The Gate Escape – D.J. Death [Review]

Don’t fear the reaper.

Location:  Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 35-45 minutes depending on play style

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

D.J. Death was The Gate Escape’s introductory Halloween popup game that didn’t die.

With structured puzzle sections, this game was far more directed than your typical escape game. Additionally, it was nonthreatening, even if the theme sounds scary.

Although the set design was a bit uneven – with some puzzle sections looking great and others looking a bit cheesy – it played well and culminated in a delightful conclusion.

D.J. Death would be a wonderful game for newbies. Even as experienced players, we found a lot to enjoy. It wasn’t hard, but it was amusing. If you’re an experienced player, The Gate Escape’s other games are must-plays. D.J. Death is worth adding to your lineup if you’re open to sacrificing some difficulty for a novel game structure.

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

Who is this for?

  • Dance party goers!
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Halloween fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Music
  • Dance party
  • Fun puzzles 

Story

Death DJ would host the most exclusive Halloween party of the year. If we wanted to gain admittance, we would have to pass his test and help him build his playlist one puzzle at a time. If we failed, we’d be cut… from the guest list.

In-game: A wall of massive blocks in the middle of the room.

Setting

D.J. Death was a large, open space with 10 smaller puzzle stations along the periphery. Each station had a unique, spooky theme: vampire, voodoo, mad science, etc. (They ranged broadly.)

The level of detail was a little uneven. Some areas looked great; some felt like party-store Halloween. Generally, the visual focus directed us at the puzzle components.

The coolest parts of the set were the dance floor and DJ booth… which were really what mattered.

In-game: closeup of a voodoo shrine.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death was an unusual escape room with a low level of difficulty.

This large gamespace was divided into sections, each containing one puzzle. We moved through the space solving the puzzles and collecting tunes from the D.J. himself.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

The Gate Escape offered two play modes. If the entire group traveled between puzzles together, the game clock was 45 minutes. If the group split up to tackle the puzzles separately, the game clock was 35 minutes. (Our group of 4 stayed together so that everyone could experience the entire game. That worked well.)

In-game: An open coffin lit red.

Analysis

➕ D.J. Death was cute and joyous. It didn’t take itself seriously.

➕/➖ The set looked a bit party-store. With the Halloween theme, this generally worked just fine. There were, however, opportunities to improve the aesthetics.

➖Despite the name and the Halloween theming, D.J. Death was not a scary escape room. I have to imagine that this marketing is confusing to The Gate Escape’s customers.

➕ D.J. Death provided a gentle on-ramp to a puzzle game. By wrapping the game in a dance party, encouraging teams to work together, and keeping related puzzle components contained, it would be approachable to new players of all ages and abilities. The Gate Escape is willing to turn the lights on for nervous players.

In-game: 4 large, vertical metal tubes with grates over them.

➕ The Gate Escape built a great mix of puzzle styles into D.J. Death. They were largely tangible and interactive.

➖ Our least favorite puzzles were the less interactive of the lot. The puzzles with larger components generally felt more exciting.

➕ The separate puzzles came together with a meta puzzle. It made the escape room feel whole.

➖ There was opportunity for a more engaging meta puzzle in this space.

➕ The finale. D.J. Death had a wonderful ending. It really was the only way this game could have ended.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.
  • D.J. Death is not scary.

Book your hour with The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Trapology – Crush Depth [Review]

Crushed it.

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Crush Depth was a great escape room.

It had an intense, detailed, and imposing aesthetic. The puzzles were meaty and entertaining. The story put an atypical twist on a fairly common concept.

While we encountered a bit of ambiguity with puzzle sequencing, and it was occasionally difficult to find what we were supposed to do among the various set details, it still played really well.

We wholeheartedly recommend it for players who are nearby and have a bit of escape room experience.

In-game: overhead shot of a the bunks in the submarine.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Submarine aesthetic
  • Unorthodox story choice
  • Strong puzzles

Story

While we were serving aboard a submarine, the spirit of the boat’s former captain assumed control, and in a final vengeful act, set a course for crush depth. We had to banish the angry spirit and retake control of the submarine before we all received a gruesome physics lesson.

In-game: an axe hanging over a porthole.

Setting

Crush Depth was an aesthetically gorgeous game, among the most beautiful that we’ve seen in the region.

The submarine set was detailed and weathered. It felt right. There was a lot to look at.

Additionally, the layout felt correct. The entire game took place in a narrow series of rooms.

In-game: wide angle of a the bunks in the submarine.

