Mystery Escape Room – Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors [Review]

Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Date Played: January 8, 2018

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.95 per ticket

REA Reaction

The writings of H.P. Lovecraft are filled with curious and adventurous minds driven to madness. Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors replicated that. Its design was highly ambitious but bumpy execution and lighting problems kept some great ideas from reaching their potential.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • H.P. Lovecraft fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Because Cthulhu calls
  • Dramatic moments
  • The gamemaster

Story

The Old Ones, the horrors born of H.P. Lovecraft’s mind, slumbered dreaming of their ascendance. We had to puzzle through the madness and lore to prevent them from rising and destroying all.

In-game: A skull on a strange table with a book covered in protruding eyeballs behind it.

Setting

We found ourselves in a sporadically lit library amidst skulls and the lore of H.P. Lovecraft.

The set design was uneven. Some of it looked great; other portions were uninspiring.

In-game: a dimly lit bookshelf with a skull and books resting on it.

While there were moments of intensity, this was not a scary escape room.

Gameplay

Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors was a standard escape room with a bit of searching and a heavier emphasis on puzzling and interpreting lore. We struggled to navigate the gamespace without blocking another teammate’s light.

Much like Dracula’s Castle, our in-character gamemaster introduced and vocally oversaw our game… and, oh my, was he a character.

In-game: An old grandfather clock beside a book shelf.

Standouts

Mystery Escape Room opened Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors with an engaging and hilarious introduction. It added excitement to the adventure ahead.

Our gamemaster was a character in our experience. Although offstage for the duration of the game clock, his verbal interactions were helpful and amusing. He was an integral part of Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors.

Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors included an unusual and entertaining Lovecraft lore manual.

The most thematic puzzle had us accept the madness of Lovecraftian lore and unexpectedly triggered an effect.

I’d been waiting for a Cthulu-themed escape room for a long time now. Mystery Escape Room delivered. I was happy that I got to play it.

Shortcomings

In attempting to stay true to the lore, Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors didn’t deliver the intensity that Cthulhu demanded.

The dark gamespace quickly became the most prominent puzzle. We were always in each other’s light… which kind of drove us insane.

There was a lot of reading material, and not within the library books. This was especially frustrating given the lack of lighting.

While Mystery Escape Room built some interesting tech-driven opens, we saw them coming a mile away. To enhance their dramatic effect, we recommend hiding wires and concealing the technology.

We bypassed the final puzzle through a combination of observation and knowledge of Cthulhu lore. We recommend Mystery Escape Room modify the puzzle flow such that teams cannot miss the climax of the adventure.

Tips for Visiting

  • Mystery Escape Room is located in The Gateway. There are plenty of restaurant options in the complex.
  • There’s a paid parking garage in The Gateway complex.
  • At least one or two players will need to crawl a short distance.
  • Mind your gamemaster for hints and entertainment.

Book your hour with Mystery Escape Room’s Cthulhu’s Library of Horrors, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mystery Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

Riddle Room – Captain’s Curse [Review]

Pillaging, puzzling, and a puppy.

Location: East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Date played: July 15, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

Captured by pirates who were in the midst of casting a curse upon humanity, we had to free ourselves and save the world.

In game: Behind a jail gate, a dog with keys in his mouth sits beside a cannon.
Points for the Pirates of the Caribbean (ride) reference.

Captain’s Curse was an office space filled with pirate-y props. The set was cute and hardly immersive.

Puzzles

Captain’s Curse was built around search and discovery. There were lots of little bits and pieces to collect. It heavily rewarded those with a keen eye.

Standouts

Throughout Captain’s Curse we uncovered historical information about various famed pirates. Most of this came in short bits and any instances of longer prose never became arduous. Captain’s Curse communicated a lot of information without slowing the pace of gameplay. In fact, two of our teammates left wanting to learn more about Ching Shih, a remarkably badass Chinese pirate queen.

We enjoyed the adorable staging depicted above. Who can say no to that cute cuddly face?

Riddle Room chose mostly old-timey boxes and locks that seemed to belong well enough on a pirate ship.

