Puzzle Out – Grand Theft Jersey City [Review]

You’ll never guess what that shoe cost.

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: September 25, 2017

Team size: 4-30; we recommend 4-16… Note that they have two copies of the game and larger teams can split and play head-to-head, 16 = 8 vs 8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

Grand Theft Jersey City took place in a bank vault, where we were trying to steal as much loot as possible… and more than our friends stole… and then escape with it all.

Each of the valuables had a barcode affixed to it. We “stole” them by scanning the barcodes. As we scanned each item, its dollar value was added to our running total.

The space looked more like a museum than a vault, with white walls, bright lights, and valuables in glass cases.

In game: A museum-esque vault behind a gave. There is the Mona Lisa, a dress, and many cases of rare artifacts.

Puzzles

Grand Theft Jersey City was loaded with puzzles. Most puzzles lead to a scannable valuable. Some puzzles were stand-alone and others were interconnected.

While the puzzles had physical components, they were generally more cerebral than tangible. They relied on logic, ciphering, math, and observation, among other skills.

There were additional bonus puzzles labeled with a green and gold star. These indicated high dollar value items that were not necessary for victory. The bonus puzzles were especially challenging.

Standouts

The barcode concept worked really well. It enabled Puzzle Out to create a heist where we didn’t have to hang onto or keep track of a ton of large and heavy loot.

The barcode concept even factored into the puzzling. This was a brilliant puzzle design. It was challenging, rewarding, and fit right into the overall gameplay.

There were many fun and satisfying puzzles to solve within this escape room. Puzzle Out did simple, puzzle-driven gameplay really well. This has been Puzzle Out’s signature each time we’ve visited.

Grand Theft Jersey City kept our teams of 7 experienced players each fully engaged throughout the experience… and we were all playing for just under an hour.

As a head-to-head game, Grand Theft Jersey City was intense. We were scurrying around solving for and scanning loot as rapidly as possible. We could see our dollar value and the opposing team’s increasing on a screen. As the minutes ticked away at the end, and we could see that we were neck and neck, we debated whether to escape or try to add more money to our tally.

The soundproofing between the two games was excellent. We may have been next to one another, but we never heard the other team.

Shortcomings

While Puzzle Out leaned into their strength, challenging puzzles, we would have loved to see more attention to the set. It never felt like we were in a vault.

Some of the puzzles – and especially one of the more complex layered puzzles – was suffering from wear and tear.

We relied heavily on the barcode scanning app. While it generally worked, a few small UI tweaks would greatly improve the experience… and make one particular puzzle a lot more fair.

The scanner app was also a little too slow to respond and sometimes failed to scan an item at all. Our gamemasters were on top of this and promptly added the correct dollar value to our score.

The excitement came from the head-to-head gameplay as the monetary values increased. We would have loved to see a more interactive head-to-head design where one team’s gameplay could impact the other’s. That would have further increased the drama.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City?

Grand Theft Jersey City was a game for puzzle lovers of any experience level.

You could easily book this for a few friends to play together without the competitive aspect and have a great time.

I’d recommend, however, that when you visit, you go all out. Bring two teams of evenly matched puzzlers and distribute the skill sets across the teams. Make sure you have at least one person per team who is willing to work a scanning device. Also, if you’re bringing large teams, someone will likely need to play “project manager” to keep the puzzling, loot, and gameplay organized.

While Grand Theft Jersey City was a heist in name, it was really a puzzle battle.

Book your hour with Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

Puzzle Out – Downtown Countdown [Review]

Puzzle Hard with a Vengeance

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: August 11, 2017

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

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

Downtown Countdown took us on a 2.5 mile walk through downtown Jersey City on a quest to disarm a bomb. Downtown Countdown was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle game.

Puzzle Out’s neighborhood of Jersey City was a fun area for a walking tour. We visited historic buildings, passed numerous restaurants and shops, and of course, took in the gorgeous waterfront view of New York City.

