Enchambered – Containment Breach [Review]

Concrete, steel, and puzzles.

Location:  Sacramento, California

Date Played: February 24, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Containment Breach was Enchambered’s first foray into escape rooms. It was a strong initial outing.

A solid, fairly traditional puzzle game, Containment Breach offered some good group solves in a detailed but dim set. The lighting was especially low, and we couldn’t really do anything without a flashlight… which grew old.

In-game: a large piece of metal machinery in a heavily worn concrete bunker.

Since creating this game, Enchambered has produced some truly outstanding experiences in The Whispering Halls and The Legend of the Skull Witch. Those games are the reason to visit Enchambered. Containment Breach, by comparison, was an optional add-on.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A detailed set
  • Some interesting puzzles and interactions

Story

Decades ago, Doctor Henry Rosenburg had built a device that instantly teleported matter. During his first attempt at demonstrating his creation, it had malfunctioned and Rosenburg had disappeared after the ensuing radiation leak rendered his lab uninhabitable.

Now that the radiation levels had dropped to tolerable levels, we went in to investigate what had happened.

In-game: A PA mounted near the ceiling of the bunker. There's a sign warning of surveillance.

Setting 

Enchambered’s first escape game was a bunker.

The dimly lit set was filled with the kind of texture and weathering details that showed the environment was created by someone who cared.

In-game: closeup of a desk with strange schematics beside a large piece of equipment

Gameplay

Enchambered’s Containment Breach was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: a large, weathered, yellow metal door with a strange locking mechanism.

Analysis

➕ The dim, detailed, and weathered set looked like a convincing lab/ bunker hybrid.

➖ We spent a lot of time searching in low light. It was annoying to play the entire game with a flashlight in hand.

➕ The props felt bulky and real. The gameplay was tangible. It frequently encouraged collaborative solves.

➖ There were tons of papers that we didn’t need and would likely be needless red herrings to less experienced players.

➕ In one instance, Containment Breach taught use how to use a prop through the gameplay. In a game with solid, yet standard puzzle play, this puzzle was especially well thought out so that players would build mastery and have a sense of accomplishment.

➖ All solves led to a 4-digit lock. There were a lot of locks and they weren’t correlated to the puzzles. We ended up trying every derived code in lots of places, which slowed momentum, especially early on.

➖ While there clearly was a story, we struggled to follow it. The story got lost amid puzzles.

➕ We particularly enjoyed the solves that required teamwork.

➕ We truly respect Enchambered’s tiered pricing. Containment Breach was their oldest game, and tickets for it were less expensive than tickets for their newer games. This improved the value of the experience. More escape room companies should adopt this approach to pricing.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Thai Terrace for a meal before/after your game.

Book your hour with Enchambered’s Containment Breach , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enchambered provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Enchambered – The Whispering Halls [Review]

The Haunted Mansion

Location:  Sacramento, California

Date Played: February 24, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

From the theme to their approach to set design and construction, Enchambered’s Disney influences were on display in The Whispering Halls.

As with The Legend of the Skull Witch we were thrilled by The Whispering Halls. While there were some opportunities for additional refinement and drama, overall this was a high quality escape game.

If you’re anywhere near Sacramento, we highly recommend The Whispering Halls. If you’re looking to choose between The Whispering Halls and The Legend of the Skull Witch, you can’t really go wrong… so flip a coin, or better yet, play both.

In-game: an ominous metal door knocker.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Ambiance born of a detailed set
  • Puzzle progression
  • Interaction design
  • Density of content

Story

The caretaker of an old Victorian manor had hired us to investigate paranormal happenings within the home that he was charged with maintaining.

In-game: a bookcase

Setting

Creepy but never terrifying, The Whispering Halls was beautiful and filled with subtle homages to Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, but never felt like it was ripping off the famous haunted house. Enchambered used time-tested techniques to make the space feel both haunted and larger than it actually was.

In-game: glowing candles mounted to a red wall.

Gameplay

Enchambered’s The Whispering Halls was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The Whispering Halls was an enchanting space. Enchambered built vertically, affording them space to add details without red herrings and an expanse without barren space. It was deliberately designed and atmospheric, setting the tone for an exciting escape room.

➕ Enchambered used a variety of effects to create exciting moments inside The Whispering Halls.

➖ The gamespace showed a bit of wear and not all the wiring was completely hidden.

➕ Enchambered built interesting puzzles into unusual interactions. These were a ton of fun.

