Ford Escape NYC [Review]

It was a giant advertisement, but it was a fun, well-executed giant advertisement.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: June 26, 2016

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

Price: Free – Limited Run Promotion

Story & setting

We were broke New York millennials doing broke New York millennial stuff in a simulation of the New York City boroughs in a Ford Escape SUV.

A giant Ford Escape billboard welcoming new players.

The game was set in a massive indoor space one avenue west of Penn Station. We worked our way through a number of different sets, including an apartment, office, coffee shop, and Bushwick art show, among other locations. We traveled between these locations by driving a 2017 Ford Escape.

At each set, actors facilitated the experience, and led us through the story of our day with the vehicle.

Puzzles

At each point of the game, we interacted with a feature of the car in order to accomplish a critical task or solve a puzzle. The staff made this clear upfront, and cleverly leveraged this game dynamic so that everyone had to pay close attention to the car’s sales pitch.

The game allowed us 6 minutes to complete the few puzzles within each set.

Given the limited time, the puzzles were all very basic, and didn’t allow for any form of progressive exploration. Important clues were obvious. In some cases they were pointed out by the staff; in others, they were literally labeled “IMPORTANT.”

Standouts

It was pretty damn cool driving a car through an escape experience. My favorite parts of the game were in the car. I could have actually used a bit more of the car.

The scale of this game was staggering, as was the pace at which we were pushed through it. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

The game gave a good overview of both escape rooms and the Ford Escape. (Honestly, the standout feature for me was the vehicle’s Sony sound system.)

Shortcomings

As an experienced player, the puzzles weren’t particularly satisfying. However, the new players were clearly blown away by them.

A Ford Escape with a green screen in the background. The car is surrounded by cinematic lighting.
We shot some video in front of a green screen. Turns out Lisa and I aren’t great at forced enthusiasm.

I’m completely baffled by the location. It seems an insurmountably steep challenge to sell millennials in New York City on the virtues of owning a car, let alone an SUV.

For those unfamiliar with NYC, you pretty much have to be independently wealthy to own a car in this city. If you live in the outer boroughs or New Jersey it’s absolutely an option (or a necessity), but I do not know anyone in Manhattan with a car. This experience feels like it would have been a lot more appropriate in Los Angeles… or damn near any other city in the United States.

The event’s website, registration, and promotional material were a mess. The website was clunky, difficult, and deeply unappealing. When we shared the link, a lot of our readers questioned whether this was even an escape game. We were skeptical going in, and pleasantly surprised that the event greatly exceeded our expectations.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Ford Escape NYC?

This was a limited run experience. It was a lot of fun and it was free. If it, or a variant of it, shows up in your city, it’s a good time.

A small fleet of Ford Escapes is in the foreground, the coffee shop stage is in the background.
The coffee shop is off in the distance.

I wouldn’t recommend going far out of your way explicitly to play it, but if it’s convenient, and you can pair it with something else nearby, it’s more than worth the time.

It included heavy sales pitch aspects, but they were well woven into the gameplay.

The size of the event, the massive staff, the actors, and the fact that the game made so much use of the car was excellent.

If it’s ever an option for you, book your session with Escape the Room NYC’s Ford Escape NYC, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape the Room NYC – The Home [Review]

A new reviewer tackles an old favorite.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: January 10, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: $30 per ticket

Escape The Room NYC Logo

Guest review! Intro by David Spira

Jessica Felleman is a writer and an integral part of Team Room Escape Artist. She accompanies us on most of our NYC games and is one hell of a clutch player.

When she was looking for a game to take her friends and family to, Lisa and I were thrilled to hear that she had chosen Escape The Room NYC’s The Home. We played The Home before we began writing reviews and we have never back-filled. So here’s Jessica’s review:

Theme & story

Themed as a “Victorian mystery,” the room definitely felt like we’d been dropped into a Dickens’ story, so props to props, but beyond that we didn’t receive any accompanying information as to why we were locked in, or whose house it was, or if there was a specific mystery to our situation.

The Home seemed very straightforward, but it also escalated in a few exciting and unexpected ways.

While it didn’t really have a story, it did convey a sense of adventure.

It was all very mysterious, which made getting started on the puzzles a little halted. On the story end, I would’ve liked a little more substance.

Approachable

“I feel so accomplished!”

Said by my newbie cousin, who helped out at key points. He expressed exactly what it is about room escapes that gets so addicting! The Home provided the perfect stepping stone for that experience.

The puzzles were well thought out and accessible to everyone.

We definitely said “cool!” a handful of times. We appreciated that while there were basic “find the digits” locks, there were also some surprising and interestingly designed puzzles that changed up the experience so we never felt bored.

Friendly & honest staff

Our puzzle master, Megan, was great and friendly, as were the front desk staff, who kindly reminded us that when they said “the coat rack is just a coat rack” that’s exactly what they meant.

I can attest to the fact that the coat rack did not at all help us escape, except to keep our coats off our bodies and out of the way.