Shortcomings

Captain’s Curse contained a lot of itty bitty props and relied heavily on finding over solving. We were continually unlocking every little thing we uncovered.

The set design did not do a great job of conveying a plot or even a feeling. It was a vaguely pirate-esque office.

Riddle Room’s reliance on search collided with lighting issues and prop selection. Everything combined to deliver some tedious search work.

Much of the action in Captain’s Curse felt repetitive rather than layered. The repetition lead to an emotionally level game with few moments of intensity or deeper satisfaction.

Should I play Riddle Room’s Captain’s Curse?

Captain’s Curse was a solid execution of an older style of escape room: there was a lot to poke through and uncover, but it was not all scavenging… It ultimately led to some puzzles. Riddle Room had a few truly fun and interesting ideas here and then filled in the gaps with what have become escape room standards.

Newer players will likely enjoy Captain’s Curse. Much of what’s old hat to us will be new and fun. It would also be a great room for families, as an educational and not-at-all-scary pirate ship with plenty for children to uncover.

For more experienced players, if you find yourself in the area and want some light puzzling, step aboard, but don’t sail too far out of your way to plunder this game.

Book your hour with Riddle Room – Captain’s Curse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Capcom & iam8bit – Resident Evil Escape Experience, New York [Review]

In its defense, it was about as good as most of the past decade’s Resident Evil games.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: February 23, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $41 per ticket

Story & setting

Themed around the popular video game (and movie) series, the Resident Evil Escape Experience was a popup escape game touring the United States, making stops in Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Portland, and San Francisco.

The room escape itself was a fairly standard, slightly creepy escape room design in an office/lab/home space. We were entering a simulation created by the villainous Umbrella Corporation, thus explaining the rapid set hopping.

The Umbrella Corporation’s presence notwithstanding, the experience was not deeply rooted in Resident Evil lore. It did, however, have a variety of props that referenced the game series.

Resident Evil Escape Experience 2017 Nationwide Tour: New York Advertisement shows an old television, typewriter, a pair of disembodied hands and a broken vial.

Puzzles

The puzzling was weak. We encountered red herrings, significant prop breakage, and puzzles with frustrating construction.

There were a few puzzles that were well clued, but the Resident Evil Escape Experience was not a satisfying puzzle game.

Standouts

Aesthetically, the set looked pretty good, especially for a temporary traveling game.

There was an innovative use of space, which could have been excellent had it been clued.

Shortcomings

The casual references to Resident Evil were nowhere near enough to justify the game’s title. The name “Resident Evil Escape Experience dramatically oversold the escape room by implying that it would be a high-end survival horror escape room. It never even came close.

The puzzling was frustrating and frequently tedious.

There were many broken lock hasps that had been crazy glued in place. The brittle crazy glue had snapped, leaving much of the game unlocked. On the other extreme, we encountered a lock that had been jammed. Our gamemaster knew it was busted and was standing next to us, ready to hand us duplicate copies of the locked content as soon as we had the solution to the lock.

There were quite a few red herrings. Some seemed like they were puzzles that had been broken and dropped from the experience, but not removed from the space.

The gamespace was cramped with 6 players, but due to the popularity of the escape room, a 6-player team was inevitable.

The ticket price was too damn high.

Should I play Capcom & iam8bit’s Resident Evil Escape Experience?

While your mileage may vary from city to city, I cannot recommend the Resident Evil Escape Experience based on what I saw in New York City.

It wasn’t a satisfying experience for escape room fans because the puzzling was weak.

It wasn’t the experience that Resident Evil fans were looking for because the connections to the series and horror elements were barely present.

Additionally, Resident Evil Escape Experience was incompetently maintained and seemed poorly constructed to begin with. Why was all of the hardware glued together? And why not take a bolt cutter to the broken lock and replace it?

Resident Evil Escape Experience was decidedly low-tech, which I was expecting of a temporary game. While we don’t judge escape rooms based on the presence of technology, the low-tech design made the breakage that much more frustrating.

It seemed to me like this might have been a good escape room when it initially set out on its journey, but it felt like there simply wasn’t enough professional oversight for Resident Evil Escape Experience to survive its trip around the continent.

I expect better at $41 per ticket.