Gameplay

Trapology’s Crush Depth was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a high voltage electrical box.

Analysis

➕ Trapology turned a few rooms of their downtown Boston office building space into a submarine. The set design looked great.

➖ Although the set looked great, not all of the puzzle components were on the same level. Trapology relied on laminated paper for some clue structure.

➖ The submarine set contained interesting knobs, dials, and gadgets. It wasn’t entirely apparent which were in play and which were decor.

In-game: closeup of a axe-head.

➕ We’ve escaped a lot of submarines, but this was the first one that was haunted by a vengeful ghost captain. Trapology twisted two themes together to create something new and exciting. (Note, Crush Depth is not a horror game.)

In-game: closeup of a small metal step.

➕ Crush Depth was a puzzle-focused escape room with many excellent solves. We always had something interesting to work on.

➖ We encountered one clunky mid-game sequence. Some of the cluing felt a bit out of order.

In-game: A shower-head in a small stall.

➖/➕We couldn’t always tell when we’d triggered an open. Trapology could add lighting or sound cues to make tech-driven opens pop. That said, our attentive gamemaster directed us to anything we’d opened without realizing it.

➕ The final sequence of interactions was massive, tangible, and so satisfying. The conclusion was explosive.

In-game: close-up of a wheel/ door handle.

➕ Trapology had a beautiful lobby. We wish we could have lounged there for longer. We loved the cozy, steampunk-inspired aesthetic.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trapology is easily accessible by T. Take the Green Line to Boylston St.
  • We recommend Explorateur on the corner for a coffee, drinks, a meal… and some really interesting desserts.

Book your hour with Trapology’s Crush Depth, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapology comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Panacea [Review]

In-game: The sign for the Panacea Apothecary in the hallway of Room Escapers.

Pandemic: Alchemy

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing:  Public / Private if you book at least 4 tickets

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Room Escapers is at their best when the build large-team, puzzle-focused, humorous adventures. They checked all those boxes with Panacea… and this may be the finest example of their style thus far.

Panacea was visually striking with an elegant color palette and beautiful faux stained glass windows. While the build quality was occasionally lacking, it was a generally wonderful environment.

From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to puzzle through. Our entire team was occupied from start to finish. Panacea just needed a culminating puzzle that brought all of us back together for a finale.

All in all, this was a seriously satisfying game, and regardless of experience level, we highly recommend playing Panacea if you’re visiting Boston.

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a lectern.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Beautiful alchemy-inspired decor
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

With a disease ravaging the world, humanity’s last hope was hidden in an old Boston apothecary. We entered the preserved establishment-turned-museum with one goal: master the 7 principles of alchemy and produce a mythical cure-all.

In-game: a stain-glass window depicting a fire-breathing dragon.
One of my favorite features of this game.

Setting

We stepped out of Room Escapers’ lobby and into a beautiful old bepuzzled apothecary-turned-museum.

The build quality varied from item to item. Some of the game was beautifully constructed, while other portions were a little more finicky or flimsy.

The most beautiful feature of the room a set of fluorescent office lights that were converted into faux stained glass.

In-game: a large hourglass in the middle of the apothecary.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Panacea was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A chest with the depiction of an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.

Analysis

➕ Panacea was beautifully themed, down to the game clock. It was an inviting space in which to solve puzzles.

➕ The stained glass windows were awesome.

➕ The story flowed through the puzzles. It became apparent early on how working through the puzzles would resolve the story. We had a good sense of our progression as we played.

In-game: sign reads, "7 principles of truth: he who knows these will find the Panacea."

Panacea offered many hands-on, challenging puzzles. It kept our entire team busy. There was a lot to do and most of it was pretty great.

➖ We encountered one ghost puzzle that led us far afield. This puzzle needed to be entirely refactored, rather than partially reskinned.

➕/➖ In Panacea we worked through a lot of puzzles in a relatively confined space. On the one hand, puzzle elements were well labeled so that we didn’t struggle to connect this astrology with that… astrology. The challenge was in the puzzle. On the other hand, it felt less organic to rely on labeling. Additionally, larger groups will likely struggle stepping around each other.

➖ Some of the tech-driven interactions were finicky. This added unnecessary frustration after we’d solved the puzzles.

➕ The hint system made sense with the story and the space. It added to the experience. (In fact, we recommend asking for a hint, even if you don’t need one.)

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a phrenology bust.

➖ In Panacea, we spread out, working on different puzzle tracks. Although we enjoyed the finale, we felt it lacked a culminating puzzle that brought the team back together for the conclusion.