➖ One puzzle had an overly tight tolerance.

➕/➖ Enchambered provided a step to help shorter players participate in higher puzzles. It would have been helpful to affix this to the floor, or label it, so that it wouldn’t be confused as a puzzle component.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. We could see the different puzzle paths emerging and build mastery of the room as we played. This made similar solves – and even multiple locks with the same digit structure – less arduous. It also built up anticipation for opens.

➖ One moment of individual isolation could have really shined, but felt underwhelming.

➕ Your ticket to The Whispering Halls buy a lot. As this escape room revealed its secrets, it also unveiled more densely packed puzzle content. There was a lot of game within these walls.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Thai Terrace for a meal before/after your game.

Book your hour with Enchambered’s The Whispering Halls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

… when you come out to San Fransisco this June for Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace. Enchambered would make a lovely day trip add-on to your time in California. Today is the last day to book tickets to our Palace Games tour. Don’t miss your chance!

Disclosure: Enchambered provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Enchambered – The Legend of the Skull Witch [Review]

The Wicked Witch of the West Coast

Location:  Sacramento, California

Date Played: February 24, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Few games open as strongly as The Legend of the Skull Witch. Enchambered’s cabin of magic and evil was fueled with strong puzzles and just enough frights to make it intense and exciting without feeling terrifying.

A couple of gameflow issues notwithstanding, this was an incredible game from a strong company. The Legend of the Skull Witch was a remarkable world to puzzle through.

We highly recommend The Legend of the Skull Witch. If you’re anywhere in the region, take a trip to play it. We did; we were thrilled with that decision.

In-game: an effigy hanging from the wall with fire projected onto it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Magical interactions
  • Detailed and immersive gamespace to explore
  • Use of effects

Story

Legend had it that a vile witch lived in the swamps outside of New Orleans. The tale told of her luring bewildered partygoers away… a mistake that they paid for with their lives.

We hadn’t bought into the stories, but two of our friends had disappeared during Mardi Gras. We’d tracked them to a rundown cabin in the middle of the swamp.

In-game: A tree with glowing tubes hanging from that function as the game's clock.

Setting

The Legend of the Skull Witch made an immediate impression. The multi-level set, staggering volume of details, animations, and how it all came together were arresting. Normally when I enter an escape room I immediately look for where to start. In The Legend of the Skull Witch, I stood there and looked at what Enchambered had built, not to start solving, but simply to take it all in.

Enchambered maintained that level of detail throughout the entire experience. The Legend of the Skull Witch was a little scarier than Enchambered’s The Whispering Halls. That intensity carried through to some of their set design and effects choices.

In-game: A wooden shelf containing magical ingredients.

Gameplay

Enchambered’s The Legend of the Skull Witch was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a small creature holding a talisman.

Analysis

The Legend of the Skull Witch began with an imposing projection. It set the tone beautifully.

➕ From the get-go, The Legend of the Skull Witch offered a lot of options for exploration, from the gamespace to the details.

➖ The Legend of the Skull Witch relied too heavily on explanation. There would be an opportunity to make the puzzles more immediately approachable, letting players discover how to work the mechanisms through play.

➕ In place of locks – combination or magnetic – Enchambered built other input mechanisms. These interactive inputs also felt magical, and appropriate for the space.

➖ Too many puzzles resolved to the same digit structure. While this was mitigated by interesting inputs, we spent a bit too much time trying the same combination in multiple different locks. Small variation in digit structure would have smoothed over the game flow.

➖ We struggled with one puzzle that combined a lot of disparate information. It seemed we activated components out of order. It was frustrating when we couldn’t re-trigger information.

➕ The puzzles generally solved cleanly and were tangible. Although one overstayed its welcome, we enjoyed its mechanic. Many of the puzzles encouraged teamwork.

In-game: A wall of wooden masks and totems.

➕ Enchambered built effects that helped us feel the story – the desperate plight of the witch’s victims – as we played. It was haunting and impressive.

➕/➖ We appreciate a thematic and integrated gameclock. This one was beautifully worked into the set. Unfortunately, we didn’t understand the gameclock for what it was until after we’d won the game. That may have been on us… I’m really not sure.

➕ We visited Enchambered while part of their facility was under construction. Due to construction regulations, they couldn’t allow players into the final gamespace for The Legend of the Skull Witch. They created an elegant workaround that enabled them to run our game through to the end despite this inconvenience. Although we would have loved a hands-on experience for this portion, we respect their concern for safety and regulations, and their ingenuity.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Thai Terrace for a meal before/after your game.