And I expect far better from Capcom & iam8bit. I know that they are trying to promote Resident Evil 7, but in choosing the escape room format to deliver that message, they inevitably attract new people to real life puzzle gaming and this was a sad display of the medium’s potential.

Room Escapers – Naughty, or Nice? [Review]

Grand Theft Naughty List.

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: December 10, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Our names made it onto Santa’s Naughty List.

Santa had left the building and it was now our team’s chance to break into the old man’s workshop and swap our forged naughty list for the real one. It was a risky heist, but with quality presents at risk, we had to take action.

The setting was bright, festive, and more red, green, and white than Boston’s North End. The room was pretty hacked together. However, the aesthetic and build quality greatly exceeded what we were expecting from a temporary seasonal game.

In-game, close-up of the Naughty List.
The book of judgements.

In a word, it was adorable.

Puzzles

There was a lot to find and solve in Naughty, or Nice?.

The game flowed smoothly from start to finish. It wasn’t a particularly challenging game, and our experienced team ripped through it like a puzzling tornado. There were, however, a few moments that made us slow down and one that nearly tripped us up.

Standouts

In our review of Room Escapers’ first game, Pirate’s Booty, we were underwhelmed by the start of the game. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the room escape that it turned into something interesting. Oh my, was that problem solved in Naughty, or Nice?. We were genuinely surprised by the opening moments of the game.

The theming work was super cute and Room Escapers seriously committed to it. The staff members wore fetching elf costumes and the lobby had been fully decorated in the spirit of the season.

In-game - A fireplace with stockings hanging from it beside a white Christmas tree surrounded by presents.

Everything was overflowing with personality.

Shortcomings

Naughty, or Nice? was a temporary construction and some of it was unpolished and hacked together, but it all worked. The game was fun. A good time was had by all… but there were a lot of little details that were deliberately overlooked due to the impermanence of the game.

Also… it’s a temporary game. As fun as it was, it’s only available for a limited time.

Should I play Room Escapers’ Naughty, or Nice??

Yes, if you’re in the area, Naughty, or Nice? is well worth a playthrough.

If you’re a newbie, it’s an approachable, bright, and cheery game.

If you’re an experienced player, it’s adorably inventive and does a few things differently.

Naughty, or Nice? should be open through most of January. Grab tickets while you can.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Naughty, or Nice?, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: We traded Room Escapers a handpicked selection of excellent IPAs for tickets to this game.

I Survived the Room – Club Escape [Review]

In Russia, escape room finds you.

Location: Long Island City, NY

Date played: November 6, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket on weekdays, $30 per ticket on weekends

Story & setting

In Club Escape, the town’s newest nightclub, we quickly learned that we were trapped by the Russian mafia.

Club Escape started before we arrived at the club as an actress marched us down the street to the building’s entrance and ushered us inside. She dramatically delivered us to the club’s basement office, which was almost typical, but with the intensity dialed up, as half our team was locked not in the office, but in the adjacent torture chamber.

Bloodied cutting implements are mounted to a blood spattered tile wall.

The set was large and fairly detailed.

Puzzles

The puzzles were solid, but they weren’t the stars of the show.

Club Escape included many challenging puzzles, generally in a typical escape room style. They leaned heavily on searching, observation, and communication.

Most puzzles led to a lock.

Standouts

The Club Escape experience wound along unexpected paths. I Survived the Room augmented what could have been a standard escape room with an interesting plot twist, and a set full of surprises.

This was a large gritty set that captured us in the game’s fiction.

A detailed and weathered wall-mounted metal switch box.

The actress bought an intensity to this experience beyond what the puzzles provided. Her dramatic hands-on introduction of the game was at times shocking. She built the fiction early in the game, but didn’t stay on top of us throughout the puzzling. This provided a nice balance and allowed us to puzzle without monologue interludes.

Club Escape brought together acting, technology, and puzzles.

Shortcomings

Club Escape fell short of intertwining all of its elements to elevate each other. There were strong puzzles here, but they were standard and they didn’t contribute to the dramatic moments of the game.

