13th Gate Escape – Cutthroat Cavern [Review]

“Goonies never say die!”

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date Played: June 23, 2018

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern brought to life the joyous Goonies fantasy that I’ve harbored since childhood. It was filled with massive interactions in an epic set with every detail and surface lovingly handcrafted.

Since opening a few months ago, we’ve received a steady stream of messages along the lines of, “Cutthroat Cavern is my new favorite escape room!” It only takes a few minutes of playing it to see why… and then a few more minutes to really understand.

I will never forget the world of Cutthroat Cavern; there’s a part of me that will always long to return. It is worth traveling to visit this escape room.

In-game: a large stone wall with a massive skull carved into it. The skull's eyes glow with fire.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Goonies

Why play?

Cutthroat Cavern was an incredible adventure-driven game from the set, to the events, to the effects, to the overwhelming scale. If you’re physically capable of playing it, you should.

Story

While hiking, we had come across caves known as the Cutthroat Caverns. Our guide explained that they had been used to perform human sacrifices by the Mayans. Furthermore, legend told of a pirate who had used the caves as his secret hideout.

We had asked about descending down into the caves and the guide had refused to go, but had told us how to get there… with a warning: “Around dusk the high tide would flood the caves… and if we were still inside, we wouldn’t survive.” We had ignored the warnings and had hiked towards the caves. Then the ground had given way beneath our feet and we had tumbled into an ancient chamber.

In-game: three skulls resting on a pedestal inside of Mayan ruins.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

Setting

Cutthroat Cavern was built as a cave with a series of chambers. We began in a compact and focused area. From there the set expanded dramatically.

I can’t bring myself to explain the space in any level of detail as discovery is the most impactful part of this experience.

Suffice to say, it was grand on a scale that – to the best of my knowledge – is unrivaled in the escape room world. It even topped Tomb of Anubis in the jaw-dropping reveals department.

Finally, while the Cutthroat Cavern may be massive, 13th Gate Escape minded the tiniest of details.

In-game: Wooden ship wheel with a skeletal hand pointing at the top of the wheel.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

Gameplay

13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern was an escape room of epic scale with a higher level of difficulty. It played like a traditional room, but I hesitate to call it standard because so much of it was so unusual.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and embracing the adventure. If you don’t stop to smell the roses a bit, you’re doing it wrong.

Analysis

+ Cutthroat Cavern was as gigantic as it was epic. It inspired a sense of adventure. This experience was about as close to living in The Goonies as I suspect I’ll get for some time.

In-game: The carved wooden figurehead of a winged woman on the bow of bow of an old ship.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

+ Considering its size, 13th Gate Escape did a smart job of creating a straightforward and intimate on-ramp. They slowly rolled out access to the environment, preventing the escape room from feeling too overwhelming.

+ The aesthetic formula at play in Cutthroat Cavern is: micro + macro = real. 13th Gate Escape used overwhelming scale along with fine detail to produce a jaw-dropping gamespace.

+ Cutthroat Cavern had one of the coolest interactions that I’ve ever seen in an escape game. It was the kind of thing that if 99% of escape room companies built it, they would design a full game around the mechanic and continuously loop through it in creative ways (and that would probably make for a cool game). 13th Gate used this for a single puzzle.

+ The puzzles and flow were generally strong. They presented fair challenges that fit comfortably within the environment and story. Most of the puzzles weren’t revolutionary, but they worked fantastically within the fiction… and then there was the one puzzle that was really revolutionary.

– One puzzle was particularly finicky and required strong visual acuity paired with a precise touch. Another puzzle was particularly difficult to find.

+ There was a lot of sand in Cutthroat Cavern. This isn’t a spoiler, as 13th Gate Escape told us upfront that there would come a point where we should remove our shoes. I wasn’t convinced that this would be great… but it was. We ran around barefoot like giddy children.

+ Cutthroat Cavern had fantastic cutscene-like physical events that really highlighted the beauty and grandeur of the set. We stopped gameplay and turned our attention to these sequences. It was worth it.

– It was possible, and occasionally easy, to completely miss some of the crazy interactions in Cutthroat Cavern.