Book your hour with Enchambered’s The Legend of the Skull Witch, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enchambered provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Spellbound Supper [Review]

Puzzle pre fixe

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 3-10; we recommend exactly 5 or exactly 10

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per person weekdays, $33 per person weekends

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

SCRAP once again created a unique escape game structure clever enough that it could be a genre unto itself.

The entirety of Spellbound Supper happened in our seats around a dinner table.

In-game: Team B surrounding their white table.

SCRAP used a combination of real life objects, projection, and a Microsoft Kinect to allow us to gesture and interact with the projected items. It was “magical” in the Steve Jobs sense of the word.

Spellbound Supper was an amazing concept and a remarkable experience. At the same time, the game felt unfinished. There were many little places where added refinement would have made all the difference.

We would love to see more games in this style. SCRAP could and should push this idea even further. It was mind-opening and entertaining. Throughout the experience, despite the imperfections, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much fun it was.

If you’re in San Francisco, this one is absolutely worth checking out. Much like The Popstar’s Room of Doom it wasn’t perfect, but its cleverness and novelty greatly outweighed its flaws.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technophiles
  • Fantasy fans
  • Players with mobility struggles
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The brilliant use of technology
  • The dramatic yet simple setting
  • Unusual gameplay, challenges, and puzzles

Story

We’d heard legend of a risky dinner served by a powerful witch. Those who had attended, if deemed worthy, had been rewarded with wonderful magical abilities. Everyone else who had dined with the witch had vanished.

In-game: Team A surrounding their white table.

Setting

Spellbound Supper was an escape room played entirely at a dinner table. All of the puzzles and components were either delivered by our server or projected onto the stark white table cloth.

The projected graphics were beautiful.

The room itself was elegant and slightly intimidating, but not in a frightening way. Its minimalist intensity combined with the demeanor of our server to create an imposing vibe.

In-game: A neatly folded green napkin on a white plate and white tablecloth.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The unorthodox environment added challenge. We had to solve different types of puzzles – printed and projected – from our seats at the table.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and using the magical tools we were provided.

Analysis

➕ The dinner table theme was novel. This was our first puzzle feast.

➕ Although we didn’t move from our seats at the table for the duration of the game, Spellbound Supper kept our attention focused on the meal. SCRAP used projection mapping to reveal the gameplay. It was magical and visually intriguing.

➖ The courses progressed rather nonsensically. There didn’t seem to be any reason – story-driven or puzzle-driven – supporting this progression.

➕/➖ The technology could be finicky. We were torn about it. On the one hand, straight video games do some of this better. On the other hand, it was entertaining to be playing a video game with real props, in real life.

➖ We became impatient with the mechanics. We had to wait for long voiceovers to finish. When we made mistakes – which we did often as we pieced together how to solve puzzles – we had to finish a failed cycle repeatedly, which became tedious and took away from the magic feeling magical. We spent a fair bit of time waiting to get back to puzzle-solving. A reset interaction would have been a big improvement.

➕ Spellbound Supper assigned us roles. These were pretty even. You couldn’t draw the short straw. Additionally, the roles were vital to the experience. (For this reason, we recommend you play with a group of exactly 5 or exactly 10 people.)

➖ There weren’t a whole lot of props and the ones they had felt chintzy. With a few more details, dinner would have been classier, and the game more polished.

➖ There was a lot to read. Seated at a table, we had to pass cards around in low light. We would have preferred this part to be better incorporated into the projection mapping or the physical gameplay.

➖ We played with 2 groups of 5 players each. The two groups played the game simultaneously around separate tables without ever interacting, or even seeing each other. We finished at different times, which lead to confusing, anticlimactic endings. The audio kept playing while we tried to figure out if we’d won it or if there was more.

➕ As is typical of SCRAP games, there were a few twists. These were mostly fair challenges that mostly made sense, well… it was still a difficult SCRAP game with an obligatory logic leap or two.

Spellbound Supper was fun. Even in moments of frustration, I was eager to try again, see the next challenge, and explore the interactions. It was so unlike any other escape room we’ve played and the novelty was part of the fun.

Tips For Visiting

  • The Japantown parking garage is across the street.
  • There are lots of great restaurant options in Japantown.
  • There is no real food served as part of this game.