➕ There was some really funny wordplay going on in Panacea.

➕ Room Escapers has upped their reveal game. In Panacea, the reveals worked wonderfully.

Tips For Visiting

  • Panacea is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

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

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

North Shore Escape – The Cursed Caravan [Review]

The Cursed Caravan

This escape room is in tents.

Location:  Woburn, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

North Shore Escape balanced mystical cheesiness with a gritty homemade mystique. The Cursed Caravan came together into far more than the sum of its parts.

The Cursed Caravan was designed as a popup game… that never popped down. While this was evident in its construction, the silly vibe, unusual story, solid puzzles, and fantastic flow made it work.

We really enjoyed this escape room. If you’re looking to experience the stranger, more creative side of the escape room world, and can appreciate that good game design doesn’t require a large budget or fancy props… visit The Cursed Caravan.

In-game: view through the tent entrance.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  A fortune teller’s tent is a fun gamespace
  • Solid puzzles

Story

A strange fortune teller had set up shop and squatted in an escape room business venue. The owner had asked us to investigate her tent and see if we could dig up some dirt that he could use to evict her.

In-game: The poster for "The Cursed Caravan at North Shore Escape."

Setting

We entered a tent just off of North Shore Escape’s lobby. The space was essentially a tent made of bedding. By some force of will and smart theme selection, it worked remarkably well.

The Cursed Caravan had been originally designed as a temporary game, but it had stayed on.

In-game: two seats on either side of a table with a crystal ball.

Gameplay

North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: bookshelf with two locked boxes.

Analysis

➕ The story was interesting. There was a lot to follow, but it paid off.

The Cursed Caravan was well themed as a fortune teller’s tent. The eclectic mix of wall hangings and tchotchkes felt at home in the environment. It was an inspired thematic choice for a low-budget escape room.

➖ Although the tent looked appropriately fortune teller-esque, it also looked less than stable. We worried about accidentally breaking the set, props, or tech. The construction lacked refinement.

➕ The game flowed well. It was a small space, but we were able to move freely around it, rather than linearly through it, which made it feel bigger than it was.

In-game: Tent entrance.

➕ North Shore Escape balanced searching and puzzling to prevent late-game hangups. The puzzle flow was laid out such that we’d find puzzle elements before we needed them. Thus the puzzle solves moved more quickly. It was elegant design.

➕/➖ The tech looked clunky. This kind of worked. We could interpret it as weird fortune teller magic. At the same time, it felt like messy craftsmanship.

➖ Tech opens needed to pop. Especially when we’re being careful with a delicate set (and at one point we even encountered a “do not pull” sign), it would go a long way if “magical” opens were always evident.

➕ The story was available in readings and played as audio recordings. We appreciated that each player could take it in the way that worked for them.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: North Shore Escape comped our tickets for this game.

The Gate Escape – The Observatory [Review]

A revolution & revelation

Location: Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

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

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

This game made us feel so smiley.

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Story

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

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

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

Setting

Nothing was as it seemed.

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Visiting

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

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

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

Club Drosselmeyer 1941 [Review]

We can do it!

Location:  Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts

Date Played: December 16, 2018

Team size: we recommend 2-8 depending on the experience you’re looking for

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $49-85 per ticket

Ticketing: Public event

REA Reaction

Club Drosselmeyer was a magnificent mirage. For a few hours, an idyllic night club filled with swing dancers, jazz musicians, histrionic characters, and challenging puzzles appeared out of the cold Boston air to host a distorted World War II rendition of The Nutcracker… and disappeared just as clock struck 11pm. 

There is no event in the puzzle or immersive theatre world that I eagerly anticipate more than this annual confluence of puzzles, swing dancing, music, and theatrics. It’s all of the entertainment that I love wrapped up for Christmas and tied with a bow.

Club Drosselmeyer banner and microphone.

Each year it has been a little different and a bit improved, but still Club Drosselmeyer. This time around, it was noticeably harder to earn our win (there will be less one puzzle for the rest of the run). Old villains turned into allies and new foes emerged. Above all, they’d streamlined the flow of the experience.

Club Drosselmeyer was glorious because there were so many ways to savor it. For those of us who wished to devour everything it had to offer, the one drawback was the bittersweetness of realizing that just wasn’t possible. There’s something real and immersive about that as well.

As our time at Club Drosselmeyer concluded once again, one of our teammates (an avid escape room player) who was attending for the first time remarked, “I feel high…” That’s certainly how I felt.

