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.

 

Time Run – The Celestial Chain [Review]

Time crunch.

Location: London, United Kingdom

Date played: October 25, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £33 – £42 per ticket depending upon timing

Story & setting

The vengeful goddess Nemesis broke free from the Celestial Chain. Could we travel through time and gather all of the components needed to bind her once again before she unleashed her retribution on the world?

In-game: An intricate and aged tomb or temple.
This is really what the game looks like.

The Celestial Chain was split into segments. Each segment was set in a different time and place within history. In each segment, we could earn up to 5 resources. We needed to gain at least 1 resource from each era in order to bind Nemesis. Earning at least 3 from each granted us access to the top win condition. Anything beyond 3 was essentially bonus plunder.

Additionally, each segment had its own game clock. The Celestial Chain was more like 5 Wits for adults than a traditional escape room. As a result of this structure, multiple teams were playing different segments of The Celestial Chain at the same time. We could not hang back in an era once that segment’s game clock expired.

As with Time Run’s first game, The Lance of Longinus, the sets were among the finest that I’ve encountered. The Celestial Chain spanned many different periods and places and each looked and felt distinctive. Furthermore, the beautiful sets felt lived in.

Puzzles

Time Run built unique sets with puzzles that tied to each room/ time period. Every era in The Celestial Chain had a cohesive and related set of puzzles. They had established this design with The Lance of Longinus.

In-game: A concrete Soviet bunker with concrete walls, a PA system, and a photo of Stalin hanging on the wall.

In The Celestial Chain, however, the individual set game clock created a continual time crunch not felt in their other game.

Standouts

The first room was an especially smart on-ramp for the game. It had a fantastic core mechanism that really lifted the experience.

The Celestial Chain’s sets were amazing. The variety of spaces that Time Run created was dumbfounding. In nearly any other company, this one game would have been 4 or 5 separate escape rooms.

The varied yet cohesive puzzles were entertaining and felt at home in each segment of The Celestial Chain.

The pacing was intense. When we gained access to a new area/ era, I wanted to dash into it.

I knocked The Lance of Longinus for not having a climax. Oh my, did Time Run go the other direction in The Celestial Chain. The final moments were memorable and impressive.

A lushly decorated office filled with artifacts.
This is the lobby for The Celestial Chain. The lobby!

I mentioned this in the last review, but it bears repeating: Time Run built a whole world to explore. The entire facility – front door, lobby, gamemasters, and both games – were all part of a beautiful Time-Run-verse.

The Celestial Chain concluded with us receiving a detailed score and assessment of our team’s ability and style of play. This was as funny as it was accurate.

Shortcomings

Time was a precious and limited resource in The Celestial Chain, even more so than in most escape rooms. The constantly resetting game clock drove the pace. Not all challenges were equally fun and we would have rather apportioned our time differently, but we didn’t have that luxury. Additionally, it was kind of heartbreaking to have to leave a challenge seconds away from completion.

In The Lance of Longinus, Time Run instituted a standard aesthetic for time travel. This was essentially abandoned in The Celestial Chain (probably for spatial reasons). Consequently, the transitions from era to era were a little harsh. It was a small detail, but I missed walking through portals.

While especially cool, the conclusion was a little chaotic. We nearly missed some key details. We’d also earned more components than we needed, which added some confusion. (As Ikea will teach you, extra parts are always a bit confusing.) When all was said and done, we collectively felt like we had failed. It turned out that we had achieved one of the highest scores ever, but in the moment that was undermined by our confusion. We got over it.

Should I play Time Run’s The Celestial Chain?

Yes, you absolutely should play The Celestial Chain, but only if you’ve already played The Lance of Longinus. Time Run has a particular style and approach. You will enjoy The Celestial Chain so much more if you learn the ropes in their more relaxed first game.