Escape The Room NYC - The Home

Bottlenecking

At the beginning of the game we all had things to do as we turned the room over. However, within 15 minutes there were only one or two puzzles to work through at a time, which continued though the game and caused everyone to feel a bit useless for long chunks of time until we made it out.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s The Home?

The Home had puzzles for new and experienced players and the flow was easy enough for the newbs to follow along and participate. (My cousins are already looking to do another room!). The game felt like an adventure. It was not the most complex design, but everything worked, and it was fun.

If you’re looking for an introductory room to bring your friends to, The Home fits the bill.

If you’re looking for an escape room that conveys a story, or are an experienced group of people looking for a tough challenge, The Home may not be for you.

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

Escape the Room NYC – Apartment [Review]

A nonlinear game that truly captures a New York City apartment’s je ne sais quoi.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: June 28, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Price: $28 per ticket

Plot

“You are trapped in what feels like your typical NYC apartment: small, intimate and full of roommates (your fellow puzzlers). You usually just feel trapped inside your NYC home, but now you are for real! This game is for up to 10 players.”

Escape the Room NYCFull Disclosure

Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Very New York City apartment-y

It’s cramped and strangely shaped, but it’s in a awesome neighborhood and the rent is great. Escape the Room NYC set out to give their players a true New York experience… And they succeeded. This escape room looks exactly like a New York City apartment (except that it’s missing a shower and a bed).

The trouble with hitting the mark so well on this particular theme is that the game space felt very tight with seven adults and the game is billed for 10 people.

Rare is the NYC apartment that comfortably fits 10 humans.

Nonlinear

The game is decidedly nonlinear, and that is what makes this room work. It’s tight, but there’s a lot to do.

The deeper you get into the game, the more cramped things feel because there are fewer puzzles for people to gather around.

Well done, no magic

The Apartment is a good game. Escape the Room NYC’s staff is wonderful, exuberant, and highly attentive (they are the best non-owner staff we’ve ever encountered). The puzzles are all logically sound, well-constructed, and for the most part fit into a tight theme. That theme just isn’t particularly exciting, and it’s lock heavy.

Everything works, and is fun, but there’s no climactic “wow” moment… Because it’s an apartment. However that’s not to say that this room is lacking surprises; it has some good ones.

Clues in high places

This was my parents’ first room escape, and my dad climbed up on a chair to look for things in high places. I kind of snapped at him because escape rooms never hide things so high up that you have to climb on chairs to get them… Turns out I was wrong. Twice.

There were a couple instances where clues were hidden very high-up. I’m 6’1, if I can’t find something without climbing, then it’s probably too high.

Escape the Room NYC - Apartment - Escaped

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Apartment?

Here’s the deal. Escape the Room NYC has five rooms in Manhattan. Four of them come in various flavors of awesome. The Apartment is good.

If you’ve never played with Escape the Room NYC before, then this will absolutely be a great time. If you have played one of their other games, then this one is going to fall short.

Expectations grow with reputation.

Book your hour with Escape the Room NYC’s Apartment and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape the Room Philly – The Dig [Review]

[Formerly known as The Cavern]

A delightful adventure that is begging for a tangible plot.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Date played: May 30, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-8

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Golden Lock-In Badge
2015 Golden Lock-In Winner

Plot

“You’ve been summoned into the deep and have 60 minutes to unravel the mystery of the Cavern.”

Digging up the past

Defying expectations, “The Cavern” begins by dropping players into a church-like environment; it was decidedly not-cavernous… That part comes later.

The Cavern gives a second life to the expensive set pieces born from Escape the Room NYC’s (owners of Escape the Room Philly) collaboration with the USA Network on their Dig Escape Game. If you played that game, then you’re going to feel like you’re in familiar territory. Don’t get too comfortable (we did); the breadth and difficulty of this game has been ramped up a few levels (but you’re still going to know how a few things work).

Theming

The game feels like Indiana Jones and The Da Vinici Code had a baby, and that’s a good thing.

The look, the feel, the sights and the sounds of this game are all on-point. The experience is pretty incredible (especially if you hadn’t played Dig).

Puzzle variety

The folks from Escape the Room NYC have become exceptionally talented at crafting a wide variety of puzzles that fit elegantly into their games. The Cavern is no exception.

Each puzzle offers its own challenge, most of those puzzles are memorable, and many of them are physically interactive (more so than with most escape rooms).

Often the puzzles resolve in exciting, fun, and unexpected ways (not putting a combination into a lock).

Escape the Room Philly - The Cavern - Room Escape Artist

Tuning

Later in the game, there are some seriously inventive puzzles; two of them could use a bit more tuning to guide players along the way.

One we solved with the help of a clue (and I really don’t think we would have resolved it without one). The other we solved, but didn’t know it. Saying more would be too spoiler-y.

Story please!

This game begs for a story. The puzzles are almost telling a story, but each player must imagine what that story is.

Spicing it up with a cohesive narrative would make this game shine.