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Escape Games by SCRAP provided media discounted tickets for this game.

14 Innovative Escape Rooms in 2018

We wanted to take a moment to point out a number of escape rooms that we played in 2018 that did something truly innovative to push the escape room format in a different direction.

We saw tons more innovations in 2018, but these ones stuck out to us.

Presented in the order that we played them:

2018 Innovative Escape Rooms

Bogeyman

Trap Door Escape Room – Morristown, NJ

In-game: A strange purple glowing passageway.

Trap Door added a scare actor and turned an otherwise straightforward game into a frantic, challenging experience, as we were chased around and cornered by a monster.

Beat the Bomb

Brooklyn, NY

In-game: gif of Lisa, David, and Lindsay getting doused with a paint explosion.

Replayable and modular, Beat the Bomb felt more like a gameshow with different games within it than an escape room. It all concluded with a battle against time. When the clock struck zero, a giant paint bomb exploded all over us.

The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab & The Shiners

Escape Woods – Powder Springs, GA

In-game: An old trailer in the middle of the woods. It's lit with a long strand of light bulbs.

Escape Woods games were raw and real. Both games felt like actual adventures.

The Diamond Heist

Get Out of Here – Utrecht, The Netherlands

The escape room briefing area.

Get Out of Here delivered the narrative of The Diamond Heist with a third person voiceover that told our story as we advanced through the game. This solved a number of escape room storytelling problems.

Jason’s Curse

Escape Room Rijswijk – Rijswijk, The Netherlands

In-game: a weathered basement wall with the words "KNOCK KNOCK WHO IS THERE" painted on it.

Escape Room Rijswijk did something incredible with their space, physically transforming the gameworld while we were within it. It was one hell of a trick.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – San Francisco, CA

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom wasn’t an escape room. It was something new: a time loop game. We were reliving the same actor-driven time loop, taking different actions each time, and trying to determine how to break the cycle and save the game’s main character.

It’s a Doggy Dog World

Level Games – North Hollywood, CAA

In-game: an oversized doghouse.

We played as dogs trying to get our favorite ball back. The vibe was unique, warm, and playful. We left this game wishing that there were more whimsical escape rooms.

We loved this game so much and we’re sad that it and Escapades LA are closed. I don’t know if its for sale, but if it is, someone should adopt it and give this pup a new home.

The Courtyard

THE BASEMENT – Sylmar, CA

In-game: an aged porch with a rocking chair.

The Courtyard had a jaw-dropping set, but its true innovation was how THE BASEMENT integrated an actor into the experience and gameplay. There’s a scene in this one that we will never forget.

The Experiment

Get the F Out –  Los Angeles, CA

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Designed for escape room enthusiasts, Get the F Out’s incredibly meta game, The Experiment, had two unusual innovations. One involved lighting. The other was in its storytelling. Months later, we’re still debating what we were supposed to take away from this game.

Museum of Intrigue

Syracuse, NY

A Museum of Intrigue mystic character posing in front of the story display.

We didn’t enter an escape room; we were patrons of a quirky museum of oddities, along with all of the other players… but it wasn’t a museum. It was a sandbox for puzzles, scavenger hunts, and adventures. We had our mission and everyone else had theirs, but we were all puzzling and exploring in the same space at the same time. It was chaotic and lively and it became more interesting as more people showed up.

La Terrible Affaire Bambell

Heyou Escape –  Le Cannet, France

In-game: The hallway of the apartment complex that housed the game.

Terrifying. Heyou Escape built tension by adding a sense of danger and screwing with our minds and expectations. I’m not sure if La Terrible Affaire Bambell is actually an escape room, or if we were even players… Looking back, I think we may have just been props in their production.

D.J. Death

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

The Gate Escape put training wheels on escape room gameplay. Instead of presenting a free-for-all escape room-style game, each puzzle was presented in its own station… and it concluded with a dance party. This was a great way to open up new players to escape room style puzzling.

The Summons

The Seven Forces – Cincinnati, OH

In-game: A stage at the front of teh room features an assortment of strange pieces of technology and mystical artifacts.

By adding social and group dynamics into the large-scale theatrical escape room event format, The Seven Forces created something new and special. Their approach kept multiple teams engaged with both the puzzles and one another for the entire game.

More Innovation

We’d love to have you join us on an escape room tour!

Join us in visiting some of the other innovative games we’ve found in our travels. (It just so happens that we didn’t play them in 2018.)