The intensity of the introduction could be a big problem for people who suffer from PTSD. It kind of came out of nowhere, and while we loved it, we know people who would have a big problem with it.

In that way, Club Escape didn’t live up to its own dramatic opening. It kept the intensity high for quite some time, but eventually petered out into an anticlimactic final escape. The late-game puzzles felt like the busywork to get through in order to escape.

We experienced a major technical failure that stopped the game. However, the staff at I Survived the Room was quick to right to situation and gave us back the lost time to make up for it.

If you don’t make it through to the end, you won’t receive a walkthrough.

Should I play I Survived the Room’s Club Escape?

I Survived the Room has a great schtick: you’re brought to a place under false pretenses and then horrible things happen. They introduce you to the game through an actor before you even see the set. Once you step into their world, your heart starts to race and you know you need to escape. They do a great job of making you need to escape.

Note that this game requires physical mobility and players start blindfolded. It could be problematic for young children or people suffering from PTSD.  The set was gritty and at times dark.

Of the two games currently available from I Survived the Room, this is the more approachable game, but The Sanatorium is the stronger game because the drama stayed through to the very end. Neither is an easy game, but if you can puzzle your way to the final third, they are dramatic and surprising.

Be sure to brush up on your rules for playing games with actors in advance of your visit to Club Escape.

Book your hour with I Survived the Room’s Club Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: I Survived the Room comped our tickets for this game.

 

THE BASEMENT – The Boiler Room [Review]

“Into the garbage chute…”

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 35 minutes

Price: $28 – $40 per ticket depending upon time of booking

Story & setting

Following from the events of THE BASEMENT’s first game, The Boiler Room operated under the statistically correct assumption that our group had lost the first game to serial killer Edward Tandy. The cannibalistic Mr. Tandy, however, likes to play with his food, so he decided to drop us in another creepy puzzle trap.

This small 35-minute game took place in a space that was roughly the size of the large coffee table in THE BASEMENT’s lobby and was themed as the waste disposal system of Tandy’s lair. Somehow the folks at THE BASEMENT managed to resist the urge to make Star Wars trash compactor jokes.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and a gauge on it. It looks like blood is dripping down the wall.

The scenery and set design in The Boiler Room was beyond reproach. The place looked awesome. It was a dark, creepy, and fun place to play. This held true throughout all three games that I played at THE BASEMENT.

Puzzles

There weren’t a ton of puzzles in The Boiler Room. The game derived challenge from clever tasks that made great use of the environment. This was probably the strongest task-based game I have played to date.

There was one set of puzzles that felt incredibly satisfying to solve, but at one point also suffered from a bit of wear that made a critical component far more difficult to interact with than it should have been.

Standouts

There was an exceptional set piece in this game. It was outrageous and I cannot describe it without a spoiler, so I won’t even try.

The tiny space was loaded with interesting interactions.

The environment of The Boiler Room was badass.

Close up of a wall with copper piping and ivy.

The introduction rules video was legitimately hilarious. They showed a variation of the video before The Basement as well, but I played them out of order and saw it – and loved it – here first.

The Boiler Room was also THE BASEMENT’s most approachable and best game. It was dark, creepy, and intense, but it wasn’t scary.

Shortcomings

As mentioned earlier, there was a tiny but significant component that had worn in such a way that it was unreasonably difficult to interact with. Having spoken with a number of others who had recently played The Boiler Room, our team was not the only team to struggle with this.

That incredible set piece had a couple of issues. For one, it was so unusual that determining how to properly interact with it was a strange and unclued challenge. Our gamemaster had to yell into the room to tell us how to use it properly.

Additionally, a portion of the mechanism to operate said set piece was wet. This normally wouldn’t have been an issue, except that The Boiler Room had an unusual and specific rule: “You never have to get wet to win this game.”

Upon feeling moisture, we initially concluded that we should stop advancing. That was incorrect and created a surprising complication. The “don’t get wet” rule wasn’t in reference to trace amounts of water; that wasn’t clear to us.

Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Boiler Room?

I had a ton of fun in The Boiler Room. It was lean, creative, and unexpected.

While it wasn’t the most puzzle-laden of games, it was a great adventure with fast pacing, an incredible set, and good flow.

