Escape Artist DC – Night at the Museum [Review]

I must have blacked out; I don’t remember throwing a party.

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $16-$28 per ticket (it’s complicated)

Story & setting

We were a team of drunk art restoration experts. Apparently, we threw a raging party in the museum that employed us and destroyed a priceless painting. We had an hour to restore the painting before our employer returned.

The game space looked a lot like the last game we played at Escape Artist DC, The Gallery Heist. This was a low-budget art gallery-esque location. Much of the art on the walls looked like it belonged, which was a big step up from our last visit to Escape Artist DC. That being said, the game was miles from immersive. The set wasn’t refined and its condition had deteriorated from wear and tear.

Escape Artist DC Logo

Puzzles

The puzzles were challenging because they didn’t offer feedback. It was difficult to determine when we had solved something and what to do with the solution. We needed more hints than I was comfortable asking for. We even needed hints on puzzles we knew how to solve because applying the solutions was frequently more baffling than deriving the solutions.

Standouts

The art was cool and every puzzle tied back to the art and story… even if the story didn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

Escape Artist DC lived up to their name by profoundly incorporating art in their game.

I truly admire Escape Artist DC’s generous pricing model. They openly acknowledge that they are shooting for a wallet-friendly price point. In that they deliver.

Shortcomings

The game offered little to no feedback. There were long spans where we had no idea if we had solved something, what to do next, or if we were even on the right track.

The speakers that our gamemaster used to deliver hints were crackly and difficult to hear. In this particular instance we had a deaf teammate with cochlear implants and she couldn’t hear the hints at all.

While Escape Artist DC has stepped up their art game, the overall aesthetic of the room left a lot of room for future growth.

Should I play Escape Artist DC’s Night at the Museum?

Escape Artist DC swung from producing some of the easiest games I’ve seen to one of the most unintuitively complicated games I’ve been locked in.

The puzzles all came together in the end. When our gamemaster explained the thinking behind it after the fact, the rationale was sound… but that didn’t make the experience as fun as I was hoping for.

Night at the Museum is a challenging experience, especially if you attempt it without hints. This is an advanced game for players who don’t care about immersion and are looking to see if they can conquer a room that doesn’t give anywhere near as much as it demands.

In terms of pricing, the escape room world is loaded with games of lesser value at much steeper prices. The games at Escape Artist DC have more than a few imperfections, but if you can bring a full team, they are one of the better deals you’ll find in the escape room world.

Book your hour with Escape Artist DC’s Night at the Museum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Artist DC – The Gallery Heist [Review]

Something was missing from the gallery.

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: October 31, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-5

Price: $20 per ticket, but it can vary

Escape Artist DC

Theme

When we entered Escape Artist DC, we were greeted by a small gallery. The walls of the reception area displayed the work of a local artist. We really liked what we saw on display during our visit and we absolutely love the idea of an escape game using the lobby as a small art gallery.

Given that the company name, Escape Artist DC, includes the word “artist,” the decor was appropriate. As was a game themed on a gallery heist.

Unfortunately, this staging also set us up for disappointment: The quality of art downstairs far exceeded that in the game gallery upstairs.

The Gallery Heist was set in a replica of an art gallery, but it felt especially like a game knowing there was genuinely interesting local art a flight of stairs away.

The art in the lobby. In the game was a different story.
The art in the lobby. In the game it was a different story.

Story

The proprietor of Escape Artist DC delivered a detailed story arc before we entered the room. It boiled down to: Find the stolen painting, figure out who stole it, and find your way back out of the gallery.

Escape Artist DC put a lot of thought into this story, including crafting an “escape” into a game built around a different win condition. However, the escape component felt forced.

Additionally, the briefing time was extensive. We love a good setup, but editing the introductory speech down to a concise sixty seconds is generally advisable.

Locks & puzzles

In this game Escape Artist DC relied heavily on locks and some off-theme clues … kind of like the thief was looking to get caught?

An art gallery is a setting where more modern security technology would fit right in. It seemed like a missed opportunity to make use of more elaborate security.

Determining the culprit

There was a series of puzzles that didn’t unlock a single thing, but did help us determine who committed the crime.

