Royal Caribbean’s Escape The Rubicon: Player Reaction

Escape Room players Jasmine and Stuart Wheaton from Washington, DC recently played Puzzle Break’s Escape The Rubicon on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas. We chatted with them about the experience.

Room Escape Artist: Can you give us a little background about yourselves as escape room players and cruise takers?

Jasmine & Stuart: We’ve done about 40 escape rooms, which includes our first and only escape room marathon in New Orleans last year with Room Escape Artist’s Escape Immerse Explore. We were nervous for that event but ended up having so much fun. We literally doubled our escape room count that weekend! We do escape rooms whenever we can now… but as you know it’s an expensive hobby and so we can’t all do over 700 *cough cough*.

We have been on a handful of cruises, but this one was by far the largest ship… huuuuuge!

Jasmine & Stuart dressed for a night out on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Was the escape room a factor in your decision to go on the cruise?

We were already planning on doing a cruise. Having an escape room on board was a cool novelty that pushed us to choose that particular boat over another.

What was the process for booking the on-board escape room?

There were multiple booking times throughout each day, spaced out by 90 minutes. You could book online through the same web portal where you could purchase all other excursions and events. You could also book at the entertainment desk.

Jasmine Stuart along with their team at the conclusion of Escape the Rubicon.

Whom did you play with? Tell us a bit about your teammates’ backgrounds in escape rooms and how they ended up playing this game.

We played in a mixed group of 8 people, composed of 4 groups of 2.

One group had played a few rooms in Kansas City before coming on the cruise. The other two pairs were completely new to escape rooms.

One beginner couple had heard of escape rooms before and wanted to try it out, since there was one on board.

The couple with experience had the same mindset as us: excited to see what a cruise ship escape room would be like.

One unique aspect about playing with strangers on a confined living space is that we saw them again over the course of the week.

Was that awkward?

Not really… it was such a big boat that we didn’t have to interact again if we didn’t want to. We could just say “hi” and move on.

What were your impressions of the experience? How did this game compare to what you expect from an escape room?

The set design was impressive, given it was on a boat. There was only one room (space is at a premium!) but it had a good look and feel to it, consistent with the theme. It was certainly more scenically impressive than many other escape rooms we’ve played.

In-game: Escape The Rubicon's futuristic spaceship set.
Image via Puzzle Break

The room was advertised in one video as having some of the “best technology in escape rooms.” There were a few big puzzle moments revolving around tech, but we had problems with some things being broken or too confusing. RFID tags and maglocks are standard tech, as far as we can tell. It’s cool tech, but not the “best technology in escape rooms.”

The gameplay was clearly intended to be team-oriented, as many puzzles required multiple people to complete them. We were given “tasks” to complete that fit in with the theme, but in reality we would just do a bunch of puzzles and then be told – either by the game or the gamemeaster – that we had somehow completed the task.

Either the room was extremely challenging, or usually everyone’s day-drunk by the time they make it to the escape room. The gamemaster told us that we were only the 7th group to beat it in 4 months!

Some of the puzzles were decent, but the cluing was poor for most of them. There was also one long, repetitive process puzzle… and the more we did of of it, the more we couldn’t help but think, “come on, why would all the crew members on the ship SPOILER REDACTED?!”

Who was “gamemastering” the experience?

One of the entertainment staff members was the gamemaster. We recognized her from other events around the ship. She stayed in the room the whole time, unenthusiastically giving hints and minor plot progression. Having multiple jobs to do around the ship every day is probably detrimental to quality gamemastering.

It was evident that the gamemaster didn’t have passion, hint-giving skills, or thorough knowledge of the game. (She had to call someone at one point to get the answer for a nonfunctional puzzle.)

Did the gamemaster give the players any background on Puzzle Break, the creators of the game, or other escape rooms?

There was a video-based introduction to the scenario and standard escape room gameplay (i.e. don’t use force.) We don’t remember any mention of Puzzle Break or the existence of escape rooms outside this one on the ship.

If you were on another Royal Caribbean cruise, would you book another escape room? And will the existence of an escape room on board impact your choice of future cruises?

Yes, we’d book one again… because it was a good deal at $20. It’s more affordable than most escape rooms and a fun thing to do when too sunburned for anything else! However, we would certainly consider it a nice-to-have rather than a selling point for a cruise. The chance to experience a different room aboard another ship would sway our decision only slightly.

Room Escape Artist Conclusion

Thank you, Jasmine and Stuart, for thinking through this unique escape room experience for our readers! We aren’t big cruise-takers… so the odds of us covering this game ourselves are near zero.