+ Our biggest knock against 13th Gate Escape’s past games was the use of Escape Room Boss to manage the game clock and hinting. While Escape Room Boss was still the system managing those aspects of the game, it was completely invisible to the players. 13th Gate Escape created an innovative approach to remove the burden of Escape Room Boss from the players. I wouldn’t have thought of this solution and my hat is off to them for thinking it up. In its place, they designed a conceptually integrated hint system for Cutthroat Cavern.

– In practice, the hint system was far too difficult to understand. Whenever our team received a hint, each player had their own interpretation of what they’d heard — not what the hint meant, but the words that had been spoken. We respect in-game realism, but recommend scaling back just a bit to improve usability and dramatically reduce player frustration.

+ Win or lose, Cutthroat Cavern delivered a proper conclusion to the story (although it sounded like the loss conclusion was more badass.)

– Many of us didn’t realize that we had won the game. We had to confirm that the game clock had stopped before we could fully devote our attention to the finale.

+ This was the most visually-arresting, over-the-top adventure escape room that I’ve seen to date.

Tips for Visiting

  • Parking: 13th Gate Escape has ample parking in a lot across the street.
  • Food: Head to downtown Baton Rouge (close by) for a great meal.
  • Accessibility: To fully enjoy this game, you need to have mobility on sand. This escape room also requires at least one player who is good on their feet and moderately fit.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

13th Gate Escape – Death Row [Review]

Ride the lightning.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We were scheduled for a seat in the electric chair in one hour. Due to overcrowding in the prison, the warden moved us to the old and previously abandoned Cell Block E. Some say that it was shutdown for safety reasons; others because there was an unexplainable escape. We were hoping for the latter because we had to find a way to break out.

In-game: An incredibly realistic of an old, rundown prison cellblock hallway.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

Death Row nailed the concrete and steel prison aesthetic in another of 13th Gate’s hyper detailed sets. Death Row looked like someone had turned the set of The Green Mile into an escape room. It felt real.

Puzzles

Death Row combined keen observation with mechanical interactions. We needed to parse out which components of our unadorned gamespace would enable us to work the various machinery we encountered.

Death Row included one difficult strength and dexterity challenge… and it was luck of the draw who’d needed to execute on it.

Standouts

We’ve seen a lot of prisons, but 13th’s Gate’s Death Row overshadowed the others. Its high ceilings and deliberately barren walls rendered the cells dramatically unwelcoming. In its depths, we found heavy metal bars and pipes, which completed the aesthetic.

We used the few tools we had to craft an escape with the objects we found. This felt thematically appropriate. One late-game use of a standard item really drew us in.

The final action was fantastic. 13th Gate combined lighting, sound, and other effects to deliver a dramatic and exciting prison ending, unlike any other we’ve played to date. It was a little unsettling, as it should have been.

Shortcomings

Death Row started with each of us in a different cell. There was only so much we could accomplish before freeing ourselves from the cells. Unfortunately, due to the physical layout of the space, the gameplay came to a halt as we all waited for the player with the appropriate vantage point to complete a challenging action. Our inability to help each other, or do much of anything, was frustrating.

Death Row leaned a bit too heavily on journal reading. The gamespace was exciting and engaging and we would have liked to uncover more from the space itself and less from the written word. The most engaging puzzles were those that were fully integrated into the set.

In one instance the cluing in Death Row led us astray, down a frustrating and time consuming path.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row?

Death Row looked and felt like a prison. Creating hyper-realistic environments in large scale is 13th Gate Escape’s bread and butter. They make it look easy… like they hadn’t so much built the set as found it.

I’ve said many times that prison escape games are not my favorite because they generally look and play the same. Death Row was very much a prison escape game, with a lot of the tropes that come with it, but it also had a look that was undeniably cool, and an ending that was anything but common.

The puzzling in Death Row was a little bumpy, but it all came together.

Regardless of your level of escape room experience, Death Row is playable. Some parts pack a lot of challenge. Just approach it calmly, observe what’s at your disposal, and an answer will present itself.

If you’re into the prison escape game concept, you won’t find many that can rival the stunning visuals and feeling of Death Row.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Death Row, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

13th Gate Escape – Agent 13 [Review]

Sharks and freaking laser beams.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We entered the recently discovered bunker of a former Nazi inventor who had infiltrated the United States after World War II. The inventor was a known pioneer in rocketry as well as atomic weaponry, but it is also believed that he was an early and secret pioneer in artificial intelligence. A previous agent had been sent to learn the secrets of this bunker, but he had disappeared. It was up to us to see if we could learn the true nature of this facility and learn the fate of the missing agent.