If you have a medical issue that limits your mobility, or vision problems that cannot be corrected with lenses, you should probably sit this one out. The Boiler Room might also provide insurmountable challenges to larger folks. If you’re claustrophobic, you should absolutely take a pass. It’s tough to say more without spoiling critical pieces of the game, but feel free to write in if you want to discuss this in more detail.

If you can play The Boiler Room, you should. It’s expensive at $28-$40 for 35 minutes, but it lived up to the hype… and there was a lot of hype.

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

Full disclosure: The Basement provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Pirate’s Booty [Review]

Boston’s starrrt-up scene.

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: August 27, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Cape Cod Treasure Hunters (CCTH) is recruiting daring treasure hunters like you to break into the offices of a local tech startup company, activate their prototype time machine, and travel back in time in search of pirate treasure.

It seemed like a whacky set up: time travel treasure hunting.

We were searching for real treasure that had already been found off the coast of Boston (in real life). In order to find it, we would have to travel back in time and retrieve it before the people who already found it. Time travel is wacky.

This was a clever setup to make us participants in a historical, local adventure.

Initially the game’s setting was large, nondescript, and aesthetically boring. As the game escalated we found ourselves in a pirate ship set. This would typically be a spoiler, but Room Escapers’ website makes it clear that this is the heart of the game. The ship was a far more impressive environment.

The ship was a pretty solid set, not mind blowing, but leaps and bounds more interesting than where we had started.

Three pirates sharing a drink in the game's ship.
Image via by Room Escapers

Puzzles

The puzzles in Pirate’s Booty followed standard patterns of a designer’s early work. This was especially true in the first part of the game. As with the set, the puzzles became more interesting once we were aboard the ship.

They drew on a variety of skill sets, but much of the difficulty stemmed from searching thoroughly and connecting puzzle elements to each other.

Standouts

Pirate’s Booty included a few neat interactions that elevated it beyond basic room escape design.

This game escalated. It started with relatively unexciting puzzles in a mundane setting. When we traveled back in time to find our treasure, we found a more exciting set with more engaging puzzles.

Our charismatic gamemaster was superb. His hinting was on point.

Room Escapers cleverly mixed Boston’s tech startup scene with its colonial history.

Shortcomings

Room Escapers was still fine-tuning some of their puzzles. The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging, but in some instances, they hadn’t quite nailed that sweet spot between easy and opaque.

Pirate’s Booty lacked polish. At times, it still felt like an art project rather than a refined game.

The time travel component was a great concept, but Room Escapers should commit to making a time travel research lab that feels like an exciting place to visit in order to make this aspect of it work. Given what they have constructed, it almost would have been better to drop us directly onto the pirate ship.

Should I play Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty?

Pirate’s Booty became a fun adventure, but it didn’t start out as one.

It may need some additional refinement, both in aesthetic and puzzle design, but its fundamental components worked. It ultimately delivered a sense of adventure and some truly delightful moments.

Pirate’s Booty highlighted its location in downtown Boston by virtue of a historical story. Room Escapers did something special and unusual mixing Boston’s past and present. Hats off to them for it.

This wasn’t the most challenging escape room. If you play a lot of these games, it should play out pretty quickly. But if you’re new to this type of entertainment, this is a great introductory room.

If you’re bringing children, note that this game escalates quite a bit. It’s not horror by any means, but the pirate ship has a few props that might frighten little ones.

Note that the version of this game that we reviewed will be available through October 19, 2016. Room Escapers will be revamping it and rereleasing it shortly thereafter.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: We traded Room Escapers a handpicked selection of excellent IPAs for tickets to this game.

Trap Door – Cure Z [Review]

Out with the serial killer super villain and in with the zombie hoard.

Location: Red Bank, NJ

Date played: August 7, 2016

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Trap Door’s Cure Z was a zombie thriller in the spirit of Resident Evil. An evil pharmaceutical company produced a drug, which produced a zombie outbreak, which produced a dystopia.

The game was staged in Trap Door’s massive two-story gamespace. It occupied the exact same area as their previous escape room, but they had completely refactored the layout and flow of the space. The serial killer murder home vibe was replaced with a dark, gritty, creepy, and rundown zombie research facility.

