Room Escapers – Panacea [Review]

In-game: The sign for the Panacea Apothecary in the hallway of Room Escapers.

Pandemic: Alchemy

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing:  Public / Private if you book at least 4 tickets

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Room Escapers is at their best when the build large-team, puzzle-focused, humorous adventures. They checked all those boxes with Panacea… and this may be the finest example of their style thus far.

Panacea was visually striking with an elegant color palette and beautiful faux stained glass windows. While the build quality was occasionally lacking, it was a generally wonderful environment.

From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to puzzle through. Our entire team was occupied from start to finish. Panacea just needed a culminating puzzle that brought all of us back together for a finale.

All in all, this was a seriously satisfying game, and regardless of experience level, we highly recommend playing Panacea if you’re visiting Boston.

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a lectern.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Beautiful alchemy-inspired decor
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

With a disease ravaging the world, humanity’s last hope was hidden in an old Boston apothecary. We entered the preserved establishment-turned-museum with one goal: master the 7 principles of alchemy and produce a mythical cure-all.

In-game: a stain-glass window depicting a fire-breathing dragon.
One of my favorite features of this game.

Setting

We stepped out of Room Escapers’ lobby and into a beautiful old bepuzzled apothecary-turned-museum.

The build quality varied from item to item. Some of the game was beautifully constructed, while other portions were a little more finicky or flimsy.

The most beautiful feature of the room a set of fluorescent office lights that were converted into faux stained glass.

In-game: a large hourglass in the middle of the apothecary.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Panacea was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: A chest with the depiction of an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.

Analysis

➕ Panacea was beautifully themed, down to the game clock. It was an inviting space in which to solve puzzles.

➕ The stained glass windows were awesome.

➕ The story flowed through the puzzles. It became apparent early on how working through the puzzles would resolve the story. We had a good sense of our progression as we played.

In-game: sign reads, "7 principles of truth: he who knows these will find the Panacea."

Panacea offered many hands-on, challenging puzzles. It kept our entire team busy. There was a lot to do and most of it was pretty great.

➖ We encountered one ghost puzzle that led us far afield. This puzzle needed to be entirely refactored, rather than partially reskinned.

➕/➖ In Panacea we worked through a lot of puzzles in a relatively confined space. On the one hand, puzzle elements were well labeled so that we didn’t struggle to connect this astrology with that… astrology. The challenge was in the puzzle. On the other hand, it felt less organic to rely on labeling. Additionally, larger groups will likely struggle stepping around each other.

➖ Some of the tech-driven interactions were finicky. This added unnecessary frustration after we’d solved the puzzles.

➕ The hint system made sense with the story and the space. It added to the experience. (In fact, we recommend asking for a hint, even if you don’t need one.)

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a phrenology bust.

➖ In Panacea, we spread out, working on different puzzle tracks. Although we enjoyed the finale, we felt it lacked a culminating puzzle that brought the team back together for the conclusion.

➕ There was some really funny wordplay going on in Panacea.

➕ Room Escapers has upped their reveal game. In Panacea, the reveals worked wonderfully.

Tips For Visiting

  • Panacea is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Panacea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Organized Chaos [Review]

Accurately named.

Location: Boston, MA

Date Played: July 14, 2018

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 4-6 (more for a different experience)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Organized Chaos was all about collecting evidence of crimes. There was a silly number of crimes to solve and a massive heap of evidence to collect in our attempt to collate the evils of an organized crime family… and doing so was chaotic.

While Room Escapers introduced innovative gameplay and some fun moments, the entire experience felt uneven. The quality of the puzzles, cluing, story, and set were all over the map. Some of it was great. Some of it fell short of what we know Room Escapers is capable of producing.

Organized Chaos is worth playing if you’re looking to keep a large group occupied or are interested in exploring an innovative approach to escape room design… even if some of it doesn’t quite gel.

In-game: the inside of a Boston bar covered in Massachusetts license plates, Red Sox banner, and a Budweiser advertisement.

Who is this for?

  • Searchers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A massive amount of content
  • Deliberate chaos
  • A couple of memorable moments
  • A few strong puzzles

Story

It was the 1990s and organized crime was running rampant through Boston. Our agency had finally caught a break in our investigation and we had a brief span of time to investigate Spanky’s Pub, a notorious front business. Our goal: find evidence to close as many unsolved cases as we could before we were stopped by the mobster’s lawyers and their rolls of red tape.

In-game: The exterior for Spanky's Pub with a gated window, and no parking signs.

Setting

The starting area of Organized Chaos was split in two. Spanky’s Pub, a Boston bar complete with a beautiful old beer tap and New England sports insignias took up about two thirds of the gamespace. The remaining third of the gamespace was dedicated to evidence collection with a whiteboard-painted wall, evidence bins, case files, and a listing of missing evidence for each case.

In-game: a large game corner covered in white board paint, case files, and goals for each case.

The level of set detail fluctuated depending upon where we looked. Some portions were on point; others were a bit on the bare side.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Organized Chaos was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

The goal was to find the evidence needed to close as many cases as possible. There wasn’t a traditional win/ lose scenario. We were given a score based on our case close rate. Closing a case required the recovery of three pieces of evidence per case.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and remaining organized.