Tickets for Club Drosselmeyer are nearly soldout. If you can get your hands on one for this Wednesday or Thursday night, I’d strongly urge you to do so immediately… otherwise you’ll have to wait until 1942. 

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jazz fans
  • Swing dancers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who are fine with crowds
  • People who don’t need to be part of every interaction
  • Any experience level … for puzzlers or dancers

Why play?

  • Puzzle hunt-style puzzles
  • Spectacle
  • Dance, acrobatic, and magical performances
  • An amazing jazz band
  • Roleplaying
  • 1941-themed party

Story

It was Christmas in 1941. We’d been attending Herr Drosselmeyer’s annual Christmas since 1939. With each passing year the threat of war loomed larger. With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor, the war had finally found us. It was time for all Americans to put aside their differences and fight the good fight. 

As in the previous years, we’d heard that Drosselmeyer Industries would reveal the latest work from Project Nutcracker: version Delta. We had a feeling that Herr Drosselmeyer was going to find himself in another pickle and need our help. 

This year we were hunting for a mole. 

Club Drosselmeyer band

Setting

We returned to the glamorous 1941 night club of Club Drosselmeyer. The bandstands were back along with their musicians. The dancers tore up the floor and the singers belted tunes. Everything felt the same, with a couple of improvements:

First, Herr Drosselmeyer had moved from his second floor perch overlooking the festivities to a large table at stage right. This remedied one of the bottlenecks of past years. 

Second, the massive Army and Navy banners looked great. I found them catching my eye multiple times throughout the evening… which is saying something because there was a lot to see. 

Our team puzzling hard.
(Left to right) Lisa’s parents Alan & Eva, Lisa, Theresa

Gameplay

Each year Club Drosselmeyer’s creators put a new spin on their gameplay. 

The core of the event remains the same: participants could puzzle, swing dance, drink, socialize, interact, or simply watch everything play out. 

The shift in 1941 came from the overall structure of the puzzle game. This year there were three distinct paths to follow and an assortment of side quests. This shift maintained the overall feel of Club Drosselmeyer, while streamlining the flow of the gameplay. 

Analysis

➕ The singing, dancing, music, and vibe of Club Drosselmeyer was as wonderful as it had ever been. 

➕ The puzzles played well, resolved cleanly, and presented a challenging puzzle hunt-style game that made us earn whatever intel we received. 

❓ This year’s puzzle game was considerably more challenging than those of previous years. The upcoming performances run will drop one of the more difficult puzzles to make the game more competitive. This is the right call, in my opinion. 

➕ Club Drosselmeyer’s unique and wide-open “take in the experience however you wish” approach is a beautiful thing. There’s something for just about anyone.

➕/➖ The acting was greatly improved from the previous years. There were still moments that didn’t land quite right, but the hit/miss ratio was shifted significantly since last year. 

➕ The new structure simplified the story and gameflow, and shrunk wait times for interactions to a more than acceptable minimum. 

➕/➖ For your own good, I’m blurting out a vague spoiler here for anyone who has played in past years: Just as the structure was different, so was the alignment of one major character who I had no desire to work with due to his past behavior. I didn’t fully appreciate how significantly his character had changed until the end of the experience. Someone deserves a second third chance. I disliked the guy so much in past years that I couldn’t see his character development happening until hindsight had kicked in. 

❓ In actor-driven games, we frequently feel conflicted between paying attention to a performer and solving puzzles. That struggle was more present this year because we had more to solve. As much as I love the challenge of Club Drosselmeyer, there’s a part of me that wishes that I could spend a little more time dancing and taking in the show while playing competitively. 

➕ The expansion of side quests added an additional lower-stakes, lower-difficulty series of challenges. 

➖ I couldn’t tell the difference between side quests and main quests until I was deep in the game. 

➕ The introduction of the Boston Police Commissioner as a character was fantastic. He opened up a whole new gameplay thread for less-puzzley players who wanted to focus on actor interactions. 

➕ I really enjoyed the concluding sequence. It felt right for the story and was well acted. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: I encourage taking mass transit, taxi, or ride sharing.
  • Food: There are ample food options in the neighborhood.

Grab one of the few remaining tickets to this week’s Club Drosselmeyer 1941, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation Dive [Review]

Dive into the deep end.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: November 27, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $38 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private options

REA Reaction

Exit Escape Room NYC’s third game, Operation Dive, had a small yet detailed set, and strong challenging puzzles. 

