Puzzalarium – The Floor is Lava [Review]

“Oh my.”

Location: San Diego, CA

Date played: December 3, 2017

Team size: 7-25; we recommend as many players as you can gather

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket, $5 discounts for students, seniors, and veterans, or parties of 15 players or more

REA Reaction

The Floor is Lava was not an escape room at all. It was a human-scale social deduction game that happened to be at an escape room facility. It was massive and fun. The set was fantastic. I wish that it weren’t on the other side of the continent.

Who is this for?

  • Social deduction game players, think Werewolf or Mafia
  • People who can handle winning and losing like an adult
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It was a gigantic board game where humans were pieces
  • Skill-based gameplay where we could build mastery
  • The set

Story

The Floor is Lava was not an escape room. It was a social deduction game like Mafia, Werewolf, or Two Rooms & A Boom. The gamemaster secretly and randomly divided the group into two teams and assigned each player a special power. Then we chose our places on the islands. Falling off… or being “encouraged” off an island meant death… because the floor was lava.

In-game: The Floor is Lava set, a series of islands within a volcano linked by glowing blue paths.

Setting

The Floor is Lava was set within a volcano. There were islands (yoga mats) connected by illuminated paths that were safe to traverse. Everything else on the floor was – you guessed it – lava (shredded tire rubber).

Gameplay

The rules of The Floor is Lava were simple to learn and clearly explained in this video narrated by an amazing George Takei impersonator:

In a nutshell, as we entered the gamespace we reached our hands into a bag and each player removed on orange chip.

One side of the chip had a red or black dot on it. That indicated our team. The other side showed a special power that we could use for that round of the game.

More powers with increasingly complex and nuanced mechanics were introduced with each subsequent round. Two of the starter powers included:

  • “Phoenix” allowed the bearer of the power to immediately reenter the game after being killed one time in a round.
  • “Vindictive” allowed the bearer of the power to name any other player to die too, upon the bearer’s death .

The gameplay was simple. If I was standing on an island with another player I could ask to share my chip with them. We could:

  • Share team
  • Share power
  • Share all

Once a duo committed to a share, there was no backing out.

“Combat” within The Floor is Lava took the form of hip-checking. We could not use our arms, but we could bump other players off of an island with our hips.

If we touched the floor at any point in the game for any reason, we were out… because the floor was lava.

Once out, dead players could impact the game by voting to send dead players back in and by voting to sink or surface islands.

Standouts

Everyone had a ton of fun. Whether a player was introverted or extroverted, passive or confrontational, The Floor is Lava was entertaining.

The set was incredible. It glowed. It was gorgeous.

The set was also comfortable on our unshod feet. Puzzalarium constructed yoga-mat islands and tire-rubber lava. We could balance, jump, or fall without injury. We never had to worry while strategizing gameplay.

In each round, we each drew a power and a team. The powers were awesome. They balanced each other. They also forced us to continually change our own gameplay strategy. There were some seriously entertaining powers.

Puzzalarium introduced The Floor is Lava through an entertaining and informative video. From there, our gamemaster added more complexity with each round. The Floor is Lava could quickly become overly complex, with so many different “powers” available (at random) to the players. Puzzalarium’s smooth onboarding enabled us to just get a handle on things before they threw another wrench into our strategizing.

The Floor is Lava was replayable. In fact, I’d imagine the more you play, the more fun it could be. I would absolutely love to play it again with an experienced, competitive group. I imagine that the dynamics would change dramatically with a group where everyone fully understood the game from the get-go.

When we died, we could watch the game on a screen in another room and take actions that affected gameplay.

Shortcomings

While we did get to participate after death, players who died early struggled to be relevant and engaged.

The hip checking game mechanic meant that size was a huge advantage in the The Floor is Lava. Our group included some small women, a few big guys, and a lot of folks in between. To a large extent, size determined strategy. In some cases, it meant avoiding confrontation with the big guys.

It was hard to notice when an island was sinking. We would have liked more dramatic lighting or sound cues for that. It wasn’t fun to die on a sinking island, never having realized that we were in danger.

Due to the learning curve of rules, strategy, and tactics, the pacing was uneven. As an inexperienced group of players, most of the excitement didn’t unfold until the third and final round. Earlier rounds felt a little sluggish. I expect this would change with a more experienced group.

Tips for Visiting

  • People will see your socks.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • It’s a light contact game.
  • If you have a group of serious gamers, think about booking a double session.

Book your hour with Puzzalarium’s The Floor is Lava, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Puzzalarium comped our tickets for this game.

Puzzalarium – The Parlour [Review]

A whole from fragments.

Location: San Diego, CA

Date played: December 3, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket, minimum purchase of 3 tickets

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

J. D. Howell’s mind was shattered and he was lost within himself. The scientists of Streeper Industries tasked us with entering the broken man’s thoughts and puzzling them back together.

In-game: a small chest covered in labeled keys.

Set within a bepuzzled parlour representing our patient’s mind, we worked to gain access to various compartments in beautiful antique furniture. All of this was overseen by an in-room and in-character gamemaster perched behind a casino card table.

The set wasn’t complicated or detailed, but it was atmospheric. It set a mysterious mood.

Gameplay

This was not a typical escape room; we had to earn everything within The Parlour.

In-game: A deck of cards and a stack of poker chips.

“Fragments of thought” in the form of poker chips served as our currency. We earned them by scavenging as well as solving puzzles. They in turn could be traded to our mysterious gamemaster for the keys to new puzzles or hints.

Our goals were to earn the door key and exit with as many “fragments of thought” as possible.

Standouts

The Parlour was almost entirely puzzles. The minimalist set and deliberate lighting focused all of our attention on the gameplay. The puzzles were engaging.

“Fragments of thought” were both in-game currency and a scoring mechanism. We played a game of puzzles and of resource management and optimization. The Parlour even included bonus options, to further complicate that puzzle. We enjoyed this additional dynamic.

Our gamemaster was a character in The Parlour. He was a gate to the puzzles, confirming solutions and distributing new challenges. With some he played a more involved role than with others. He was a calculating and mysterious puzzle purveyor.

The Parlour had an inventive and amusing introduction and conclusion. The fail state ending was hilarious. We escaped, but it might have been more entertaining to lose.

In-game: A beautiful antique with many drawers, cabinets, and 3 shelves covered in preserved butterflies.

Unlocking the puzzles through currency and a gatekeeper created a different dynamic, unlike most escape rooms. That said, the room wasn’t entirely for ambiance. When a new puzzle opened, we had to turn back to the room to start making sense of it. The Parlour merged traditional escape room dynamics with other forms of gameplay.

Shortcomings

Our gamemaster was a character, but his persona felt forced. He was not a natural actor. This strained the game at times because the puzzle purveyor was a pivotal part of The Parlour.

Some of the items we unlocked in The Parlour needed a bit more polish. Puzzalarium could enhance the overall experience by replacing scraps of paper with more refined components. This was especially true for the small and hard-to-read items written by hand.

Should I play Puzzalarium’s The Parlour?

The Parlour was a puzzler’s paradise. The setting was moody and atmospheric, but set wasn’t the show. The puzzles and gameplay were the focus… They more than carried the escape room.

Everything within The Parlour was an abstraction meant to facilitate gameplay. In a lot of ways, The Parlour was more akin to a tabletop game than it was to most escape rooms. We had currency and stakes; much of the gameplay occurred on a card table. It felt different because it was different.

If a puzzle-driven game in an elegantly simple environment sounds like a good time, then Puzzalarium’s The Parlour will be an absolute delight regardless of your level of escape room experience.

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

Full disclosure: Puzzalarium provided media discounted tickets for this game.