In-game: close up of a beautiful old beer tap.

Analysis

+ Room Escapers’ new School Street location had a spacious, comfortable lobby where they opened up the experience.

+ Our objectives were crystal clear and much of what we needed to accomplish was accessible to even the greenest of escape room players.

In-game: criminal case files in the Room Escapers lobby.

– While waiting for our game to start, we were presented with a selection of case files that would be relevant to the gameplay. While more competitive players might want to familiarize themselves with the material ahead of time, many teams will likely find these files dense, overwhelming, and filled with red herrings. We liked the concept, but as it was set up, the pre-game felt like homework and didn’t build up energy for the main event.

+/- There wasn’t any reason to read the case files; we could solve almost all of the crimes with just the evidence checklists. On the one hand, this made the gameplay itself less tedious than if we had had to read the case files. On the other hand, we were sitting on books of needless red herring detail.

– One puzzle couldn’t be solved without either a thorough case file reading or specific outside knowledge. This opened us up to a entire file of red herrings. It also deviated from the pattern learned throughout gameplay that we didn’t need to read the case files.

+ There was a lot to tackle in Organized Chaos. Players were never lacking things to do.

– We didn’t get a sense of the characters or the crimes from the focused search for evidence. Even after solving all the cases, we left with no emotional investment in any of characters or the crimes.

+ Room Escapers provided a dedicated evidence organizing workspace. We especially enjoyed the whiteboard wall.

? Successful teams will likely designate an “evidence cataloguer” to manage the chaos. This person likely won’t experience the rest of the gameplay. Depending on your group, this could be the perfect role for someone… or no one.

+ Room Escapers built a number of fun puzzle interactions and releases into thematic set pieces.

– The point system felt anticlimactic and tacked on because we were only truly introduced to it after the clock had stopped. As a result, the concluding moments of the game felt muddy.

Organized Chaos was aptly named. It could keep a large group busy. It was utter chaos managing all that we needed to do. Organizing it was the goal.

Tips for Visiting

  • Organized Chaos is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Organized Chaos, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship [Review]

The search for more booty.

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: October 2, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

In this sequel to Room Escapers’ first game, Pirate’s Booty, a disgruntled former employee of the Cape Cod Treasure Hunters hired us to plunder a recently rediscovered pirate ship. With a hurricane bearing down on New England, we had an hour to liberate an estimated $1 billion in gold or face the wrath of the storm.

In-game: A shot in the ships galley, a table full of candles, a skeleton in the background.

Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship was largely set on a pirate ship. While portions of the set were recycled from Room Escapers’ first game, this was an entirely new experience. New puzzles. New narrative. New game.

Puzzles

Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship upped the puzzle difficulty. We had made fairly quick work of Room Escapers’ earlier games, but in this one, we really earned our victory.

Additionally, there were bonus bags of treasure hidden throughout the escape room.

Standouts

Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship got the action going quickly using a technique that Room Escapers pioneered last year in Naughty or Nice. It’s a good trick. The encore wasn’t a bad thing, but if you’re familiar with their most recent offering, you’ll also see it coming.

In-game: A shot in the ships galley of a skeleton.

The set was a big step up from their previous room escapes.

There was whole a lot to do. Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship kept us busy.

The hurricane game clock fit right in.

The in-character hint system was effective and well integrated into the escape room.

We particularly enjoyed the more tangible and thematic puzzles, of which there were many.

Finding gold was an entertaining way to expand the adventure and encourage participation without requiring every team to solve the game to 100% completion.

This was a funny escape room. Room Escapers has an enjoyably unsophisticated sense of humor and they are not afraid to use it.

Shortcomings

A few puzzle flow and gating issues sprang from having access to puzzle components and clues related to them too early. With a large team, someone inevitably wasted a lot of time investigating an item that was completely useless at that moment. This was frustrating.

In the escape room briefing, our gamemaster introduced us to a guide book. He flat out told us to read it from cover to cover. The guide book game mechanic generally causes frustration, especially in large team games. Room Escapers did it better than most by giving us multiple copies and thus avoiding the usual guide book bottleneck. That said, we still had to read and retain information that we might want to apply later, which wasn’t particularly fun. We also continually had to retrieve guide books as we progressed throughout the ship. Every time I encounter one of these guide books, I find myself wishing that the clues were more integrated into the set, rather than tacked on with a book.

There was a climax to Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship, but it fizzled a little. There’s opportunity to do more with it.

Should I play Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship?

Room Escapers has come a long way since they set sail with the original Pirate Booty. Each subsequent room escape from them has been more interesting and ambitious. Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship continued that trajectory.

This escape room was fun, funny, and kept us busy until the very end.

Newbies should go in ready to make use of the well-integrated hint system and experienced players should attack this ship humbly yet aggressively. There was a lot to do. It was fair, but it was not easy.

Puzzle hard or you’ll walk the plank.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty II: The Lost Ship, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

 

Room Escapers – Naughty, or Nice? [Review]

Grand Theft Naughty List.

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: December 10, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Our names made it onto Santa’s Naughty List.