This was the Gallery Heist’s high point. It was a fun element. Escape Artist DC should continue to explore this interesting concept.

Cost and timing

Escape Artist DC gave us complementary tickets to this game. They charged our teammates their regular large party rate of $18 per player, which is significantly below the US industry standard.

The games at Escape Artist DC are only 45 minutes, and we escaped in less than half that time (shattering their record).

Thus our fairly inexperienced teammates each paid approximately one dollar per minute. That was a tough pill to swallow, even when it was being washed down by a new record.

Should I play Escape Artist DC’s Gallery Heist?

This game felt like a game. While Escape Artist DC attempted to make us detectives in their gallery heist story, we never felt like the characters they wanted us to be. We felt like we were solving puzzles in a game. They need to dial up the production value to keep on par with the competition (and their lobby).

There were some fun elements and the suspect deduction portion of the game was clever. That being said, the interesting ideas and fun mechanics need more work.

If Escape Artist DC zeros in on what makes this room special, I am confident that there’s a really interesting and compelling game in The Gallery Heist, but this painting needs to go back on the easel.

Full disclosure: Escape Artist DC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Artist DC – House of Pawns (Chapter 2) [Review]

On our trip to our nation’s capital, we had to visit Escape Artist DC… Because they have nearly the same name as we do…

And we had to play their politically themed game… Because Washington, DC.

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: October 31, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Price: $20 per ticket, but it can vary

Escape Artist DC

Story

House of Pawns is the second chapter in a Congressional conspiracy caper.

“Rumor has it, the latest Asteroid Bill will be a real game changer for overcoming America’s fossil fuel dependency. As the plot thickens, you discover that the senator’s old college pal may have come upon a secret formula capable of converting the recently found asteroid’s element into cheap and abundant energy. As an Alternative Energy Lobbyist, you must figure out the secret element and earn your freedom!”

Basically you’re breaking into the office of a senator and rummaging through his stuff to find evidence that supports your position on an alternative energy bill.

There was a lot of backstory from chapter one. None of it was necessary, but it did add some flavor to the experience. It was cute, but if you expect West Wing or House of Cards levels of political intrigue, you will be disappointed. The politics underlying the game were heavily fictional and benign (probably so that players don’t get fired up about their personal beliefs).

Theme

From a staging standpoint, the room looked more or less like the stereotype of a senator’s office. However, I never felt like I was actually in a senator’s office.

There were a number of entertaining props in the room. My personal favorite was the Obama birther certificate tray (which was the only thing I saw that could push a player’s political buttons).

An ash tray that looks like Barak Obama's birth certificate.

Straightforward

With House of Pawns, Escape Artist DC has created a steady game. The puzzles offered some challenge, but never aggressively.

All puzzles ended with a key or combination lock. There was nothing magical.

Everything in the game flowed easily. Nothing became tedious or overwhelming… but there wasn’t really anything special either.

Episodic updates

The most interesting part of House of Pawns was that Escape Artist DC has decided to make it an episodic game with updates every 4-5 months. They use the same room and refit it with new puzzles, props, and story.

While the story didn’t captured my imagination, I was intrigued by the episodic concept itself.

Should I play Escape Artist DC’s House of Pawns (Chapter 2)

In House of Pawns, Escape Artist DC is offering a strong rookie game. It was easy to play and didn’t throw anything too crazy at our team (most of whom had played fewer than three games). Our group tied for the second fastest time on the leaderboard (and one of our players elected to solve the Rubik’s Cube prop that was sitting on a shelf… because he could).

Believe it or not, the guy with the helmet solved the Rubik's Cube.
Believe it or not, the guy with the helmet solved the Rubik’s Cube.

Priced at $20 per person for a 45 minute game, Escape Artist DC is offering a value game that looks pretty good and plays smoothly. I don’t recommend this game for experienced players looking to test themselves or  interact with a story that will get their heart pounding. However, this is a great place to take your friends who aren’t sure if room escapes are for them.

The episodic nature of House of Pawns is the interesting twist. I’m curious to see if Escape Artist DC can successfully pull players back every few months with their chapter updates; I hope they can find a formula that works.

Book your session with Escape Artist DC’s House of Pawns (Chapter 2), and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Artist DC comped our tickets for this game.