From set, to puzzles, to facility, Time Run is comfortably sitting among the best in the business. The Celestial Chain was their sophomore game and it pushed a lot of boundaries. Some of those boundaries cracked a little, but none of them broke. The pacing, intensity, and beauty of this game was remarkable.

In-game: a large and mysterious metal vessel. It could be a submarine or a space ship.
Look at all of the details. Just look at them.

The Celestial Chain can be enjoyed by players of most experience levels. We dissuade true newbies from booking it; this game will be hell if you are clueless. It operates under the assumption that you have at least a basic idea of what goes on in an escape game.

Depending upon your skill level, you’ll have to adjust your expectations. If you’re moderately experienced, shoot for 3 resources per era. Trust me when I say that 3 per era is par… and quite a good performance.

The Celestial Chain is one of those rare games that will make even the most experienced of escape room players scramble. Don’t go in cocky. No team has earned a perfect score in The Celestial Chain. We came pretty close, but fell short. Remember than any resources gained beyond 3 of a kind are for vanity and not needed in the finale. We were told this by our gamemaster and forgot it in the heat of the moment.

Enjoy the world that has been created within this facility. The Time Run world is so fleshed out that it could be made into a novel, movie or television series. I think that it would be a hit.

If you haven’t already, go play Time Run’s games. They will be open through the end of the year and maybe into 2018… but eventually their building will be leveled and turned into housing. It’s only a matter of time, so run and visit them while you still can.

Book your hour with Time Run’s The Celestial Chain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.

Images via Time Run.

Time Run – The Lance of Longinus [Review]

94% infallible.

Location: London, United Kingdom

Date played: October 25, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £33 – £42 per ticket depending upon timing

Story & setting

Inventor and adventurer Luna Fox created a time machine and uses it to yank powerful and mystical artifacts away from those who would use them to distort history. While Ms. Fox was off on one of her missions, her steampunk robot Babbage summoned us to complete a quest of our own: acquire the Lance of Longinus before its legendary messiah-killing powers could be used in the service of evil.

A massive circular door with an elaborate hourglass engraved. The right side reads, "The Laboratory."
Literally Time Run’s front door.

Time Run’s experience ran from their massive front door through the escape room’s conclusion. We were greeted by an actor in a beautiful set, introduced to the lore of Time Run, and then seamlessly sent off upon our journey through time.

A steampunk office with a map of England and a massive collection of metal and wooden parts.
Time Run’s lobby was more detailed and aesthetically pleasing than most escape rooms.

The Lance of Longinus spanned multiple time periods. Each new period involved a completely different set, feeling, and experience. The various settings were all magnificently executed; they stood in stark contrast to one another.

Puzzles

Each time period within The Lance of Longinus had a completely different feel and style of puzzling that fit with the era.

Throughout the escape room, the puzzles felt tangible and chunky. The props and puzzles were large and part of the environment. Solutions involved physical action. This design connected the entire experience.

Standouts

Damn near everything within The Lance of Longinus as well as Time Run’s facility looked and felt perfect. When we entered their grounds, we entered their world.

In-game: An ornate Greek tomb filled with statues of gods.
This was just one room of The Lance of Longinus.

The puzzles and challenges were inspired by each time period. Every segment felt like its own individual escape room. In fact, with a few more puzzles, any one of those segments could have stood on its own as a complete escape room.

There was a series of puzzles involving many large components and an even larger gamespace. The scale gave this whole run of challenges a gravity that I’ve rarely felt in an escape room.

An illustration of steampunk robot Babbage and inventor / adventurer Luna Fox.
Babbage & Luna Fox

The audio and video portrayal of Luna Fox and Babbage sent them though time with us, while keeping us consistently within the experience.

The actors that we encountered before and after the escape room were fantastic.

Hints were timely, useful, and well embedded. Babbage delivered them.

At the conclusion of the game, we received a card assessing how we had played. It was funny… and accurate. It was clear that someone had watched us intently.

Shortcomings

The climax of The Lance of Longinus was not particularly thrilling, when compared to the journey we took to arrive at it.