Santa had left the building and it was now our team’s chance to break into the old man’s workshop and swap our forged naughty list for the real one. It was a risky heist, but with quality presents at risk, we had to take action.

The setting was bright, festive, and more red, green, and white than Boston’s North End. The room was pretty hacked together. However, the aesthetic and build quality greatly exceeded what we were expecting from a temporary seasonal game.

In-game, close-up of the Naughty List.
The book of judgements.

In a word, it was adorable.

Puzzles

There was a lot to find and solve in Naughty, or Nice?.

The game flowed smoothly from start to finish. It wasn’t a particularly challenging game, and our experienced team ripped through it like a puzzling tornado. There were, however, a few moments that made us slow down and one that nearly tripped us up.

Standouts

In our review of Room Escapers’ first game, Pirate’s Booty, we were underwhelmed by the start of the game. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the room escape that it turned into something interesting. Oh my, was that problem solved in Naughty, or Nice?. We were genuinely surprised by the opening moments of the game.

The theming work was super cute and Room Escapers seriously committed to it. The staff members wore fetching elf costumes and the lobby had been fully decorated in the spirit of the season.

In-game - A fireplace with stockings hanging from it beside a white Christmas tree surrounded by presents.

Everything was overflowing with personality.

Shortcomings

Naughty, or Nice? was a temporary construction and some of it was unpolished and hacked together, but it all worked. The game was fun. A good time was had by all… but there were a lot of little details that were deliberately overlooked due to the impermanence of the game.

Also… it’s a temporary game. As fun as it was, it’s only available for a limited time.

Should I play Room Escapers’ Naughty, or Nice??

Yes, if you’re in the area, Naughty, or Nice? is well worth a playthrough.

If you’re a newbie, it’s an approachable, bright, and cheery game.

If you’re an experienced player, it’s adorably inventive and does a few things differently.

Naughty, or Nice? should be open through most of January. Grab tickets while you can.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Naughty, or Nice?, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: We traded Room Escapers a handpicked selection of excellent IPAs for tickets to this game.

Room Escapers – Pirate’s Booty [Review]

Boston’s starrrt-up scene.

Location: Boston, MA

Date played: August 27, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Cape Cod Treasure Hunters (CCTH) is recruiting daring treasure hunters like you to break into the offices of a local tech startup company, activate their prototype time machine, and travel back in time in search of pirate treasure.

It seemed like a whacky set up: time travel treasure hunting.

We were searching for real treasure that had already been found off the coast of Boston (in real life). In order to find it, we would have to travel back in time and retrieve it before the people who already found it. Time travel is wacky.

This was a clever setup to make us participants in a historical, local adventure.

Initially the game’s setting was large, nondescript, and aesthetically boring. As the game escalated we found ourselves in a pirate ship set. This would typically be a spoiler, but Room Escapers’ website makes it clear that this is the heart of the game. The ship was a far more impressive environment.

The ship was a pretty solid set, not mind blowing, but leaps and bounds more interesting than where we had started.

Three pirates sharing a drink in the game's ship.
Image via by Room Escapers

Puzzles

The puzzles in Pirate’s Booty followed standard patterns of a designer’s early work. This was especially true in the first part of the game. As with the set, the puzzles became more interesting once we were aboard the ship.

They drew on a variety of skill sets, but much of the difficulty stemmed from searching thoroughly and connecting puzzle elements to each other.

Standouts

Pirate’s Booty included a few neat interactions that elevated it beyond basic room escape design.

This game escalated. It started with relatively unexciting puzzles in a mundane setting. When we traveled back in time to find our treasure, we found a more exciting set with more engaging puzzles.

Our charismatic gamemaster was superb. His hinting was on point.

Room Escapers cleverly mixed Boston’s tech startup scene with its colonial history.

Shortcomings

Room Escapers was still fine-tuning some of their puzzles. The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging, but in some instances, they hadn’t quite nailed that sweet spot between easy and opaque.

Pirate’s Booty lacked polish. At times, it still felt like an art project rather than a refined game.

The time travel component was a great concept, but Room Escapers should commit to making a time travel research lab that feels like an exciting place to visit in order to make this aspect of it work. Given what they have constructed, it almost would have been better to drop us directly onto the pirate ship.

Should I play Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty?

Pirate’s Booty became a fun adventure, but it didn’t start out as one.

It may need some additional refinement, both in aesthetic and puzzle design, but its fundamental components worked. It ultimately delivered a sense of adventure and some truly delightful moments.

Pirate’s Booty highlighted its location in downtown Boston by virtue of a historical story. Room Escapers did something special and unusual mixing Boston’s past and present. Hats off to them for it.

This wasn’t the most challenging escape room. If you play a lot of these games, it should play out pretty quickly. But if you’re new to this type of entertainment, this is a great introductory room.

If you’re bringing children, note that this game escalates quite a bit. It’s not horror by any means, but the pirate ship has a few props that might frighten little ones.

Note that the version of this game that we reviewed will be available through October 19, 2016. Room Escapers will be revamping it and rereleasing it shortly thereafter.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Pirate’s Booty, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: We traded Room Escapers a handpicked selection of excellent IPAs for tickets to this game.