As with the story, Agent 13’s set was eclectic and detailed. Walking a few feet through a doorway could take us to a completely different world from the one that we had occupied mere moments before. The build quality and attention to detail were beyond incredible… which is true of every room offered by 13th Gate Escape.

In-game: A sci-fi science lab with tubes filled with glowing green material, and a large metal and glass chamber with lighting running through it.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

In the service of furthering the adventure, 13th Gate Escape filled Agent 13 was many massive set pieces and interactions that did not serve a purpose other than to be really freaking cool. Almost any other escape room company wouldn’t have even thought to add this level of detail.

Puzzles

The beating heart of Agent 13 was technology.

Agent 13 required many different skills including observation, correlation, logic, deduction, communication, and even agility. In general, we engaged the expansive and detailed set to work toward solutions, which we entered in the form of buttons, switches, or the like.

The puzzling in Agent 13 was a team effort.

Standouts

Agent 13 had multiple sets, each more exciting than the last. These were detailed and beautiful. 13th Gate Escape designed intricate and incredible set pieces that were… just set pieces to instill drama. These enhanced the look and feel of each gamespace and made Agent 13 into an emotional rollercoaster of an escape room.

While some of the elaborate set pieces were there simply to add drama, others were deeply involved in the puzzling.

The transitions were incredible. They were surprising and included fantastic effects.

One physically intense stretch of game was designed such that we had to work together to advance. Accomplishing this challenge required at least 4 people.

Shortcomings

Agent 13’s narrative was disjointed. It more or less time-hopped and felt like World War II-meets-Portal. While all of the individual interactions looked cool, we never fully bought into this futuristic 70-year-old-bunker-meets-lab.

A few puzzles lacked adequate clue structure. In one instance, we recommend the tech either accept variant solutions, or the clues be more specific.

13th Gate Escape could tweak the tech slightly to make it more reliable. For example, eliminate the use of a live internet connection to feed critical information that could be hosted locally.

Agent 13 bottlenecked in the climactic moments of the escape room. We ended up largely bypassing the intended communication puzzle, as it overstayed its welcome and was bogged down by lengthy documents, some relevant and others red herrings.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate Escape’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Agent 13?

Agent 13 was impressive. The set was enormous and detailed, with each segment so different from the others. The tech and effects were incredible.

As the sets changed, so too did the puzzle types, which was exciting. The variation, however, contributed to a disparity in fun versus frustration. A few of the puzzles didn’t quite tip the scale in the fun direction.

Agent 13 contains challenging puzzles that rely on communication and teamwork. We expect that Agent 13 would be exceedingly difficult for newer players and is probably best enjoyed by more seasoned players.

As you play though Agent 13, you’ll traverse what feels like the past, the present, and even the future. And that is worth seeing.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Agent 13, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

13th Gate Escape – Tomb of Anubis [Review]

Anubis: God of the afterlife and dramatic reveals.

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

While following a boring guide through the Pyramids of Giza, we decided that it would be more fun to explore on our own… until we triggered a trap and discovered the corpse of another would-be explorer. There was no going back, only through. Could we find our way out of the Tomb of Anubis?

In-game: A narrow corridor in an Egyptian tomb with a circular series of wheels with symbols on the far wall.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

Tomb of Anubis was huge. The scale of this escape room was dumbfounding, as was the level of detail. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the set of Tomb of Anubis a work of art. From sand to sandstone, to carvings and statues, no detail was too small to ignore.

Puzzles

To solve the puzzles, we manipulated the gorgeous and expansive set pieces inside Tomb of Anubis.

To understand the puzzles, we pored over a small journal of diagrams and prose that contained the clue-structure. 13th Gate Escape divorced cluing from the environment.

In-game: A series of colored bottles on a ledge within an Egyptian tomb.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

While there was a lot of adventure, there were some strikingly challenging puzzles in Tomb of Anubis.

Standouts

When Tomb of Anubis revealed its inner depths, we were shocked. We’d never seen a space transform on such a scale. It was the most dramatic and exciting reveal we’d experienced in an escape room to date.

We were Indiana Jones exploring this tomb. The set reacted to us. On multiple occasions, the tomb revealed surprises. It was intense. It was badass.