We had access to almost all of the game’s mechanisms from the first moment. We enjoyed unraveling the mystery that was how to operate the submarine, but the incredible level of access also came at a price: this new game showed a lot of wear. I hope that Exit Escape Room NYC is up to the challenge of maintaining it. It’s a lovely game. 

Operation Dive is a wonderful game to play if you feel comfortable playing escape rooms. If you’re a newbie, this one will be a bit bewildering; play High Speed NYC first. Both are high quality games, but the earlier one is quite a bit more forgiving. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A sonar station and periscope are in view.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Puzzles that reveal themselves as you play
  • Satisfying physical interactions
  • Fun submarine environment

Story

With a hostile submarine attempting to attack New York City, the Pentagon had called upon us to fire up a decommissioned World War II-era submarine, identify the target, and destroy it. 

In-game: Main electrical panel, disabled.

Setting

We entered a small submarine set filled with pipes, gauges, maps, and bunks.  The set was compact, but detailed. Some parts looked great. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A map glows green.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

The challenge stemmed from a nonlinear design where the puzzle components were mounted into the set and available from the opening moments of play.

In-game: Ballast Tank gauge.

Analysis

➕ The set looked nifty. It was detailed. It had a submarine vibe, complete with gadgets that were interactive, but not overwhelming.

➕ Exit Escape Room NYC hid the puzzles in plain sight. Once we discovered how items intertwined, the level of difficulty dropped a bit. The challenge was largely in understanding how to interact with the game, which we enjoyed.

➖ We couldn’t always tell whether we’d completed an interaction. The addition of more puzzle feedback, to help players understand whether or not they’ve completely solved a puzzle, would significantly improve for Operation Dive.

➖ The set and props showed too much wear. This included some finicky tech and disappointing prop breakage. I suspect that giving players immediate access to a lot of interactions and no knowledge of how to approach the puzzles means that a lot of players are hard on this escape room. Operation Dive hadn’t been open very long when we visited and we couldn’t help but think it was really banged up.

 Operation Dive was well themed. The set and puzzles were submarine-esque.

➕ The small and narrow set worked because it was a submarine. This was a smart setting selection given Exit Escape Room NYC’s spatial constraints. 

➕ There were some lovely thematic puzzles in this Operation Dive. They were tangible, satisfying solves.

➕/➖  Operation Dive attempted to tell a story. This delivered some fun and thematic moments. While some of the nuance of the story came through clearly as we were playing, the most interesting bits only became apparent when we were analyzing the game after we’d escaped. Operation Dive felt more like a thematic adventure than a story-driven experience. Overall, the narrative was of mixed quality, but generally better than most. 

➕ With timed use of tech, Exit Escape Room NYC trigged great moments. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Last Minute Escape – Jewel Heist [Review]

Wait… wait… wait… Go! Wait… wait… wait… Go! Wait…

Location:  Morristown, NJ

Date Played: October 29, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.50 per player on weekends, $100 for teams of up to 4 (plus $20.50 for each additional person) on weekdays

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

In Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist, the heist was far from the focus of the experience. The escape room was staged around travel to and from the heist location.

This staging added a new dynamic to the escape room: a layer of timing and communication challenge that substantially increased the difficulty of this puzzle-focused game. Unfortunately, it also added down time, disbelief, and a nagging feeling of missing out. Although Last Minute Escape introduced a fantastic concept, the execution could use a little more refinement. A tough, creative challenge is good, but not at the expense of fun and flow.

If you’re in northern New Jersey, play escape rooms for the puzzles, and are interested in another layer of challenge, we recommend Jewel Heist.

In-game: The Last Minute Express train.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking challenge from different types of game mechanics
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Inventive game mechanic
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

As jewel thieves blackmailed into one last job, we had traveled to Antwerp, Belgium to steal a world-renowned diamond from its appraiser. We needed to get to the jewelry store, break in, steal the diamond, and make our exit.

In-game: a jewlery case featuring a large diamond labeled, "Family Diamond - Not for sale -'

Setting

We began our heist in a train station. It had a platform, lockers, a ticket machine, and a phone booth. From there, we traveled by train to a simple, small-town jewelry shop with bright lighting, a security system, and jewels in a glass case.

The set design was uneven. Portions of the space – like the train – looked compelling; other sections required more… imagination. 

In-game: a ticket booth with a mannequin wearing a conductor's uniform.

Gameplay

Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

The high level of difficulty came from navigating the game’s train travel mechanic, which time-gated travel between the two main areas of the game. Moving from one end of the game to the other required waiting for a few minutes. This profoundly changed the gameplay experience. 

