Lab #42 was a sterile, white, lab-ish environment filled with puzzles of a science-y nature.

A glove holding a vial of yellow liquid.
Image via Perplexity.

Puzzles

Puzzles were the focus of Perplexity Lab #42.

With a little physics, a little bio, and a little chemistry, there were a lot of tangible grade school science-based puzzles to solve.

Standouts

With a bit of science magic, Perplexity Lab #42 had a great puzzling moment. It was a simple solve, but excellent execution.

Perplexity did a good job of keeping things tactile.

Perplexity Lab #42 had a number of strong implementations of more typical escape room style puzzles.

Shortcomings

Among the specimens kept in the lab, the selection of red herrings was breathtaking.

There was quite a bit of unnecessary reading material included in the name of realism. We had one person burn a lot of time exploring this redundant and largely useless material.

The set looked like purgatory. It was flat white and while it did have a lab feel to it, it wasn’t inspiring.

One rather clever puzzle suffered from some issues of readability and orientation.

The conclusion wasn’t particularly satisfying.

Should I play Perplexity’s Perplexity Lab #42?

If you’re looking for a puzzle-centric game, Perplexity Lab #42 has some excellent puzzle offerings. Tangible and creative, there’s plenty of challenge worth exploring.

The catch with Perplexity Lab #42 was that its red herrings, usability issues, bland environment, and reading material merged to create some tedium that hamstrung the experience.

While it wasn’t easy, it was certainly beginner-friendly and also offered enough puzzle intrigue to keep experienced folks entertained.

Book your hour with Perplexity’s Perplexity Lab #42, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Perplexity comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Out of the Box – The Seventh Room [Review]

Truth in advertising: It was honestly out of the box.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: up to 8 for online booking; we recommend 2 – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

There’s no shortage of escape room companies that claim that they are different. Usually, “we’re different, you’ve never seen anything like this,” means that it’s a standard escape room with a small twist.

Out of the Box was legitimately different.

On their website they claim, “The Seventh Room is the most unique escape room concept in Austin.” I’ll endorse that claim, and add that The Seventh Room as unique an escape room concept as I have encountered to date.

But was it fun?

Story & setting

Here’s how Out of the Box describes their own game:

The Seventh Room mixes room escape games, choose-your-own-adventure stories and interactive theater to create a real-life puzzle solving experience for attendees. To make the experience even more memorable, a cast of improv-trained actors are armed with riddles, back-stories and cryptic clues to help guide participants through the puzzles. During the challenge, participants explore several theatrically-designed rooms to look for clues where they will encounter lock boxes, riddles, hidden compartments and colorful characters.”

I would describe it as an eclectic house of puzzles, curiosities, and intrigue.

The game began with a self-administered puzzle in the lobby. Upon completion, we were led into the first space where an actor in the character of a librarian explained the rules and structure for us.

Essentially, we experienced 4 quarter-hour segments in different rooms within Out of the Box’s facility. The librarian ushered us around, chose the rooms in which we would play, and provided a curated experience.

Whimsically designed, yet detailed, the various rooms were created to identify our comfort zones and then give us a gentle shove out of them.

In-game: An actor standing at a mysterious bar.
Image via Out of the Box

If there was a story embedded in The Seventh Room, we never caught so much as a whiff of it, which was fine.

We saw a lot of the facility but played in only about half of the spaces. Each individual space had a distinctive look and feel. While each looked great, some were more compelling and polished than others.

Rather than escape or stop some calamity within 60 minutes, we aimed to maximize our points. In that regard The Seventh Room was like Epic Team Adventures’ Volcano God, but it didn’t take place in a single room or allow individual players to lean on their strengths to maximize the score, because at the end of a 15-minute segment our guide chose the next set of challenges.

The Seventh Room was a points-driven room escape with 5 very different games (counting the lobby), broken out into exceedingly different spaces, all guided by an actor.

Puzzles

Your experience will vary, but we enjoyed many tavern puzzles, riddles, and wordplay, as  bit of well as some decipherment and problem solving.

We also had a few non-puzzley interpersonal challenges to tackle.

We succeeded in a big way in The Seventh Room. So much of this game and our success in it depended on collaboration, team dynamic, and a no-ego approach to the game. It was clear in each section which teammates had the right skills to thrive. Once that was established, the rest of the team shifted to support those players.

In our case, we experienced a high puzzle density game because we solved things so rapidly that our dear librarian was at times falling behind our solve rate. Note that we brought an incredibly puzzle-experienced team.

Standouts

The adaptive experience worked well and kept us busy throughout our hour with Out of the Box.

Our guide/actor was exceptional. She was in character throughout our time in the facility and she was great fun to play with.