Tomb of Anubis was a challenging puzzle game. There were a lot of complex puzzles to work through in the space. They involved beautiful props and the set itself.

We enjoyed one transition space that was a physically interactive puzzle, an elegant link to a previous solve, and a dramatic set interaction all rolled up into one. It was incredible to traverse.

Shortcomings

Inside the Tomb of Anubis, we found a journal that functioned as a run book for the puzzles. It lead us through the different tasks inside the tomb, one by one. We focused on this one prop – and struggled against an unclear font and little diagrams – rather than on the much more impressive space around us. We would have loved to have been able to spend this escape room 100% engaged with the amazing gamespace.

Because much of the clue structure was in the journal, the puzzles were less interconnected and the experience less fluid.

Our gamemaster warned us not to place items on a very inviting surface, so as to not compromise gameplay, but this intervention put a damper on a late-game reveal. If 13th Gate Escape made a small adjustment to the set piece, they’d enhance the drama of that one moment by removing the need for gamemaster intervention. It would be worth it.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s Tomb of Anubis?

Tomb of Anubis had one of the most impressive escape room sets that we’ve ever seen. It was enormous, detailed, and interactive. When it changed, oh wow, did it change. It was breathtaking.

I only wish that I hadn’t spent so much of my time in Tomb of Anubis with my head in a little journal.

If you like escape rooms that transport you to incredible places you can’t see in real life, look no further than Tomb of Anubis.

Know too that Tomb of Anubis is no slouch of a puzzle game. Bring a larger team. Cooperate. Share the journals and the set piece interaction. You’ll have to puzzle hard to see this one all the way through.

The Egyptians did the afterlife right.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s Tomb of Anubis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

13th Gate Escape – The Collector [Review]

“Ooooh that smell…”

Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Date played: October 6, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We slowly came to our senses in the bottom of a deep, dark well. The last thing that we remembered was attempting to help a stranded stranger struggling with engine trouble when someone struck us in the backs of our heads. It was life or death. Could we escape?

The Collector was a horror game produced by a haunt company. We started at the bottom of a massive well. I’m not sure what the vertical height was, but this was a tall game. Tall, and detailed, and grim.

In-game: A room lit red with bodies wrapped up and hanging from the ceiling.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

13th Gate Escape used appropriate and not necessarily pleasant odors to add depth to the experience.

Puzzles

The Collector combined search and observation with more sustained, hands-on puzzling. It included challenges designed for both individuals and teammates.

The Collector was at its very best when it was tactile.

Standouts

The gamespace was magnificent. It was unnecessarily expansive and thus all the more foreboding. By incorporating lighting, sounds, and smells, along with the set construction, 13th Gate created an unforgettable stage and just enough story for The Collector.

The breadth of the set enabled an exciting and memorable mid-game transition. We loved this.

One early puzzle was just tricky enough to be humorous, and also challenging.

We enjoyed a number of late-game puzzles that required us to interact with the eerie set and props. There were multiple satisfying puzzle moments.

The villain in The Collector was injected via audio, and his dialogue was amusing.

Shortcomings

The Collector got off to a slow start, in part because of a lack of gating. We spent considerable time on puzzles before they were truly open to us.

At times, the puzzles in The Collector lacked clue structure. This was more pronounced for less narrative-driven puzzling.

All of 13th Gate Escape’s rooms use Escape Room Boss for automated hints. If you’re curious about the details, feel free to read this post on the subject. Beyond that I’ll say that 13th Gate’s gamemasters were fantastic and I wish that they had more direct control over the experience.

Should I play 13th Gate Escape’s The Collector?

The Collector was imposing. I can’t think of another escape room company that has used vertical height and overwhelming scale like 13th Gate Escape. When mixed with the level of detail applied to every nook of the set, this experience came to life in a way that most “murder basement”-style games do not achieve.

If you like or are even ok with horror experiences, The Collector is worth experiencing simply because there’s nothing else like it. It’s beginner friendly with approachable puzzles, and novel in a way that will appeal to even the most jaded of escape room players.

Note that mobility is a factor in The Collector. At least one or two players will need to crawl, and there are some stairs to climb.

See if you can claw your way out of the well.

Book your hour with 13th Gate Escape’s The Collector, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

5-Minute Escape Rooms at RISE Escape Rooms & 13th Gate Escape [Review]

5 minutes of prime cut escape room.