Escape Immerse Explore: The Palace

Escape Immerse Explore: New Orleans

The Fine Print

If you’ve seen something like we’ve described above elsewhere, we aren’t claiming anything is entirely unique. These are the games that we saw the innovations in.

This post wasn’t intended as a re-review of anything. For full critiques of these games, take a look at the reviews.

We’ve left out games that won 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards. You can check that list out too. Many of them were highly innovative. We’ve already heaped tons of praise on those games.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.

I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.

The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.

A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.

Analysis

+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.

– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.

+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.

+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.

– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.

– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.

+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.

+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)

– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.

– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Trials of Bahamut [Review]

Moogles and cactuars and tonberries, oh my!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: October 20, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket early, $41 per ticket regular, $46 per ticket at the door if available

Story & setting

Based on the events of the video game Final Fantasy XIV, the primal dragon Bahamut, long thought dead, was reviving. We needed to gather the tools and knowhow to assemble a battle plan that would defeat this almighty beast. Failure would mean the end of the world.

In-game: The faux stone cavern set walls. There are ropes to guide lines and a sign that reads "Cactuar Cavern."

Trials of Bahamut was a mass escape event put on by Real Escape Games by SCRAP, the creators of many other large-scale events that we’ve reviewed such as a Legend of Zelda game. In typical SCRAP fashion, Trials of Bahamut took place in a sparsely decorated event space. The center of room was full of tables, one for each team of 6. Around the perimeter of the room, various sets represented different locations, each guarded by characters, played by actors.

Puzzles

As is typical at SCRAP mass events, much of the puzzling took place as a team around our table with pencils and paper.

As Trials of Bahamut progressed, there were opportunities to solve puzzles with the characters along the perimeter. These were more interesting and dynamic puzzles that also granted more compelling rewards.

Standouts

Each player was assigned a character class (thief, paladin, bard, ranger, black mage, white mage). Each character came with individual powers that only they could execute at specific points throughout the game. Some of these powers were the keys to individual paper puzzles; others required creatively interacting with actors. The roles kept everyone involved throughout the event and added an intriguing dynamic to the gameplay.

Post-game photo features our team holding up the signs of the character classes that each person played.

Trials of Bahamut was the most interactive SCRAP event that we’ve played (running around a stadium notwithstanding). In the past we’ve spent almost all of our time around a table, solving puzzles that could just as easily have appeared in a puzzle book. That was not the case in SCRAP’s Final Fantasy game.

Trials of Bahamut was more approachable than the previous SCRAP events that we’ve attended. Don’t get me wrong: most of the teams lost, but more than a few won or almost won.

In-game: The initial table setup. There's a book sealed shut with a padlock, a Moogle doll, and an assortment of paper puzzle components.
That Moogle was so damn adorable. He was also the team MVP.

The final puzzle sequence was smart. Our most common criticism of SCRAP events has been painfully obtuse final puzzles. While this challenging last puzzle sequence still required us to think exactly like the puzzle designer, at Trials of Bahamut, since we had been paying close attention, the steps were clear and deducible without logic leaps. This was a huge improvement on previous SCRAP mass event finales.

Most of our teammates had little or no experience with Final Fantasy and we still found Trials of Bahamut enjoyable.

There was a hilarious and morbid moment that anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy game could appreciate.

Some of the actors really went for it.

The stuffed Moogle on our team was freaking adorable. You should get one. 

Shortcomings

Trials of Bahamut suffered from long lines to meet with characters. Luckily our team got out to a quick lead and never relinquished it, so we didn’t wait on too many lines, but these really backed up. This is a common event problem. With linear progression, individual characters become bottlenecks.

Some of the character classes assigned to us were more interesting and essential than others.

While Trials of Bahamut was less paper-puzzley than previous SCRAP events, it still relied heavily on them… and some of them were pretty silly.

Trials of Bahamut began and ended with a lengthy, cringeworthy video.

SCRAP hires most of their actors and staff in each city that the game visits. We played the first instance of Trials of Bahamut in NYC and at each juncture our team was the first to approach the actors with solutions. Far too often our correct answers were rejected because the staff wasn’t quite up to speed. A little more training would go a long way.

The ending was anticlimactic. We had prepared to battle a dragon… but we only needed to submit a dragon-fighting battle plan. The conclusion had all of the drama of turning in a pop quiz.

Should I play Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut?