Escape rooms are a specialized business and a major undertaking. We respect Royal Caribbean for installing a game at all, let alone investing in something that looks good and adheres with current trends in escape room technology.

On the other hand, gamemastering is as hard as it is essential, especially when there’s a good chance that the players are a few drinks deep. It is a specialized job that necessitates training and requires practice. Maintenance should be assumed.

We love that there is an escape room available on these ships. We wish that the gamemastering and maintenance were more in line with the set design.

Finally… why in Poseidon’s name was the win rate so damn low? It’s on a cruise ship!

Puzzle Break Long Island – The Grimm Escape [Review]

“In olden times, when wishing still helped…”
-The Frog King, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Location: Syosset, NY

Date played: July 9, 2016

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 8-10

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a conglomeration of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, we had an hour to break the witch’s spell… because of course there was a witch.

The story and staging in Grimm Escape were reasonably strong. Each game element incorporated something from one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and all puzzles were devoted in some manner towards breaking the witch’s spell.

A log cabin with a big wooden door.

Puzzles

This was one of the most challenging rooms we have ever played because there weren’t many mechanisms to help us understand if we were on the right track. The many logic puzzles and riddles built upon one another without affirmation.

It was possible to make a fatal mistake and have no way of knowing it until time expired… which was exactly what happened to us. We made a mistake of a single letter and solved everything else correctly, but there was nothing we could do to derive the correct answer at the end of the game.

Make no mistake about it: every puzzle was solvable. However, the game offered only subtle clues and the lack of answer verification made amalgamation tricky.

Standouts

The environment was adorable and fun.

There was a tiny bit of magic; it was innovative and compelling.

The volume of puzzles stuffed into this room was impressive.

Shortcomings

The game fiercely bottlenecked at one point where it hinged on a puzzle that was barely clued. It created a weird situation where if we didn’t see the solution quickly, we were stuck hacking at it all together or asking for a hint.

One complex logic puzzle took two of our teammates over half of the game to solve. Lisa was one of these players and felt that she couldn’t write this review because she had played such a narrow portion of the overall game.

The puzzles built on themselves without verifying that we we had correctly solved them. We had a tiny mistake in our puzzling, and the irony of it was that Lisa knew the correct answer, but she was off solving the never-ending logic puzzle. By the time she rejoined the group, our error was buried and impossible to untangle.

In a final twist for our team, we had the exit key in our hand with time to spare, but didn’t win. A teammate was turning the dials on the final puzzle while we were trying to solve it and he opened it despite 10,000 possible permutations. We were told that it didn’t count and the lock was promptly shut by our gamemasters.

Should I play Puzzle Break Long Island’s The Grimm Escape?

The Grimm Escape has a cute exterior but in its heart, it’s sadistic. I’d venture to guess that it is deliberately cruel because Puzzle Break advertises it as their most challenging room.(That is saying something, as all of their games are far more challenging than most escape rooms.)

As with all Puzzle Break games, this was a serious puzzle game with a low probability of success. If that’s the style of game you’re looking to play, then consider this the biggest challenge you’ll find in the New York Metro area since SCRAP closed their doors earlier this year.

Bring a full team of people who really love to puzzle intensely.

Book your hour with Puzzle Break Long Island’s The Grimm Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Puzzle Break Long Island – Escape from 20,000 Leagues [Review]

“Where others have failed, I will not fail.”
-Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Location: Syosset, NY

Date played: July 9, 2016

Team size: 7-10; we recommend 7-9

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a Jules Verne-ian steam punk submarine, we had an hour to restart our vessel or lose ourselves to the depths.

The room was nicely themed. Some portions were more thoroughly themed than others; while there was nothing mind-blowing, there were a few cute details.

In-game: A wall painted to look like oxidized copper with a nautical bell hanging off of it, and a porthole embeded in it.

The story, while a great setup, wasn’t particularly relevant. I grew up on Jules Verne, and more specifically, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, so I could have used a little more of that.

Puzzles

Puzzles are Puzzle Break’s strength. They lean hard into challenging, puzzly games designed for large groups. Escape from 20,000 Leagues was no exception.

There were a lot of puzzles and they required careful consideration, far more than is usually required in the current room escape market.

Standouts

The standout feature was absolutely the puzzles: their variety and difficulty. It’s rare to find a game that offers this much resistance to experienced players in 2016.

When the theming was on, it was pretty great.

Shortcomings

Some of the theming felt a bit lazy. Why was there a modern tape measure in our steampunk sub from 1866?

We were explicitly told that there were “no red herrings in the room.” Our game masters were in the game with us and yet, they let us burn a staggering amount of time trying to determine the meaning of something that turned out to be scenery… although it could easily have been a puzzle.

