Escape New Haven – The Game Show [Review]

“I’ll take ‘escape rooms’ for $200, Alex.”

Location: New Haven, CT

Date Played: December 18, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4 or 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per ticket

REA Reaction

On the one hand, we loved the innovation in The Game Show. Escape New Haven included more inventive game mechanics in this escape room than most companies have in all of their games combined. On the other hand, The Game Show didn’t adequately onboard players, which could leave even experienced players completely clueless. Its unforgiving nature could be frustrating or exhilarating.

In-game: The neon and reflective Game Show set with puzzle stations along the walls and a pedestal in the middle of the room.

Who is this for?

  • People who like competitive games
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Atypical escape room structure
  • Unusual game mechanics
  • Competitive gameplay
  • Great twist

Story

We were contestants on a new game show. The winners would receive a free trip to sunny New Haven, Connecticut.

In-game: A reflective wall with a box covered in four switches, red, green, blue, and orange.

Setting

Split into two teams, Red and Blue, we were each led into mirror image spaces where we had to use puzzle stations built into the walls to compete with one another for points.

The back wall graphically displayed each team’s score in real time.

In-game: The score rings, a large ring for "Red Points" and a smaller ring for "Blue Points."

Gameplay

The competitive gameplay was built around rapidly learning the rules to each game and outplaying your opponents.

The initial difficulty was more in operating the game’s controls. Once we mastered that, we turned our attention to the competitive puzzles.

Finally, there was a big twist in this game… and explaining it would absolutely ruin the game. So I’m going to leave it at that.

Standouts

The Game Show was different. Its starting split-team competitive segment and the twist that ensued made for a dramatic and unusual experience.

The competitive concept was energizing. Escape New Haven drew inspiration from famous psych experiments, but reinvented the concepts as gameplay. It worked well.

The Game Show made sense, narratively speaking.

The post-twist gameplay was fantastic. I wish I could go into more detail.

Shortcomings

The competitive gameplay lacked instruction or clear feedback. If you get it, it will be exciting. If you don’t get it, it will be painfully frustrating. If it doesn’t click for anyone, you will spend a lot of time in an unforgiving environment, under pressure from the competitive aspect. This could and should be smoothed over.

In terms of build quality and finish, while The Game Show was a step up from some of Escape New Haven’s earlier work, their set design still lacked polish and attention to detail. Everything felt decidedly homemade, even when the creation was impressive.

For example, the video segments seemed haphazardly slapped together. They featured a host standing in front of a white sheet. The elementary look detracted from the aesthetic that Escape New Haven clearly wanted for The Game Show.

Tips for Visiting

  • Use the app Parkmobile to fill your meter on the street in New Haven.
  • There are lots of great restaurants in New Haven.

Book your hour with Escape New Haven’s The Game Show, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape New Haven provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape New Haven – The Crypt

LIGHTS! CAMERA! DEMONIC CURSE!

Location: New Haven, CT

Date played: June 25, 2016

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: Adult $26 per ticket, Student with ID $22 per ticket, Child $22 per ticket

Story & setting

We were investigating the disappearance of the cast and crew of the horror movie The Crypt. The escape game started in the film star’s dressing room and progressed onto the movie set itself.

Escape New Haven had refactored this space since we played The Workshop  in these same rooms over a year ago. The set for The Crypt was thematically sound; the overall execution of the set was hit or miss from room to room.

The story was lightly horror, encased in movie-making, which lightened the mood. For the most part, the narrative held up. It got a bit hokey at the end.

A coffin drapped in a white cloth in a dark, crypt.

Puzzles

The Crypt included a lot of puzzles and a lot of locks. However, the game thread was readily apparent. We could easily tell which puzzles opened which game elements.

As the game progressed, the puzzles incorporated more complex interactions, moving beyond lock and key.

Furthermore, the game packed an enormous variety of puzzle types that drew on various different intellects. This was a puzzle room and throughout the game, the puzzles remained the star attraction.

Standouts

The aesthetic of the movie set of The Crypt was exceptional. It felt like both a mausoleum and a movie set. The clues arose from within the set; they weren’t bolted on to an otherwise ordinary room. It was designed with great care and attention to details.

One particular element of this second room was designed to intensify the drama and require teamwork.

We rarely post photos of later rooms, or any game element not immediately apparent when a player enters. However, Escape New Haven encouraged us to photograph the later part of The Crypt. They too use its design as a teaser: when we entered the game, we could see through to this movie set before we could access it.