Each room had its own set of rules. Those rules were delivered upon entry to the space and without the clock running. It made it easy to take them in and abide by them.

In-game: an actress sitting in a window surrounded by a variety of brightly colored symbols.
Image via Out of the Box

There was continual mystery as we never knew where we were going next, or what would be demanded of us.

This led to some moments that really did force some of our teammates out of the comfort zone.

The Library set was awesome, brilliant, and so impressive.

The Seventh Room was honestly replayable, for at least a few playthroughs. When I am next in Austin, I will, without hesitation, return to play again.

Shortcomings

Not all rooms within The Seventh Room were created equal. We found ourselves in one space that wasn’t particularly compelling. Once we had solved the puzzle in the room, we found ourselves stuck completing the same task over and over for additional points until the end of the segment.

More than with most escape rooms, I would not want to play The Seventh Room with strangers.

In the optimal presentation of The Seventh Room, each individual room has a different actor who presides over it. We had the librarian lead us through the entire hour on her own. She was superb, but a fraction of what we imagine Out of the Box could deliver under the best of circumstances. I imagine the full experience would be costly, but the website and marketing promised more than it delivered.

Should I play Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room?

Yes!

If you’re a newbie, the actors can help make the experience more approachable.

If you’re a seasoned puzzler and escaper, Out of the Box is truly different and will fill your hour with puzzles. For those of us who are accustomed to playing through an average game in roughly half of the allotted time, that’s a pretty big deal.

If you’re a serious puzzler, give Out of the Box a heads up before you book and ask them to put together a tougher game for you. The librarian told us that they will accommodate that request.

The only folks who might not be keen on The Seventh Room are those who are seeking a cohesive narrative. If that’s the case, Out of the Box likely won’t be your thing.

Our team size recommendation was: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. This is a first for us, but we’re fairly certain that the game would be adapted to accommodate as few as 2 and many more than 8 without sacrificing the experience in anyway. Out of the Box allows for custom bookings over the phone for parties larger than 8.

Out of the Box’s sets were great, the actor we saw was wonderful, and the puzzles were non-stop.

Book your hour with Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Out of the Box comped our tickets for this game.

 

Reality Rooms Niagara – Wine Cellar [Review]

A rare vintage.

Location: Lewiston, NY

Date played: January 22, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 per ticket

Story & setting

In the wine cellar of an eccentric collector, we had to search for the legendary million dollar bottle of wine.

While the story was simple, the set was not. We were in a beautiful wine cellar. There were faux stone walls, barrels, crates, and large racks with bottles. The Wine Cellar looked authentic.

In-game: A wine cellar with stone walls, barrels, and large racks of wine behind an iron gate.

We were mentally prepared for the Wine Cellar to turn into a vaguely horror game with organs in the wine or whatever… but Reality Rooms Niagara resisted that trope and played their adventure clean. It was refreshing.

Puzzles

There was a solid mix of puzzles in the Wine Cellar. We ran into some trouble with the puzzling due to a need for outside knowledge to draw a few key conclusions.

Throughout the game, the environment, props, and embedded technology played a regular part in the puzzling experience, which helped to keep our attention on the excellent set.

Standouts

The set was pretty fantastic. It looked and felt like a wine cellar.

I had seen an image of a wine cellar in Reality Rooms Niagara’s brochure at a local restaurant prior to our visit. I cynically thought that it was a photo of a real wine cellar and not the game. (A fair number of companies pull that kind of move in creating the marketing materials.) I was dead wrong. That was an in-game photo and I could not be happier about it.

The use of the various props was clever and felt natural in the game’s environment.

The conclusion of the game was entertaining.

Shortcomings

While the puzzles themselves were plenty sound, a few of them required outside knowledge due to weak clue structure. We were pretty caught off guard by this and thought we were missing information within the room. The requirement of outside knowledge is a cardinal sin in escape room design and was by far the biggest opportunity for improvement in the Wine Cellar.

There was a puzzle that triggered technologically before we had completed the interaction. We were utterly baffled by this. In fact, we thought we had broken something or that it happened by accident. As a result, we spun our wheels for a while not sure what to do. It turned out that everything behaved as expected, suggesting that the tech in the room could benefit from a little bit of iteration.

Should I play Reality Rooms Niagara’s Wine Cellar?

The Wine Cellar was a wonderfully low-key adventure. It never attempted to add hefty stakes or turn dark. It was simply a beautiful environment in which to puzzle through to an incredibly sensible conclusion.