Up to 10 players?

The Cavern is billed as a game for “up to 10 players.” While the game space in totality can more than comfortably fit 10 players, I don’t think there are enough puzzles to keep 10 players busy throughout the game.

As you press deeper into the game, it becomes more linear (in a good way). However, there isn’t room around these puzzles for more than a few players at a time.

We had 6 people, and that felt right.

Should I play Escape the Room Philly’s The Cavern?

The Cavern would stand out as a great game in a competitive market; in Philadelphia it’s incredible.

If you didn’t play the Dig game, this one is going to really wow you. If you did, there’s still a lot of fun to mine from the Cavern, but it’s not going to shock you in the way it will an unfamiliar player.

If you recognize re-purposed props, there is one puzzle that you should sit out and let someone else solve it (I wish I had).

It’s a new game, so I would expect it to evolve some over the coming months. I’m betting its going to get even better.

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

Escape the Room NYC – Theater [Review]

Be still my beating heart… This is a 12 person room escape that can actually fit 12 people.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: April 26, 2015

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 8-12

Price: $28 per ticket

Plot

“The Theater is for up to 12 players. You and your fellow theater goers are trapped in a theater. You have one hour to escape or it’s curtains for everyone.”

12 people!

The website says, “The Theater is for up to 12 players.” We brought 12 adults. We all fit in the room with tons of space to spare. We all had fun.

This never ever happens, and I was totally ready to write about how “12 person rooms shouldn’t be a thing.” The Theater pulls it off because it’s big (huge by Manhattan standards). It’s actually a theater.

Escape the Room NYC Theater - Room Escape Artist

It’s a theater!

The theater actually is a theater. Before the space was converted into an escape game, there were theatery things happening in the same space.

This means that there is theater rigging and auditorium seating.

When I read the description, I was expecting a “backstage” setting with tons of props and costumes.

The setting makes the game. It’s dramatically different from any other escape game I’ve played. Never underestimate the power of a unique environment.

Not us... But a shot of a team inside the room.
Not us… But a shot of a team inside the room.

Image via Escape the Room NYC (Facebook)

Too many 4 digit combo locks

The Theater isn’t perfect.

It has a ton of combination locks, and almost all of them were 4 numerical digits.

Why is this a problem?

Every time you think you have a solution, you have to try it in half a dozen locks. This gets tedious, and you really have to be on top of your game to make sure that you don’t miss a lock.

Locks are great. Lots of locks is fine. A wide variety in combination length, as well as letter, and directional locks help break up the patterns, and creates a situation where the players know which lock a solution belongs to. It seems small, but this makes the room considerably more player-friendly.

Bad lock

One disk in one lock was set incorrectly. For example:

The clues lead us to the number “1234” but the lock accidentally required “2234.”

We burned at least five minutes on that before asking for our a hint. Our game master told us to try “1234” and it didn’t work. We only figured it out because one of our teammates started futzing with the first disk, and accidentally opened the thing.

Bad setups are deeply frustrating, and what makes this even more agitating is that we have had a bad setup three out of six times that we’ve played with Escape the Room NYC.

As a reviewer, this puts me in a tough position because while I think they have some of the most creative and fun games I’ve ever encountered, they have consistent quality control issues that are inexcusable.

Bad setups are never ok. You only get to play these games once; they should be set up correctly.

Bad Lock Response

We reached out to Escape the Room NYC for a comment about quality control. Designer and Co-founder Victor Blake agrees that bad set ups are never ok. He explained the lengths he goes to to ensure correct set ups and high quality game experiences at all his locations. He works hard at it, but sometimes things break and his staff are human.

Our consistent experience with bad locks is not reflective of the total percentage of set up mistakes at Escape the Room; he keeps track. We have to chalk this up to dumb luck.

Victor offered us a refund and free tickets to our next room. He does this for any team that experiences a quality control issue that impacts their experience. We enjoyed the Theater too much to accept the refund, but we accepted the free game; he doesn’t want to treat us differently than he would any other team.

Exceptional Staff

That staff at Escape the Room NYC continue to impress us. They are energetic, engaging, and passionate about the game and the players’ experiences.

Best walkthroughs in the business

Escape the Room NYC has the best post-game walkthroughs in the business. It may seem like a small detail, but it matters.

Walkthroughs are especially important when you’ve just played a 12 person game, as there is no way for each player to keep track of everything that happened.

Escape the Room NYC

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Theater?

I love escape games that riff off of local culture and history, and there few things as New York as the theater.

The room is awesome. The game is both fun and challenging (the escape rate is approximately 20%).

I wouldn’t recommend this game for a team of first timers because it’s so different from most rooms that it’s more fun to play after having experienced some more typical escapes.

You can bring a team of 12 people to this game. I think 8-10 is probably ideal, but you’re still going to be able to have a good time with 12.

Escape the Room NYC needs to get a handle on quality control because bad setups keep tainting an otherwise exceptional experience.

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