Shortcomings

While portions of the game were brilliantly themed, other segments were surprisingly spartan and rough. The difference in quality and attention to detail from room to room was jarring. Fortunately, theming improved over the course of the game.

In the end, the story lost intrigue as it diverged from the puzzles and wound its way to what should have been a dramatic conclusion. In this way, the climax of the game fell flat. The penultimate dramatic moment fizzled as we plodded through story toward the final game interactions.

Had we run out of time grinding through the endgame, we would have been very angry.

Should I play Escape New Haven’s The Crypt?

The Crypt was primarily a puzzle room with engaging, varied, and thematically-driven puzzles. These puzzles were encased in the narrative.

The theme was lightly horror, but the story and the set weren’t scary.

The movie set of The Crypt was well-designed and executed to enhance the drama and the story intrigue. It was an exciting set to explore.

The Crypt wasn’t a perfect game: It succeeded at puzzles and theming, but didn’t quite achieve the storytelling aspect. Still, it demonstrated substantial growth for this company, which is moving to a bigger location nearby. It’s worth visiting Escape New Haven’s (new) location to play The Crypt. We’re looking forward to playing their future games as we travel between New York and Boston.

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

Full disclosure: Escape New Haven provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape New Haven: The Library [Review]

A room that remembered to bring the challenge, but forgot to pack some polish.

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Date played: July 19, 2015

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: $26 per ticket

The plot

You have infiltrated the private study of a wealthy family. The family is hiding a secret… What is it? You have 60 minutes to figure it out and escape before the family returns home.

Escape New Haven Logo

A library

I was unusually uneasy about playing a room escape called “The Library.”

Books are the one thing that I just don’t want to touch when I walk into an escape room. I’m not talking a few books; a few books never ruined my hour. What drives me up the wall are shelves worth of books.

True to its name, The Library had no shortage of bound paper.

Without getting spoilery, for a player with a finite amount of time, the books weren’t handled gracefully. There were a number of clues that suggested the player look for a particular book that wasn’t there… And the way the player needs to go about using the books was inelegant.

A tale of two rooms

Parts of this game felt very refined, well-designed, and well-built. Then there were parts that felt haphazardly thrown together like they were a proof of concept for some better puzzle that Escape New Haven had on the bench of their workshop.

Generally speaking, the earlier puzzles seemed stronger, and the later puzzles seemed weaker. This gives the feeling of a school paper done at the last minute; it starts off strong and the quality trails off as the writer increases the page count.

The inconsistency was jarring.

When it’s good

At its best, this escape room has some wonderfully fun puzzles that are unique and have clever counter-brute-force mechanisms baked in.

The chess puzzle (visible as soon as you enter the room, and also featured on Escape New Haven’s website) is particularly noteworthy.

Escape New Haven The Library
Not us – Image via Escape New Haven

When it’s bad

At its worst, this game goes out of its way to create a feeling of stasis. There are times where a player cranks out puzzles and feels as if absolutely nothing is accomplished.

There are also elements of this game that are so dirty and hacked together that I wasn’t sure whether they were intentional. We played with Lisa’s parents and at the end of our game her mother explained to Max (one of the owners) that he needed to do a better job cleaning up… And she was right.

Story

This game has a story, and saying it was bolted-on would imply that it the story and the game were connected at all. The story served as a distraction for us. There were times when we thought that the story was relevant to the gameplay, but it never was.

I don’t think this would have bothered us much, but it also wasn’t compelling. In the end, it was a time-eater with no payoff.

Should I play Escape New Haven’s The Library?

There are elements of The Library that are smart, fun, and original. We legitimately had to think in this one, and it’s worth noting that this is the first room that defeated us this calendar year.  In that regard, our hats are off to the team at Escape New Haven.

However this game also suffers from some of the same problems as Escape New Haven’s facilities. The place is a bit chaotic and has a college dorm feel to it. The lobby is cramped, cluttered, and unfinished. Walking to the bathroom involves passing by paint cans and scrap lumber. When we played with them the first time, we chalked this up to them being new… Almost four months later it feels like a habit. This all was underscored by the slipshod state of The Library.

We are big fans of the Escape New Haven team (and have a roundabout personal connection to them that we explained in our last review). At their best they bring an interesting approach to puzzle design that is unlike any other company we’ve encountered. However, from a company that pushes boundaries and does interesting things, we expect to see a higher level of refinement.

We didn’t lose because this game was unfair. If you’re looking to play a game that presents a solid challenge but could use a lot more polish, then you should reserve your spot in The Library. If you are in New Haven and want to play a game that’s more put together, then I recommend The Workshop.