It had its flaws in the form of outside knowledge and a finicky technological implementation, but both of these flaws are fixable. I hope that Reality Rooms Niagara addresses them because while the Wine Cellar was a lot of fun, it could be pretty magnificent with a little bit of adjustment.

I recommend experienced players stop by to enjoy the atmosphere and puzzling.

Beginners could take on the Wine Cellar, but I suspect that they would need to use hint liberally to make progress because the clue structure got a bit tenuous at times. It was a good game, but its more confusing elements could sour the experience for less unseasoned players.

On my next trip to Buffalo, I am eager to return to Reality Rooms Niagara. Cheers!

Book your hour with Reality Rooms Niagara’s Wine Cellar, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Reality Rooms Niagara comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

X-Room – The Mystery in Archeology [Review]

Meh-stery.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: November 7, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

In The Mystery in Archeology we were archeology students trapped in a collapsed tomb / our professor’s office with only enough air to last 60 minutes. It wasn’t worth trying to make sense of it.

The game started in an unremarkable office and progressed into what was barely a tomb. At no point did the set contribute to a fictional environment.

In-game a photo of a mundane set with a pair of white dressers. A globe and a lockbox rest atop the dressers.

The middle third of the game had the most character in terms of set and puzzles, but we never felt like participants in a story.

Puzzles

The Mystery in Archeology included some challenging puzzles, though at times these were poorly clued.

The puzzles varied the most in the middle of the game, using different input and unlocking mechanisms as well as different types of thinking.

Standouts

We enjoyed interacting with the prop-based puzzles in the middle of the game. There were some fun, tangible pieces, some of which captured the Egyptian theme.

Shortcomings

The poorly clued puzzles were incredibly frustrating. When our gamemaster provided additional hints over walky-talky, he read off a script with no comprehension of how much of the puzzle we had already completed. More often than not, communicating with him added to our frustration, even when he was being helpful.

This game continually suffered from bad lighting with no real purpose, except maybe to obscure the uninteresting set.

We wondered why there were Chinese characters in an Egyptian tomb.

Because of uneven puzzle structure over the course of the sets, this game bottlenecked, especially near the end.

Both the final set and final interaction were major letdowns. When we solved the final puzzle, we didn’t even realize it.

Should I play X-Room’s The Mystery in Archeology?

Due to the uneven game design, it would be hard to recommend an ideal number of players. You only want those extra brains and hands around sometimes.

While X-Room has improved substantially since we reviewed their games a year and a half ago, they are no where near on par with the rest of the New York City market. The middle third of The Mystery in Archeology was a bright spot in the game’s design, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the dreary and frustrating beginning and ending.

There isn’t enough good in The Mystery in Archeology to recommend it to anyone.

Full disclosure: X-Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Quest Zone – Alcatraz Escape [Review]

Where does everyone buy this metal toilet?

Location: Ridgefield, NJ

Date played: November 3, 2016

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.95 per ticket

Story & setting

We were investigating a prison break from Alcatraz by going back into the escaped prisoner’s cell and recreating his escape.

In-game image shoth through the bars of a jail cell. A small kot and table rest in the room.Scratched into the cell's grey walls are the words, "God will give me justice."

The set had your standard unremarkable office-space turned prison look: barren and uninviting. There were components that were clearly out of place in the set.

Puzzles

The puzzles in Alcatraz Escape relied on standard escape room themes.

While a few of the puzzles presented interesting challenges, the hardest part was making the right connections between components.

In-game image of a combination steel sink/toilet.
I’m serious. Where is everyone buying this thing?

Standouts

One great puzzle culminated in a surprising set-based interaction that felt truly in character with the story.

Quest Zone repurposed some interesting technology into a game component. One of these hacks was at the end of the game. It was pretty funny to realize what they had used to build the interaction.

Shortcomings

Alcatraz Escape had an unusual layout due to the geography of the building. Quest Zone did their best to work with it, but the unusual layout felt like a missed opportunity. It wasn’t used to escalate drama.

The fiction was shaky and Quest Zone didn’t build it out enough to “up the stakes” of our investigation-turned-escape. As Alcatraz Escape advanced, it fizzled into a traditional, lock-heavy game with an uninteresting set.

Some of the puzzles relied on pretty random associations.

Should I play Quest Zone’s Alcatraz Escape?

Alcatraz Escape was a solid introductory game in a suburban market. Although located just 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, this northern New Jersey game caters to a hyperlocal audience. New players will enjoy this generally standard experience, complete with a few fun quirks.

For experienced players, Alcatraz Escape is not worth journeying across the river and through the woods, considering everything that New York City can offer. It was solid, but not outstanding.

Book your hour with Quest Zone’s Alcatraz Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Quest Zone provided media discounted tickets for this game.