For anyone with a short attention span, the volume of introductory content would likely be a bit much. I found it entertaining, but there was a lot of it. Then there was a little more.

While absolutely not a shortcoming, there was a minor cultural difference that Americans might want to keep in mind. This caused a significant slowdown for us:

Very minor spoiler

Europeans write dates as DD/MM/YY. We knew this, but didn’t think about it at the time.

[collapse]

Should I play Time Run’s The Lance of Longinus?

Yes… if you’re in London, you should visit Time Run.

Everything in Time Run was consistent, interrelated, and part of a larger story. The front door, lobby, hallways, gamemasters, and both of the escape rooms (review of The Celestial Chain coming soon) were part of a larger time-jumping, artifact-nabbing world. It was impressive and delightful.

Plus, if you’re a tourist visiting London, I cannot think of anything more authentically British than Time Run’s premise: “We’ve invented a time machine and we’d like you to plunder ancient artifacts. It’s for everyone’s own good that we hold onto these things.”

Time Run operates its games through a private booking system. You need a minimum of 3 players to attempt The Lance of Longinus.

If you’re a newbie, The Lance of Longinus will be a steep but doable challenge. This was, without a doubt, the more approachable escape room at Time Run. That being said, I strongly encourage you to play another escape room or two before attempting Time Run. You will be so much happier playing The Lance of Longinus with a basic understanding of escape room gameplay.

Experienced players will find a lively, ever-changing, and beautifully constructed world of actors, puzzles, and set design all loaded with nuance and detail that will stick with you long after you’ve returned to the present day.

Book your hour with Time Run’s The Lance of Longinus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

All images via Time Run.

Full disclosure: Time Run 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.

Paradiso – The Memory Room [Review]

More than meets the eye.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 12, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per ticket

Story & setting

The Memory Room was the second chapter of Paradiso’s saga about the secrets of the elusive Virgil Corporation. We had discovered that Virgil Corporation was researching the human mind and we aimed to save one of their research subjects.

In-game: A dark room with featuring a table lit dramatically with 4 boxes, each with a card greeting a different player.

Upon first glance, The Memory Room looked unremarkable. From the largely blank walls, to the minimalist seating, to the single table set with player greetings, the space appeared practically empty. This stood in sharp contrast to the detailed sets of Paradiso’s first escape room. It turned out that there was far more complexity hiding in The Memory Room than was initially apparent.

Puzzles

The puzzles required astute observation. As the setting transformed and introduced a character and puzzles, we needed to carefully observe, build connections, and make sense of what we were seeing. The Memory Room included more abstract thinking.

While of the most puzzles resolved in a physical lock, there were a few more unusual methods of triggering solutions.

Standouts

While The Memory Room initially appeared unexciting, especially in comparison to the grand staging of Paradiso’s first chapter, The Escape Test, it surprised us. Behind the minimalistic facade, it turned out to be unusual and complex.

The Memory Room introduced a design concept we’d been awaiting for more than 2 years. Paradiso used the unadorned space as a canvas. With technology, they transformed this simple gamespace into a dynamic story and puzzle component.

We’ve never seen another escape room like this one.

In The Memory Room, Paradiso introduced a character whose presence helped build narrative and drive gameplay. The actor in this role was both engaging and withdrawn, intriguing and inaccessible. She was outstanding.

The Memory Room dove deeper into the workings of Paradiso’s Virgil Corporation. The gameplay unlocked a story.

Shortcomings

Although The Memory Room told a story, many of our teammates didn’t fully understand what had transpired. As a standalone experience, The Memory Room didn’t fully communicate to the players what they’d effected and how this connected to the Virgil Corporation.

The set wasn’t particularly well fabricated. More polished construction would improve the stark contrast between the seemingly barren physical space and the complex experience within it.

The Memory Room included one safe-style spinning combination lock that lacked adequate in-game operation instructions. This was incredibly frustrating… and it’s worth noting that spinning safe locks are generally frustrating devices.