We have high expectations of Escape New Haven and look forward to playing their next game. We hope that it comes with the polish that we’ve come to expect from top escape game companies.

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

Escape New Haven – Key Bottle Opener [Review]

If only it worked as great as it looks.

Escape New Haven Key Bottle Opener

Post Game Chotchkies

Lisa and I don’t buy a ton of stuff… But that adorable Escape New Haven key bottle opener was calling to us… So we caved.

Peformance

It looks damn good, but its handle isn’t particularly comfortable, and its lever doesn’t quite provide the leverage needed to easily pop a bottle top.

The key to a good gin and tonic is the tonic.
The key to a good gin and tonic is the tonic.

Should I buy Escape New Haven’s key bottle opener?

At $5 it’s cute, and it gets the job done… But not as well as I wish it did.

Just book yourself another room at Escape New Haven, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape New Haven: The Workshop [Review]

Escape New Haven’s The Workshop is an unusual, spartan escape game that will mess with your exceptions.

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Date played: April 5, 2015

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2-4

Price: $26 per ticket

Plot

“You find yourself trapped in a madman’s workshop. Can you figure out how to use his tools and inventions against him to escape in 60 minutes?”

Full disclosure

The world is small; crazy small.

One of the owners of Escape New Haven is friends with Lisa’s sister Amy; they went to school together. Amy also joined us for this escape.

There is a personal connection here; even if it’s distant and random. Regardless, there will be no mercy.

Escape New Haven

Lighting

The lighting of this game was one of my favorite parts. It’s not black-out like Escape the Darkest Hour, but because you don’t have control over the low lighting, it effectively escalates the level of difficulty in the game while also adding ambiance.

It’s a beautiful thing when elements like light and sound contribute to the escape experience.

Theming

The lighting notwithstanding, this room is lean on decor, theme, and aesthetics in general. It’s supposed to be basementy, and it is… But there isn’t a lot of depth to the look and feel of this game.

I liken it to the experience we had with The Swiss Original. It’s more of a series of puzzles within a room than an escape experience that is trying to convey a story, or make you feel like you’re on an adventure.

Unique & duplicitous

This room is strange in some very good ways. Many of the puzzles are unusual, yet fair. There’s a lot going on in here that I haven’t encountered before.

This room is also incredibly deceitful… Also in a very good way (this might be the first time that I’ve used the word “deceitful” as a compliment). We like the trickery.

Got a whole lotta locks

This room has locks on top of locks on top of locks. It’s surprisingly not that annoying.

Sometimes excessive lock volume creates a unwieldy situation where you’re just shouting combinations across the room for an hour. In spite of all of the locks, this didn’t happen here.

The trouble is that much of this game is so unique that the locks occasionally feel like a letdown; even when they still work well. I want more of the interesting elements that this room offers.

No climax

The Workshop lacks a cohesive narrative from a story standpoint, but it’s also missing that structure from a design standpoint. It can compensate for this lack of story, but not the missing design. There isn’t a climactic moment in this game that makes you feel like a badass who is doing something incredible to escape the madman who locked you in a maze.

There are a lot of unique puzzles in this game, but the lack of a wow factor also means that we won’t talking about how cool they were in a year.

Hint system

Escape New Haven has one of the best hint systems we’ve ever seen. They leave hint envelopes next to their harder puzzles. If you open one, you’re no longer eligible for a spot on their leaderboard (we now have the second fastest time).

Room Escape Artist - New Haven Workshop

Each envelope contains a hint in the form of a letter that advances the plot. We didn’t know what was in the envelopes until after the game, but I like that

  • hints are standardized
  • you have to consciously decide to take the hint
  • they advance the story
  • using a hint has a consequence

The downside to this hint system is that it seems like the hints substantially carry the plot, and we didn’t get to experience the story because we didn’t reach for the hints.

The Workshop has about a 20% escape rate with hints, and approximately a 10% escape rate without hints.

Location

Escape New Haven’s facilities are exceptionally easy to get to. They are about a minute off of the highway, and have on-site parking.

This is a very smart move for a company that is based in a city that isn’t exactly a tourist destination.

Should I Play Escape New Haven’s The Workshop

The Workshop has some rough edges. The theming leaves a lot to be desired, and the volume of locks is excessive.

What is lacks in decor it makes up in cunning. This shouldn’t be your first escape game, but if you’re looking for a different kind of game that presents a serious, yet fair challenge, I highly recommend it.

Escape New Haven has something different to offer, and I am looking forward to playing their other games.

Book your hour in Escape New Haven: The Workshop, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.