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 that’s 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, as well as 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
  • Technofiles
  • 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 with which 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 voice-overs 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 fun as well.

Tips For Visiting

  • The Japantown parking garage is across the street.
  • There are lots of great restaurant options in Japantown.

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.

SCRAP – The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad [Review]

The reading of Dr. Mad’s will was a tragic event.

Location: New York City, New York (Traveling Game)

Date played: January 26, 2016

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Price: $29.50 per ticket

Theme & story

Things started out well enough.

A charismatic and energetic man emerged on stage and explained to us:

“50 years have passed since the death of Dr. Mad, a physicist known as the greatest genius of the last century. Rumor has it that he uncovered the secret to human prosperity, but passed away before revealing it to the world. In accordance with his last wishes, his will was sealed for 50 years following his death. And now the time has come for it to be opened. Many mysterious clues lie hidden within, along with the following challenge —
‘Can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work?'”

The setup was clever, fun, and certainly had enough meat on it to sustain an hour long puzzle adventure.

With a quick look around the room I could tell that the game was set up in the same manner as other SCRAP mass events. I wasn’t titillated by the setup, but SCRAP’s last mass event, Escape From the Walled City, was a step in the right direction, so I had hope.

The clock started, we opened our packet of materials, and my hope died a swift death over the course of the following 15 minutes.

Red, white, blue, and black poster announcing The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad.

Homework

Wordy and tedious, the puzzles mostly felt like homework.

SCRAP always works in a few puzzles that are genuinely cool. That was true in Dr. Mad, but they were few and not everyone experienced them.

The rest was a grind.

Staging

The game had two rooms that we had to earn access to. Our gamemaster went out of his way to stress how observant we needed to be in those rooms and that there was an experiential component to them.

While we did need to be mildly observant to find a few things in each room, they were storage closets. When we actually attempted to search the room, we found an assortment of items belonging to the restaurant/club that was hosting the event.

There were puzzles; there was no environment.

Solution

When time ran out, we had about three puzzles remaining. However, we had actually guessed the final answer to the game about 20 minutes in.

And we wrote it on our answer sheet.

It was an actual cliché.

Later in the game we became confused and modified it by adding an additional word. We never would have counted it as a victory, but if Escape from the Werewolf Village had a deeply obtuse solution, The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad had the most painfully obvious one.

Déjà vu

Back in June 2014, I wrote my very first escape game review on my personal blog. Having played quite a few games, I fell in love with them. Then I played one that I absolutely hated. That game was SCRAP’s mass escape game: Escape from the Werewolf Village.

To pull a quote from myself:

“My big concern is that there were people in that room who were doing a room escape for the first time and think that Escape from the Werewolf Village is representative of all room escapes. If this were my first, I am not sure I’d have gone to a second one.”

It’s now 2016 and pretty much everything I wrote about Escape from the Werewolf Village applies to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad. However Dr. Mad was a worse experience because the escape game industry has evolved dramatically since those early days.

Culture gap

By playing escape games in six countries, I’ve learned that expectations shift from culture to culture.

I wonder if something is getting lost in translation from Japanese culture to American culture.

Should I play SCRAP’s The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad?

I have a deep reverence for what SCRAP has done for escape games in the United States. They produced the first escape game in the US. They have also created a few of the most memorable and incredible puzzle experiences I have ever experienced.

At the same time, their games are tedious to a fault and comically difficult (no one won). Their mass escape events are a poor ambassador for their permanent room escapes and the industry at large.

The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad was supposed to be a two night event, but they had to conglomerate the games due to poor ticket sales. Perhaps it is time for SCRAP to rethink their approach to the US market.

Full disclosure: SCRAP comped our tickets for this game.

Real Escape Game by SCRAP – Escape From the Mysterious Room [Review]

The Western Hemisphere’s first room escape.

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Date played: November 21, 2015

Team size: up to 11; we recommend 9-11

Price: $29 per ticket

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Theme & story

Escape From the Mysterious Room was, to the best of my knowledge, the first escape room in the Americas. It predated the concept that an escape room should have a cohesive theme, let alone a story.

It was a strange room filled with an assortment of items and puzzles. We had to find everything of significance and suss out the solutions.

Historical significance

Real Escape Game by SCRAP brought room escape games to the United States, starting with this game.

Playing it late, and knowing escape games the way I do, I felt like I had stepped into a time machine: two years ago, this was how most escape rooms played.