Should I play Paradiso’s The Memory Room?

The Memory Room was a unique standalone room escape experience. It manipulated a gamespace, turning a simple setting into an unexpected myriad of environments. We’d never seen anything like it.

The Memory Room had fun and satisfying puzzles, most of which resolved through physical gameplay components.

David and I played Paradiso’s more theatrical Path of Beatrice add-on experience (review forthcoming) in the week leading up to our booking at The Memory Room. The add-on Path of Beatrice enhanced our experience in The Memory Room. Our playthrough included some additional character interaction, which was really exciting. Furthermore, we had a better grasp of the Virgil Corporation, its research initiatives, and our goals.

We didn’t tell our teammates for The Memory Room that we’d been engaged with the Virgil Corporation for few days already. We wondered whether they’d notice that we were executing sneaky side missions. Our friends never realized that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, but they did enjoy the differences once we explained them over dinner.

The Memory Room offered something different in terms of the set and story behind the puzzling and the role of an actor. (Review these tips for playing room escapes with live actors.)

If you’re looking for a grand scale, outrageous set pieces, and large tangible interactions, this won’t be your favorite escape room.

If you’re interested in more cerebral puzzling, as you’re led through an unusual story and a changing environment, visit The Memory Room. It will be memorable.

Book your hour with Paradiso’s The Memory Room, 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.

Escape the Estate – The Playwright [Review]

Something’s missing.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: April 29, 2017

Team size: up to 8-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23-28 per ticket

Story & setting

Opening night had arrived, but the script was missing. We needed to search the playwright’s room in order to find the script and alleviate the superstitions of the show’s cast.

The Playwright had an old-timey, lived-in hotel room vibe. More than any other room escape at Escape the Estate, The Playwright felt at home within the backdrop of the Hotel Whitmore.

In-game: An old typewriter atop a desk in an old hotel room.

Puzzles

The Playwright was puzzle-driven. Some of the puzzles felt brilliant and refined. Others didn’t seem quite finished.

Standouts

The Playwright had a number of wonderful mechanical interactions that surprised and delighted us.

Susan, our gamemaster, was a wonderful and unobtrusive in-game actor. I was particularly fond of the quirky and subtle way that she would indicate when we were on the right track for any puzzles where we were a bit unsure of what the room escape wanted from us.

Shortcomings

Segments of The Playwright’s set had strange gaps and clear construction flaws. They didn’t seem like they should have been there, as they were neither part of the puzzling, nor the ambiance.

Some of the puzzles were missing clue structure and required logic leaps, or in one instance, unapologetic trial and error.

The Playwright lacked drama.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Playwright?

The Playwright was a puzzley escape room with some great mechanical moments, but it needed more drama written into it.

I never really felt any stakes in this experience. At one point, I found myself wondering why: “If this is opening night, why doesn’t everyone have a copy of the script?” Or, “It’s opening night, why doesn’t everyone know their lines?”

This lack of drama was systemic throughout the gameplay, which didn’t build towards anything.

Beginners will likely find The Playwright a strong challenge, as we were able to make a few of the logic leaps by virtue of understanding how escape rooms work.

Experienced players will likely find some of aspects of The Playwright underwhelming or simply wish for more polish.

There were great moments within this room escape, but this show was well past opening night and the script felt unfinished.

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

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape the Estate – The Chamber [Review]

The escape wall.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: April 29, 2017

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-4 new players

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: $10 per ticket, discounted as an add-on experience

Story & setting

This 15-minute introductory escape room took place in the dark space “below” the Hotel Whitmore, the setting for all Escape the Estate games. A traveling professor once stumbled upon this ancient burial ground and now we had as well.

Although we stood in a long, narrow room, The Chamber was actually an escape wall. One of the room’s longer walls contained all the clues and interactions.

The setting was a haunted burial ground, and it looked pretty compelling.