A zombie locked away in a chamber beside a boarded up window.

Each room in the facility served a different purpose; some were more visually impressive than others. Most of the game felt a little bit empty just by virtue of how much space Trap Door had on their hands. Where their first game had a generally linear progression, Cure Z was more of an open world experience as most of the gamespace was available for exploration early on.

Puzzles

As with their previous game, Trap Door offered a reasonable degree of difficulty in Cure Z. While challenging, the puzzles felt uneven. There weren’t a lot of puzzles and props to interact with, but some of these puzzles required a lot of time and effort.

Structurally, this created situations where a few players puzzled while many others watched or listened. Participation was possible, but far more difficult for those who weren’t already in the fray.

Standouts

I have to give Trap Door credit. Going in, I knew the layout of the space and expected a similar feel and flow in their second outing. They immediately shattered that expectation by creating a new door as the point of entry. Nothing about this game felt rehashed from The Architect.

When Trap Door created a great set piece, it was pretty damn great. At their best, they have the ability to merge video, physical fabrication, and a little bit of technology to create truly interesting things from simple components.

Trap Door used their environment to create an ominous and threatening vibe without pushing too deeply into horror.

Shortcomings

By opening up the whole space early, they eliminated the fear that they so wonderfully created; the unknown is a powerful force.

When their staging was on, it was on. Unfortunately, the staging was uneven. Some sections of the game felt barren and boring when juxtaposed against the more interesting rooms.

The physical space of the game was too large for its contents. There wasn’t enough game to fill such a large location. This spacing issue also made for one of the most irritating blacklight goose chases I’ve been on in a while. And when I found what needed fluorescing, it wasn’t vibrant enough.

While I didn’t dislike the puzzles, some of them overstayed their welcome. There was too much to parse. In the end, the bulk of Cure Z happened in a couple of massive puzzles.

Trap Door had a long list of specific rules. The nuance of their wording mattered a great deal and a slight misinterpretation could burn a lot of time. This puts extra pressure on teams that really try to obey the rules… and even more pressure on a certain pair of escape room enthusiasts who play so many games that they can’t always keep the rules straight from company to company. This problem wasn’t unique to Trap Door; it is more common in suburban games that cater to families. That said, it was an issue that surfaced strongly in this game.

Should I play Trap Door’s Cure Z?

I haven’t been shy about being bored with zombies (both in pop culture and escape rooms), but I enjoyed Trap Door’s take on the genre. They kept it playful while still making it dark. They didn’t go for gross or over-the-top horror. They cleverly made the zombies characters in their game.

Cure Z’s puzzling felt uneven with some that solved rapidly and others that took the bulk of the game. The set was massive, but there wasn’t a lot going on in much of it. This ultimately hampered the flow of a game that otherwise should have felt gigantic and intense.

Last go around, I really let Trap Door have it for withholding a walkthrough when we failed on the final puzzle. A fair amount of their audience returns to play after having lost, but they now give players the option of a walkthrough if they pass the 50% mark.

Trap Door produces unique games. We have never played another company that feels like theirs, which is both unusual and admirable. It’s clear that they are working hard to produce interesting and unusual games. Thus some will love them and others won’t. We love the Trap Door gang and have a ton of fun with them… but we didn’t love Cure Z.

That said, if you’re near Red Bank, NJ, can climb stairs, and are open to a gritty looking game, you should go check them out and decide for yourself. Their game is interesting and unusual enough to warrant a visit.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s Cure Z, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – Escape The Architect [Review]

If you lose, The Architect does something truly villainous.

Location: Red Bank, New Jersey

Date played: December 6, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 6-8

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & theme

As a team of special agents, we were sent into the lair of a criminal who goes by the moniker “The Architect.” The objective was to find a MacGuffin left behind by agents who failed their mission, and use the item to finish the job.

The Architect was basically a Jigsaw-like character and the game itself was set inside of a booby-trapped murder house. While distinctive, Escape The Architect had many seemingly deliberate parallels to the Saw movie franchise.