In-game: A beautiful old telephone booth.

Analysis

➕ Last Minute Escape introduced a novel timing and communication challenge in Jewel Heist. We commend the concept, which forced split-team gameplay and added new a dynamic to a timed puzzle game. This was a clever concept.

➖ In practice, this game mechanic created a ton of downtime in an hour-long timed-game. We spent far too much time waiting to play.

➕ Jewel Heist started us well before we were in position to steal the gem. This staging added intrigue, adventure, and some brilliant and unexpected moments. We especially enjoyed the train-station-inspired interactions.

➖ Last Minute Escape didn’t build any onramp to Jewel Heist. It presented a challenging puzzle series in the opening moments. It was a good puzzle, but a harsh opener. We expect that this puzzle flow will add frustration for many teams before they even get to the main event.

➕ We enjoyed the heist-inspired moments of breaking in and the interactions necessary to facilitate this.

➖While it had its moments, for the majority of the hour, Jewel Heist didn’t feel like a heist. It felt like an escape room. Last Minute Escape went out of their way to set up a scenario that included getting to the heist, but as the game played out, it became impossible to suspend our disbelief… which isn’t terrible… but this Last Minute Escape was clearly striving for more. 

Jewel Heist was studded with clever puzzles that incorporated interactive props and sucked up our attention, in a good way.

➖ The execution was messy and at times misleading. Imprecise execution created unnecessary frustration for otherwise fun and inventive concepts.

➖ Throughout Jewel Heist, I always felt like I was missing out. I was waiting while my teammates experienced something fun without me. Sometimes this was true, and sometimes it wasn’t, but regardless, the feeling nagged at me for the entire hour.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend The Morristown Diner for a bite to eat, even late on weeknights.

Book your hour with Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Last Minute Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Lockout – The Room [Review]

 Old asylum, fresh blood (available in English, well, kinda)

Location:  Antibes, France

Date Played: September 30, 2018

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 20-35 € per person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Room was an old-school puzzle room. The weathered and detailed set gave it a creepy feel that never turned into horror.

Lockout could fix a few missteps in assembly that currently hamper the flow of this otherwise interesting and challenging puzzle-focused game. While there was plenty to like in this escape room, especially for puzzlers, we walked away wishing that some of the details of gameplay had received as much attention as the set design.

If you play escape rooms for the puzzles and you find yourself in Antibes, France, this was an interesting game, but I’d recommend playing Lockout’s Europa instead.

In-game: A dingy, bloodied white-walled asylum.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Some interesting layered puzzles
  • Dramatic opening set

Story

We conducted an investigation of an old, abandoned asylum in search of evidence regarding the disappearance of a patient.  

In-game: A bloodied and worn medicine cabinet in a dingy white-walled asylum.

Setting

The asylum set of the room was grim and weathered. It was clear that something bad had happened within these walls. 

The level of set detail put The Room on the upper end of what we saw from escape room sets in southern France.

Gameplay

Lockout’s The Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The Room’s initial set was well-detailed and established a grim tone. It staged the experience well.

➕ We enjoyed a few substantial, layered puzzles with satisfying solves. Lockout built some excellent puzzles into The Room.

➖ One puzzle required order preservation. Our gamemaster interrupted us to tell us not to move these particular props, which were not just easy to move, but seemed like they should have been moved. We recommend Lockout glue these down.

The Room included multiple locks with identical digit structure and no indication of which puzzle resolved to which lock. Varying the types of lock inputs or connecting locks with puzzles would facilitate smoother gameplay.

The Room was mostly in English. There were a few critical clues that weren’t translatable. Having translations on paper would have been helpful for those of us who were less-fluent in French. (Lisa was fine.)

➖ We uncovered quite a lot of reading material as we solved The Room. In the end, those who spoke French had their noses buried in papers. While it wasn’t necessary to read everything in order to escape, the reading contributed to additional win conditions focused on the plot. We would have liked to see this part of the game more integrated into the physical gameplay.

➖ The ending was anti-climactic. We had finished all of the puzzles, but we stayed in the room to try to solve additional plot questions. This conclusion had no energy and seemed meaningless.

➕ The Room was a solid, puzzle-focused, older-style escape room. We had some lengthy criticism, but most of these things were fixable and none of them destroyed the game.

Tips For Visiting

  • Note that while this game is playable in English, you’ll miss one major component of the game with you can’t play it in French.

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