A beautiful image of a WWI memorial, a soldier bayonetted, the Freedom Tower and Lower Manhattan in the background.
It’s a strange WWI memorial, but it made for a dramatic picture.

Downtown Countdown relied on the ClueKeeper smartphone app, designed for location-based clue hunts, to track our progress. While much of game was tracked in the app, Puzzle Out also provided us with a binder of useful information that was also integral to the gameplay. Downtown Countdown culminated in a physical escape room-esque finale.

In-game: The start screen for accessing Downtown Countdown within the ClueKeeper app.

Puzzles

Downtown Countdown started as a scavenger hunt where we simply had to puzzle out our next location. As the game progressed, the puzzles became increasingly complex. In addition to location, we solved for answers that earned us points in the app.

The puzzles relied heavily on observation as well as basic word and number skills.

Standouts

Puzzle Out’s neighborhood was ideal for an outdoor puzzle hunt. We learned quite a bit about historic Jersey City. We played on a beautiful summer evening and the view of the city was spectacular.

We enjoyed how the later puzzles combined observation and calculation.

ClueKeeper was a great choice. It’s a well-designed and time-tested app created exactly for this type of game.

In-game: The game introduction, a note from the villain Simon explaining that he has planted a bomb and that we need to follow his directions.

Downtown Countdown culminated in a tangible escape room-like series of activities that required teamwork and communication. It was well designed to instill a sense of urgency. This was an exciting way to end the game.

Shortcomings

The difficulty curve of the puzzling seemed off. At first there were barely any puzzles. Then without warning, around the midpoint, the puzzles became pretty involved. In one instance, we thought additional clue structure would have been helpful.

At times, ClueKeeper was a little finicky about exact location. We couldn’t get it to register that we’d arrived at the final puzzle.

We would have loved to visit more of the businesses in downtown Jersey City. The almost entirely outdoor game seems like a missed opportunity for community building and cross marketing.

Some of ClueKeeper’s most interesting functionality was not used at all in Downtown Countdown. The app’s augmented reality feature works really well and could have improved this game.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown?

We enjoyed how Downtown Countdown merged a walking tour with a puzzle game. The puzzles weren’t too challenging, but they were enjoyable. It was a fun way to look at and learn about Jersey City.

We played Downtown Countdown on a warm evening with clear skies. Downtown Countdown took place almost entirely outdoors. If it had been cold or rainy, I don’t think this experience would have been quite as enjoyable. That said, I suppose we might have moved more quickly and thereby scored higher.

Over the course of Downtown Countdown, we walked 2.5 miles through city streets in a busy area. We needed to move swiftly, but also pay attention to traffic.

You don’t need to be a local to enjoy the game. You do, however, need to know how to read a map or follow instructions in the app.

It might appear that you could play Downtown Countdown entirely on the app, but take notes in the binder. Trust us, you’ll want the notes.

Happy puzzling and take a moment to enjoy the view along the waterfront.

Book your session with Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

Puzzle Out – Architect’s Studio [Review]

Make it big. Bigger. Bigger still. Ok that will do.

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: January 16, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25-34 per ticket

Story & setting

We were hired by an architect attempting to build the largest skyscraper in the world. We were dispatched to sneak into a rival’s office and determine the height of the skyscraper he was creating. If we were successful, our client’s tower would surely be taller.

Points for originality.

The set was an architect’s studio. It looked like it was going for the minimalist Apple Store aesthetic, but didn’t quite get there.

In-game: A drafting table.

There were 5 building models set atop filing cabinets. Each model presented a unique set of puzzling challenges.

The setup, while relevant to completing the final puzzles, was ultimately more theme than story.

Puzzles

Most of the puzzling in the Architect’s Studio centered on the aforementioned building models. While none of them were simple, they ranged broadly in complexity, and each employed smart counter brute-force elements.

All puzzles ultimately led to a lock and key, but it didn’t matter because the building puzzles that led to the combinations were all compelling, tangible or mechanical interactions.