Faint theme, no story, weak aesthetics… Just scavenging and puzzles that ranged from hard to brutal.

Scavenging

They told us up front to make a mess… And we really needed to.

RER_specialvenue
Image via SCRAP – A approximation of the mess we made.

Scavenging was the beating heart of Escape From the Mysterious Room. It was tough to find the puzzles, and once we did, we occasionally missed the nuance in the items that we had found. We have never played a room with a more difficult scavenging component than Escape From the Mysterious Room. There was one puzzle that we didn’t find at all. Thankfully we were able to work around it.

Interestingly, in Escape From the Mysterious Room there were elements that we absolutely had to find to escape, and there were elements that we could work around, without which we could still escape.

Puzzles

SCRAP games are notoriously challenging. Escape From the Mysterious Room was no exception.

Like the scavenging component, the puzzles were hard.

At times it was difficult to tell if we had the correct answers. Not all of the puzzles provided feedback. This made the game especially difficult because it wasn’t always possible to tell if we had the correct answers. There were guardrails to make sure we weren’t too wrong, but the lack of feedback added enough uncertainty that solving a puzzle didn’t really feel like a win… Because we weren’t sure if we were right.

The myriad puzzles all culminated into a pair of final puzzles.

In typical SCRAP fashion, the last puzzle was brutally challenging, and required both attention to detail and a monumental leap in logic.

Outside knowledge

Our gamemaster made a big deal about how we didn’t need any outside knowledge to solve the game. Phones and Google were prohibited. However, there was a puzzle or two that required limited outside knowledge.

My guess is that most teams include people who hold this knowledge, but these instances seemed unnecessary and wrong.

The spirit

The game was overseen by a mostly silent “spirit” who walked around the room, observing us, and occasionally whispering hints and rule clarifications.

At one point he stopped our team from searching something, which led us to believe we were finished with it. We weren’t.

If it weren’t for my father’s persistence (my parents joined us for this one), we would not have returned to this puzzle because we thought we had completed it.

Our spirit was especially helpful, but he threw us way off on this one.

Team size

Escape From the Mysterious Room had a lot to do.

It’s listed as an 11 person room. We brought nine people and we needed them all. I wouldn’t attempt this one with fewer than nine people.

For most of the game, everyone stayed busy.

When the final puzzle came around, things got tedious, but we needed everyone looking at it because it was so damn esoteric.

SCRAP’s style

SCRAP has a distinctive style. This was our fourth SCRAP game and our first victory; we had 60 seconds remaining.

In one attempt, we reached the final puzzle with a ton of time remaining, and didn’t know that there was another puzzle to solve.

In our other two attempts we reached the final puzzle with 20-30 minutes remaining, and spun our wheels until time expired (Escape From the Time Travel Lab predates us writing reviews).

SCRAP games follow the same structure: emphasis on scavenging, large volume of smaller puzzles, and then an esoteric final puzzle that requires a major logic leap.

I appreciate what they do, but it will never be my style of game.

Should I play Real Escape Game by SCRAP’s Escape From the Mysterious Room?

Escape From the Mysterious Room is now closed in Brooklyn, but we truly appreciate that the folks from SCRAP Brooklyn kept the game running so that we could play it before they shut it down. While we were the last team to play it in Brooklyn, the game is still running at a few different SCRAP locations.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not a game for rookies.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not a game for people who feel entitled to a victory.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not for players who expect detailed theming or story.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is for experienced players. It’s for people who want to test themselves against a mighty opponent.

At its best, this is a game that offers an old-school escape room challenge and a lot of cleverness.

At its worst, it’s tedious, frustrating, and confounding.

Regardless of escape room design preferences, Escape From the Mysterious Room is a critical piece of escape room history. As such, it is a must play for connoisseurs of these games.

Book your hour with Real Escape Game by SCRAP’s Escape From the Mysterious Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

SCRAP: Escape From the Walled City [Review]

Room escapes are one thing, expectations get a bit higher when you’re tasked with escaping a minor league baseball stadium.