That being said, the game itself wasn’t particularly scary; that was a good thing. If you’re jittery, you might find the setting a bit intimidating. However, Escape The Architect didn’t come close to crossing the threshold into horror.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Timer
Somewhere hidden in this picture is my favorite puzzle in months.

The game itself takes place in a two-story building and it spans both floors. It’s a large game (especially by northeastern US standards) and each room in the game has a distinctive feel, purpose, and objective. With the notable exception of one room that had what amounted to a diorama and a green screen, it all came together really well. The diorama-like setup was out of place and confusing.

A game with character

The folks from Trapdoor have a background in video production. They previously made online puzzle adventures that involved real-life actors. This experience carried over into Escape The Architect in the form of video and auditory interactions with The Architect, who took pleasure in taunting us over the PA system.

The “presence” of The Architect gave the game a comic-booky feel that worked for me. It felt a little like we were squaring off against a bonkers Riddler-like villain who kind of wanted to get caught. Given the Batman sticker that I saw on a laptop in Trapdoor’s reception area, I’m thinking that was all by design.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Windows
Windows?! The Architect truly is a monster!

Physical involvement

Nearly every puzzle in Escape The Architect had a level of physical involvement that I found refreshing. On top of that, no two puzzles were even remotely alike.

There was a lot to do in Escape The Architect and it managed to keep every person on our team engaged throughout the entire game. Even when we stalled out on a puzzle we all remained busy. That’s a rare feat.

Artificial bottleneck

Dropping multiple locks on a door or a chest is a generally monotonous practice. From the player perspective, it makes the little victories I experience from solving puzzles feel hollow because there is no payoff.

In this situation, a failure to solve one lock brings the game to a total halt. That happened to us in a major way. If it weren’t for how quickly we worked through most of the early puzzles, the slowdown could have been catastrophic.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Locks
I hear you like locks.

Respawning, for a second play?

Trapdoor offers teams who do not win a “medpack,” or a coupon to return at a 50% discount during the week to reattempt the game. They do not offer walkthroughs to teams who fail. They hold to this policy regardless of how much game is remaining.

We lost near the end of the game. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

I asked our gamemaster at the end if he was serious about not providing a walkthrough and he affirmed that he was dead serious.

I don’t know how the final puzzle concludes, but I have a very strong hunch.

I traveled over an hour to get to Red Bank, New Jersey to play Escape The Architect and I had to visit on a weekend. There is no chance I will be returning during the week. Even if returning during the week were an option, if I were to replay this game, I could get to the place where our game ended within 10-15 minutes… And if my hunch about the final puzzle is correct, I’d be out very shortly after that.

The notion that I would pay 50% and drive a two hour round trip for a few minutes of gameplay where I can still remember all of the lock combinations is insulting.

If we hadn’t made it past the halfway mark, then I think that a second chance would sound pretty enticing. Hell, if we lived nearby and we hadn’t made it past the three quarter mark, I think I’d consider another attempt. However, I’ve seen most of this game and I live way too far from Red Bank to even consider this offer.

When a team is as close to the end as we were, tell us the damn answer… Especially when we traveled a long way to play the game. Don’t ask for more money and tell us to come back another time to experience 4% more game.

Should I play Trapdoor’s Escape The Architect?

Escape The Architect is large, fun, and physical without requiring athleticism.

The fiction that Trapdoor has worked to build isn’t necessarily compelling, but it is entertaining, and that’s more than enough to push the story forward.

The manner in which they set up this villain to literally and figuratively antagonize us as we worked our way through his house of puzzles and traps added a dimension to the game that added tension, and laughs.

However, I cannot endorse Trapdoor’s handling of the post game. Their expectation that I would return and pay them 50% the price of admission so that I could replay they same game and take another swing at one puzzle is laughable and only served to sour what was otherwise a positive experience.

There’s no hard feelings. After the game, we had a ton of fun together shooting an episode of Trapdoor UNLOCKED… You should check it out because it’s hilarious (and contains a scene that my parents can never unsee).

Bring the best team you can, because Trapdoor has no mercy.

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

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Guns & Tone
“GET TO THE CHOPPA!”