NorCal Escape Co – CONDEMNED2: The Box [Review]

Think inside The Box.

Location:  Yuba City, CA

Date Played: November 14, 2021

Team Size: 4-10; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: from $200 for 4 players to $350 for 10 players

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Moderate physical activity and crawling

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

NorCal Escape Co’s CONDEMNED2: The Box was intense, exhilarating, and moderately terrifying. While Southern California is full of horror escape rooms, Northern California overall is quite horror averse, and as such, CONDEMNED2: The Box especially stands out as a top horror experience within the regional escape room scene.

Rather than relying on in-room actors or major jump scares, CONDEMNED2: The Box incited fear through a persistent intensity of the environment and gameplay meant to taunt the player. Lighting and sound had us increasingly on edge, and some puzzles had us spinning in circles. Through all this, the game managed a reasonable balance of frightening and fair.

Yet certain gameplay mechanics intentionally designed to frustrate players toed the line between diegetically justified and somewhat annoying. Especially in the final stages of the game, player-friendly affordances could have been taken to lessen the tedium or “gotcha” moments of a few puzzles without diminishing the intensity of the game.

Located nearly an hour outside Sacramento, NorCal Escape Co is in a bit of an escape room desert. If you’re in the Sacramento area, however, I highly recommend going out of your way for a visit. CONDEMNED2: The Box is unique choice for medium-to-large teams with at least some experience, and Fox Tail Saloon and Escape Truck are also both well worth a play if you have time.

One piece of parting advice: don’t hesitate to take hints in this game when needed. The environment was intense and exhausting, and if you don’t take a few hints when you need them earlier on, you may end up regretting it by the ending “The Box” sequence. We sure did.

Closeup of an array of black, eyeless masks.
Image via NorCal Escape Co
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NorCal Escape Co – Escape Truck [Review]

Cons and Pros

Location:  Yuba City, CA

Date Played: November 14, 2021

Team Size: 2-4; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 41 minutes

Price: $100 for 2 players, $120 for 3-4 players

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The 41-minute-long Escape Truck packed an impressive amount of gameplay into a tiny space.

When approaching a mobile escape room, I look for a game that utilizes clever workarounds to compensate for a compact set and that tells a story appropriate for the mobile vehicle format. Escape Truck checked both of these boxes.

The premise was straightforward: we were convicts being transported to a new facility, and we had a brief window to escape after our truck crashed. When we were first led onto the truck, it felt wholly convincing as a prisoner transport vehicle. We were led to understand our roles in the story before we went on to discover the layers of secrets concealed in this environment.

The gameplay in Escape Truck was subtle yet exciting. A split-team start helped move players around the space efficiently and largely avoided single-player bottleneck puzzles. Escape Truck would be a great introduction to escape rooms for players new to the medium, and with a solid smattering of sneaky little reveals, it would be equally enjoyable for more seasoned enthusiasts.

Note: We played the 41-minute version of the Escape Truck. NorCal Escape Co also offers a different 15-minute version of the game for events, which features an entirely set of puzzles.

Unlocked handcuffs hanging from a metal bar.
Image via NorCal Escape Co
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NorCal Escape Co – Fox Tail Saloon [Review]

Where’s my gold…en lager?

Location:  Yuba City, CA

Date Played: November 14, 2021

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

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $120 for 4 players to $160 for 8 players

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Crawling (for at least 1 player)

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

NorCal Escape Co struck gold with Fox Tail Saloon. This 45-minute beginner-friendly room stood out for its compelling set, slick design aesthetic, and environmentally-appropriate puzzling.

Moreover, the story in Fox Tail Saloon — the search for Billy the Kid’s hidden gold — so wonderfully tied into local history. Yuba City is in the heart of the “Sierra Nevada Goldfields” and is steeped in mid-1800s California gold rush culture. I love when escape rooms pull inspiration from local history, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine this saloon fitting right into this region 150 years ago.

Fox Tail Saloon included a distinctive approach to search-centric gameplay. In many escape rooms, searching can feel arbitrary or out of place for the set. In Fox Tail Saloon, the searching was naturally incorporated into the environment in such a way that I’d totally believe Billy the Kid hid these clues himself. Each time we found something, it felt intentional and loosely supported the story.

The puzzle sequence was parallelizable and felt quite light overall. With a fairly low puzzle count, much of the game was spent wandering around the space until one player discovered something. That said, this game was more about interacting in a cool historic environment than tearing through a large quantity of puzzles.

Closeup of two drink coins for the Fox Tail Saloon beside a 6 shooter.
Image via NorCal Escape Co

NorCal Escape Co has gained the most recognition for CONDEMNED2: The Box, but in my opinion, Fox Tail Saloon is equally worth a play. This game would be a delightful introduction to escape rooms for beginners, and its elegant aesthetic would also be of interest to more experienced players.

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