Plot

“The titans are coming, and they’re hungry. Based on the manga megahit, Attack on Titan, the newest Real Escape Game (REG) takes players to a world inhabited by giant, humanoid creatures that live for no other purpose than to make a snack of all of us. The high walls of the stadium are the only thing keeping you safe… for now. Experience the latest edition of SCRAP’s interactive storytelling and puzzle-solving games, ¨Escape from the Walled City,¨ on a scale never seen before. Join thousands of other players as you decode clues inside a real stadium! Each REG requires participants to use their best detective skills as they race against the clock. Be warned, though: survival isn’t easy, and teamwork will be essential if you hope to survive. Escape or not, the game is going to be killer! This event will be held in stadiums in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. After already hosting over 40,000 players in the US to date, the SCRAP team is excited to present a new project with such a grand scope, keeping them at the forefront of live escape entertainment!”

Mass Escape Games

SCRAP, the folks who imported real life escape games to the United States, brought their latest mass escape game to New York. Last year SCRAP’s mass game, “Escape from the Werewolf Village” became the very first room escape that we reviewed over on my personal blog TheGeekWhisperer.com.

Lisa and I put that review together, and later created Room Escape Artist, out of a genuine love for escape games, and a fear that subpar games would turn people off from the experience. We wrote:

“My big concern is that there were people in that room who were doing a room escape for the first time and think that Escape from the Werewolf Village is representative of all room escapes. If this were my first, I am not sure I’d have gone to a second one.”

So is this mass game better? Absolutely. Escape from the Walled City is an improvement on nearly every level when compared with Escape from the Werewolf Village, but is that enough?

Stadium

Being on the field of a stadium is fun. Playing a game that’s spread across the field and the stands is also pretty damn cool.

In Werewolf Village, the room itself was irrelevant to the story. In Walled City, the stadium represents something in the story. The size of the facility also greatly increases the distance between things. If you don’t like to move, then this isn’t the event for you.

That being said, I think that a lot more could be done with the stadium besides adding lots stairs and putting distance between things.

And… The field was covered in crap. It wasn’t SCRAP’s fault… but it was still kind of gross.

SCRAP crap Escape the Walled City

Story

This game has a reasonably cohesive story, even if it isn’t entirely compelling. In Werewolf Village, the story was laughably abstract. Walled City’s story is a lot more tangible and easy-to-follow.

The story still doesn’t create a believable fiction.

Attack on Titan Tie-In

I’m not an Attack on Titan fan; however, if they substituted a fictional world that I cared about, say Firefly, I think I would have been disappointed.

All mechanics lead to a password to advance, and the passwords were goofy in the context of the story that SCRAP was trying to tell, shattering any fiction that the game attempted to build.

Puzzle Quality

In typical SCRAP style, the game is made up of mostly written logic and word puzzles.

The vast majority of those puzzles were junk puzzles. SCRAP games are always loaded with a heavy volume of puzzles that feel like homework. They aren’t hard, and they aren’t fun.

There were three more physically involved puzzles in this game that were brilliant, and unique. However they tied back to something that wasn’t fun.

Final Puzzle

This was my third SCRAP game, and I hated the final puzzles to the previous two games that I played. This latest one was marginally better, but still very obtuse.

My gripe with SCRAP is that their games are all structured the same:

  1. Battle through a pile of junk puzzles with a few cool ones peppered in
  2. Struggle with a obtuse final puzzle
  3. Lose

They seem to pride themselves on their comically low escape rate, but it’s a bit dishonest. They are a company that likes to design inescapable rooms with a tolerance for error. The teams who do escape are anomalies.

We got to the last puzzle with 25 minutes remaining, and ended up with 58% of the last password derived from a method that wasn’t what the designers intended.

The most significant way that Walled City improved upon Werewolf Village was that you knew whether you’d won or lost when the game ended. That may seem trivial, but it’s a big deal.

Escape from the Walled City Room Escape Artist

Should I play SCRAP’s Escape from the Walled City?

This game is a valiant effort at making a cohesive mass escape game. It’s a huge leap forward when compared with Escape from the Werewolf Village, but it’s just not quite enough of a leap to make it worth playing.

The stadium was fun, the aforementioned three great puzzles were entertaining, but they were drowned out by the sea of junk puzzles, and a game that wasn’t epic enough to warrant its setting.

The US cities that this game visits — New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — all have vibrant room escape scenes, and there are so many better places to get locked in for an hour.

When our game was over, our team packed up and went to play a regular escape game on Long Island.

Going into this, I didn’t think that mass escape games were ever going to be worth playing. I’m still not a believer. However, I do have hope that SCRAP might one day change my mind… They just need to figure out how to break away from this structure that they are so committed to.