I’m really glad that I went to play Trials of Bahamut. This experience has given me hope that SCRAP is evolving their events, that they aren’t a one-trick pony, and that they can do something different with this rarely-explored escape game format.

I was ready to write off SCRAP’s events. Bluntly, I didn’t want to attend Trials of Bahamut. I’ve played Final Fantasy III and X, but I can’t claim that I’m a fan of the series. We attended because a friend bought the tickets, planned the evening, and invited us.

Trials of Bahamut was an engaging, intriguing, and entertaining event. We left excited that we had conquered a fair and interesting challenge. SCRAP’s escape events still have plenty of room to grow, but the next time they bring one to New York City, I will not drag my feet on booking a ticket.

We would recommend Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut, but New York City was the final stop on its tour. If it ever experiences a revival, you should check it out.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

 

Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

SCRAP – PuzzBox [Review]

Difficult to acquire. Difficult to win.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2016

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2-4

Price: $45 (only available for pickup at SCRAP’s San Francisco facility)

Story & setting

Welcome to the PuzzKingdom. We were intrepid puzzlers undergoing a test from the PuzzKing in an attempt to earn the prestigious rank of PuzzKnight. No PuzzJoke.

A cardboard box with a yellow label that reads,

The PuzzBox was an at-home escape game in the same vein as The Werewolf Experiment or the ThinkFun Games. However, this was a SCRAP game and it stuck to the SCRAP script.

The game was paper-based and the materials, printing, and paper quality were solid.

The game, however, was limited to a run of 100 (although they may do another), and it was distributed exclusively through SCRAP’s San Francisco facility. Dan Egnor of the Escape Room Directory was kind enough to acquire one and ship it to us.

Puzzles

This was a SCRAP game. If you’ve played one, you’ll know exactly what that entails:

It was a challenging paper-based game in a rigid and predictable structure with a brutal final puzzle.

The entire game's contents. A lockbox, three envelopes, a yellow sheet of paper, and a replay set.

The PuzzBox, like every other SCRAP game I’ve played, was puzzles upon puzzles. They were detail-oriented and at times felt a little trite. However, SCRAP did manage to create some brilliant puzzles, which is also their modus operandi.

Standouts

As far as paper-based puzzles go, this was a solid batch; they were generally satisfying to solve.

The story was incredibly cute and delivered with a light touch. This was an improvement over all of the other stories we’ve seen from SCRAP because it didn’t try to be epic while delivering a paper-based puzzling experience.

The PuzzBox felt like one of SCRAP’s better mass events. However, playing at home was vastly superior to playing in a giant room with a ton of other people and a 60-minute countdown clock. We could take our time and enjoy ourselves without having to scavenge a huge space for additional paper-based clues.

Shortcomings

If you absolutely hate SCRAP mass events, then you’re not going to love the PuzzBox.

Playing the PuzzBox destroys the materials in the PuzzBox. It came with a single refill kit, but after two playthroughs, it’s dead. This thwarted my desire to share the game with a handful of East Coast puzzle lovers who couldn’t get their hands on a PuzzBox.

The

The lockbox was basically irrelevant. It didn’t have to be there at all, but I think it was included because that’s been their signature object in their mass events. Opening it revealed nothing special.

Bottom and side view of a red metal lockbox with a gold 4 digit padlock. The box's bottom reads

It was challenging to acquire the PuzzBox and it was expensive to have it shipped. This was frustrating in retrospect because if SCRAP had dropped the lockbox, the game would have been entirely paper-based and thereby far easier to produce and ship. The kicker is that the game would not have suffered from lack of that anti-climactic lockbox.

PuzzBox open. There is a lot of free space in the box.
There was a lot of air in that box.

We solved the final puzzle through a clever (not my idea, but I wish I came up with it) reverse engineering of the components.

Should I play SCRAP’s PuzzBox?

We spent a little under an hour twenty solving the PuzzBox and we had a lot of fun throughout. There were interesting puzzles and boring puzzles. We felt let down when we opened the lockbox, but overall, we truly enjoyed ourselves.

A small yellow pin with a puzzle coat of arms. The pin reads,

If you love more challenging escape room puzzles and can get your hands on a PuzzBox, it’s worth playing. If you prefer the experiential side of escape rooms, run the other direction.

The PuzzBox has convinced me that SCRAP’s games are best played at a lower price-point and in the comfort of my own home.

Order your copy of SCRAP’s PuzzBox, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.