Location: Tickfaw, Louisiana & Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Date played: October 6, 2017

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

Duration: 5 minutes

Price: $5 per ticket

Structure

There is a little-known attraction open at haunted houses across the country: 5-minute escape rooms.

During October, crowds of people flock to RISE and 13th Gate to visit their world-famous haunted houses. While they wait in line (RISE) or near the box office (13th Gate), haunt goers can spend up to 5 minutes in each mini escape room on the premises.

Players are up against a 5-minute game clock with no hints and no gamemaster.

Scenarios & settings

During our recent visit to RISE and 13th Gate, we played (and in one case, viewed under construction*) the following themes:

  • Locked-Up (prison theme), RISE
  • Heist (museum heist theme), RISE
  • Captured (serial killer theme), RISE
  • Voodoo (voodoo theme), 13th Gate
  • Saw (serial killer theme), 13th Gate
  • Abyss (submarine theme), 13th Gate

Each small set was beautifully designed and expertly constructed. The gorgeous sets transported us from the grounds of the haunted houses to these themed adventures.

The exteriors of Abyss, SAW, and Voodoo at 13th Gate Escape. Each exterior is themed, and has a countdown clock.
The outwardly facing countdown clock was a nice touch.

*All 6 5-minute escape rooms are now open.

Puzzles

Each 5-minute escape encapsulated the first scene of an escape room. We observed our surroundings, determined relevant information, and worked together to complete a few interactive – but not particularly involved – puzzles, which culminated in a complete solve.

Standouts

The sets were world class. RISE and 13th Gate construct some of the most outstanding sets we’ve seen. (Reviews of their 60-minute escape rooms are forthcoming.) They did not cut corners for these shorter experiences.

These 5-minute escapes felt like movie trailers for the 60-minute escape rooms at RISE Escape Rooms and 13th Gate Escape. In each short playthrough, we were exposed to simple, escape room-style puzzling, which felt like a teaser for the more complex and layered challenges in the longer games.

RISE and 13th Gate edited out all extraneous and distracting content. The tight game design was truly impressive.

These 5-minute escapes required minimal reset labor. To increase throughput, these couldn’t be a burden to reset. There was little time in between playthroughs.

For the individual games, these particular details stood out:

  • Abyss at 13th Gate included impressive tech-driven effects that provided story and drama.
  • The Heist at RISE Escape Rooms incorporated a great agility challenge.
  • 13th Gate created progressive clue structure for the most search-heavy game, Saw. As time passed, the clueing became more direct, effectually functioning as a hint system.

Shortcomings

We can see how 5-minute escape rooms could be polarizing. Players who understand how to play will have intense and thrilling playthroughs. Players who are completely out of their element won’t have enough time to make sense of… anything. The same 5-minute escape room could be exhilarating to some and bewildering to others. That’s the nature of the genre.

5-minute escape rooms introduce a good deal of risk for the industry. By virtue of their locations at popular haunted attractions, they have the potential to introduce many more people to escape rooms. They need to be amazing. They need to be the escape room movie-trailer experiences we saw at RISE and 13th Gate. They are incredibly challenging to build well and if executed poorly, they will turn people away from escape rooms.

Should I play the 5-minute escape Rooms at RISE Escape Rooms & 13th Gate Escape?

If you are visiting RISE Haunted House, RISE Escape Rooms, 13th Gate, or 13th Gate Escape this fall, the 5-minute escapes would be a great add-on to your experience.

Each one we tried delivered a exciting complete experience with an incredible set and strong puzzle flow.

Arrive focused. You have to be on for every second of a 5-minute game. If your mind wanders for just 10 seconds, you’ve just wasted more the 3% of your game clock.

For the individual games, note that (1) RISE’s Prison Break split us between two spaces, but we could see and hear each other and (2) 13th Gate’s Voodoo took place in a particularly tight space and would not be comfortable for claustrophobic players.

This season, there are 5-minute escape rooms at multiple haunted attractions throughout the United States. Locally in New Jersey, Brighton Asylum offers 2: The Bomb Squad and The Device. (We haven’t had a chance to try either one yet.)

Note that 5-minute escape rooms are add-on, limited-time attractions, open to guests when the haunted houses are open.

Play the 5-minute escapes when you visit RISE Escape Rooms and 13th Gate Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: RISE Escape Rooms and 13th Gate Escape comped our tickets for these games.