In-game: A series of filing cabinet pedestals, each with a different building model puzzle atop it.

Standouts

The building puzzles felt heavily inspired by The Room video game series, and they pulled it off well. Everything had weight to it, and solving the individual puzzles felt immensely satisfying.

The puzzles fostered a ton of teamwork and collaboration. Every puzzle had at least two people work on it together.

The overall collection of puzzles was superb.

Shortcomings

There were a few instances where the puzzle construction could have benefited from refinement. One of the buildings had some exposed screw tips that should be ground down, and generally didn’t function as smoothly as it could have. A different puzzle would have benefited from better magnets. Another puzzle had pieces that fit together a little too snugly. I shouldn’t have had to use as much force as I did to make it work.

The layout of the room led to some serious cramping. The puzzle stations all looked good in a row, but moving them around a little could open up the space and allow for more players to get involved with them.

Aesthetically, the space didn’t feel on par with the level of puzzle quality. While the filing cabinets thematically fit with the space, they didn’t add to the experience.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Architect’s Studio?

Architect’s Studio was Puzzle Out’s sophomore game, and it has come a long way. They shed the throwaway puzzles, and presented an original, unified concept. The puzzles were great, and I had a smile on my face the whole time.

Architect’s Studio should be enjoyable for both experienced and novice players. It was both approachable and had depth to it.

Where Puzzle Out left room for improvement was in aesthetic execution and narrative. The gameplay and flow were excellent. Our team had a ton of fun while playing Architect’s Studio. When Puzzle Out nails the look and construction of their games, they will be one hell of a competitor.

Book your hour with Puzzle Out’s Architect’s Studio, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Puzzle Out – The Room [Review]

The first escape room in Hoboken, the city where I met Lisa.

Location: Hoboken, NJ

Date played: July 11, 2016

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price:  $32 per ticket for 2-3 players, $28 per ticket for 4-5 players, $25 per ticket for 6-8 players

Story & setting

Set in a beautiful, century-old building a block away from the Hoboken PATH Train Station, Puzzle Out’s game titled The Room was set sometime around World War I. The WWI setting felt completely at home in the building that Puzzle Out called home.

The story, however, didn’t carry beyond the opening minutes of the game.

In-game: An old study with a large chair beside a fireplace. A taxidermied buck head hangs on the wall, along with a flintlock pistol.

Puzzles

The tactile puzzles, which crossed a variety of media, were the main focal point of Puzzle Out’s first creation.

Puzzle Out managed to create a number of puzzles that layered complexity on themselves without ever becoming frustrating.

Standouts

The puzzles were carefully clued so that the connections emerged without being obvious. They rewarded careful attention to detail.

At its best, the puzzles were elegant and interwoven with other puzzles.

The building that Puzzle Out occupies was beautiful and provided a natural setting for this game without much alteration or customization.

The game played off of Hoboken history and geography without making that background knowledge necessary to solve the puzzles. As a former resident of the Mile Square City, that was a delight.

Shortcomings

Far too many objects and puzzles felt out of place in the WWI era-game. Some of Puzzle Out’s great ideas just didn’t belong in this particular game.

The story never became relevant or even apparent beyond the opening of the game. Given the set, this felt like a missed opportunity.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s The Room?

Puzzle Out’s The Room is a solid, entry-level game for new or inexperienced escape room players. It’s a safe, clever, and non-threatening game that demonstrates how these things work, and how each individual player, no matter how much they think they “can’t solve puzzles” has something to offer.

If you live in Hoboken, Jersey City, or Weehawken, this is a no brainer; you cannot beat the convenience. It’s also a remarkably easy game to get to from Midtown or Downtown Manhattan as Puzzle Out is only a block from the Hoboken PATH Station.

Experienced players will breeze through this… so if that’s you, this game is probably not worth the river crossing.

Puzzle Out’s The Room isn’t the best game out there, but its sins are derived from not pushing good ideas far enough. I am confident that they will improve with their future games.

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

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