Puzzle Break Long Island had only been open for one week when we visited them. We typically let a company operate for at least a month before we play their games. In this instance, we were in their neighborhood for a wedding, so we visited anyway. There were some bumps with the game mastering, but I do honestly believe that these were rooted in inexperience and will not be a long-term challenge. The game masters were lovely, sharp people who seemed unsure of what they needed to do to facilitate the games.

There was one critical element of the game that greatly upped the difficulty without adding any fun. We appreciated this deliberately challenging game design, but it could have been presented in such a way as to make it less tedious.

Should I play Puzzle Break Long Island’s Escape from 20,000 Leagues?

Puzzle Break offers an old-school style escape: hard puzzles for large groups of people with less focus on story, theme, and scenery.

This is a very valid style of escape room, even if it is growing less common. If this is the style of game you’re looking for, then you won’t find much better (other than their other game, The Midnight Carnival).

Bring a big team. Bring a cooperative team. Bring a smart team. Bring an observant team. Miss a detail and you’re sunk.

Book your hour with Puzzle Break Long Island’s Escape from 20,000 Leagues, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Puzzle Break – Escape the Midnight Carnival [Review]

It was a bit of a circus.

Location: Seattle, Washington

Date played: April 8, 2016

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 8-10

Price: $30 per ticket

Theme & story

You have happened upon the midnight carnival. It appears for only one hour every 20 years. You must unravel the mystery to break this carnival’s curse.

This was the Brigadoon of carnivals.

The game was themed impeccably as a carnival. The early puzzles were on theme. The later puzzles built towards the carnival’s compelling, cursed story.

For those of you with phobias: there were no clowns. None at all. They weren’t even alluded to.

If you watched the promotional video on Puzzle Break’s website, you might think this would be a horror game. Rest assured, the introduction video was the creepiest part. The setting was bright and spacious. The game was not scary.

Painting of a black horse in a carousel. The horse's eye is a big googly eye.
“It’s a tedious job, but it beats the glue factory.”

Gamemasters

The Escape the Midnight Carnival gamemasters entered the space with our team. They were in carnival-appropriate costumes. They gave hints as we needed, but they functioned mainly to protect the set from rogue players.

We needed to be pushed to inspect the set less gently. Puzzle Break may want to revise the rules or the game to account for rule-conscious players who won’t look for clues in areas that are only questionably fair play. Some of the hints were hidden in what felt like a grey area based on our understanding of the rules.

Entrance

We queued up at the entrance to the carnival and were ushered in through normal carnivalesque procedure. This was an interesting and fun game mechanism.

12 people

According to Puzzle Break, this game was calibrated for 12 players. The space was certainly large enough. We played with 8 people. Because of the game design, more players would have made this game both harder and easier.

Easier because there would have been more people to accomplish things.

Harder because late in the game, communication became far more essential and challenging.

Puzzle variety

Escape the Midnight Carnival’s puzzles incorporated a variety of puzzling skills. Each player had their moment solving according their own skills.

Some people had more than one moment… there was a lot to do.

Scavenging & reading

In this game, both scavenging and reading took time. Together, these tactics kept a large team occupied for an hour.

The heavy scavenging mainly related to the more mundane puzzles and was at times tedious.

Late in the game, there was a lot of reading to get bogged down in.

Logical roller coasters

We did not have a writing surface inside the Escape the Midnight Carnival. Puzzle Break deliberately fostered teamwork among members of a big team by not providing one. It became very difficult for one player to work through multi-component puzzles without involving more teammates.

With this design, a functional and cooperative team can truly succeed together. But it also increases the odds that one problematic person can screw the team over. Or, the player with the solution could become the bossy quarterback.

We played this game in its infancy, pre-win statistics. I imagine that teams will succeed or fail spectacularly depending on how closely they listen to each other and how well they communicate to each other as the game progresses.

Should I play Puzzle Break’s Escape the Midnight Carnival?

The Midnight Carnival was a beautifully themed game that told a fun story.

The staff at Puzzle Break went out of their way to immerse us in the fiction.

For those reasons, this game is absolutely worth experiencing.

That said, this was a large team game that you don’t want to play with just anyone. To fully enjoy the set and the puzzles, you need a team that works efficiently and feeds off each other. Above all, you need teammates that communicate impeccably.

If you play with the wrong people, this game could be tedious and frustrating.

If you play with the right people, this game could be exhilarating.

Choose your team accordingly.

Book your hour with Puzzle Break’s Escape the Midnight Carnival, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Break comped our tickets for this game.