In-game: Two alcoves in a stone wall. One has a human skeleton in it, the other has multiple human skulls.

Puzzles

The Chamber was a decidedly entry-level experience that led us through basic escape room progression. There was one simple series of puzzles that led to a couple of exciting moments.

Standouts

While simple, The Chamber demonstrated escape room-style thinking and game progression, as intended for its audience. This was an excellent 101 class and a great teaser for Escape the Estate’s longer experiences.

It was short and entertaining.

Shortcomings

It’s possible to circumvent all of the puzzles in the opening moments of the game. I solved the final puzzle first, after about 90 seconds inside The Chamber, before touching any of the other props or puzzles. Thus, we escaped without playing through any of the experience. This problem could have been prevented with a little gating, either technical or physical. (We did play again immediately afterwards, in order to play through the entire game flow.)

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Chamber?

Escape the Estate designed The Chamber as an on-ramp for mall goers who don’t know about escape rooms and might be wary to commit to an hour-long experience. Who can say no to a free 15-minute game?

I actually think that The Chamber is Escape The Estate’s strongest escape room because it knows exactly what it is and who it’s for. Our biggest issue with the experience is likely only ever going to be a problem for players who are experienced and therefore not The Chamber’s target audience.

I love the idea of an escape room designed strictly to orient new players and give them a little tease of what an escape room can be.

If you’re visiting Escape the Estate for one of their 60-minute escape rooms and The Chamber is empty, give it a go. It’s the only escape wall we’ve seen and it’s quite a wall, drawing on the company’s experience crafting haunted houses. The Chamber won’t be challenging, but it will still be fun. It will likely even surprise you.

Look for Escape the Estate’s The Chamber when you visit Escape the Estate and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Estate – The Hideout [Review]

Those mobsters and their puzzles.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: January 20, 2017

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $15 per ticket

Story & setting

In a cabin behind the Hotel Whitmore (the fictional setting of all Escape the Estate games), Prohibition-era mobsters have hidden their loot. We had 20 minutes to find the valuables before the police or the gangsters returned.

The set was a small wood cabin in the back of the Escape Estate’s former Petco retail space. We had to break into the cabin and then puzzle our way to the loot.

It was an adorable, little space.

In-game: The exterior of a wood cabin. The door is chained shut, and the window blackened. A sign reads,

Puzzles

While The Hideout was a short game in a tight space, it required a surprising amount of searching. It was amazing how much could be hidden in such a small area.

There were only a few puzzles, but one of them took a little bit of doing.

Standouts

The Hideout, like all other games at Escape the Estate , was gamemastered by an in-character and in-costume bellhop. Our gamemaster was never in the way. The character was used to introduce the game and as a general presence outside of the cabin, adding a wonderfully whimsical flavor to the experience.

Breaking into the cabin to get the game going was an excellent way to start the adventure.

The exterior of the cabin looked great.

Escape the Estate managed to do a lot with a small space.

Shortcomings

The Hideout was a little heavy on searching and light on puzzling for my taste.

The technology used in the game telegraphed some of the puzzle solutions. While this won’t be evident to newbies, experienced players and techies could reverse engineer some puzzle solutions.

Some of the important props lacked heft and felt like toys in an environment that was otherwise robust. Granted, given their original location in the cabin, more heft might have been dangerous. I’d recommend reworking one segment so that The Hideout‘s props can all feel like they belong there.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Hideout?

I love when an escape room company looks at a small corner and decides to turn it into an intimate little game.

The Hideout was small, but dynamic. It had two sets, searching, and puzzles. It looked good. While I think a small space is more conducive to a more puzzley experience than a searching one, I cannot argue with the results.

Escape the Estate’s The Hideout was small, challenging, and fun. I wouldn’t visit them explicitly to play it, but if you’re already playing one of their other full-length games, you’d be wise to tack on this 20-minute adventure.

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

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate 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.

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.