The Escape Game – Escape from Iron Gate [Review]

Playing by prison rules.

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 26, 2019

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 45-60 minutes

Price: about $44

REA Reaction

Escape from Iron Gate was quite the surprise and a breath of fresh air in a tabletop escape room scene that’s always riffing on the same “real-life escape room on your table” structure.

Escape Iron Gate's box featuring a prison and labeled, "The prison break party game."

The Escape Game’s take on the tabletop escape room was 100% competitive, not collaborative. It had a board-gamey feel to it. We moved our meeples through different areas of a prison, rolled dice, collected sets of item cards, and earned those cards through solving puzzles – and playing charades or Pictionary.

This was an approachable game. Whereas I find myself playing tabletop escape games mostly with puzzle people, I could play Escape from Iron Gate with almost anyone.

Moreover, as we played harder, we started to find more strategic depth than we’d expected.

The board set up, there are meeple in the cell block and a massive stack of puzzle cards.
There was no shortage of puzzle cards.

The main drawback to Escape from Iron Gate was that some (not all) of the puzzle types got stale. For example, if you’re an escape room veteran going in, substitution and pigpen ciphers aren’t going to throw you for a loop for even a second. We found ourselves disregarding these and drawing something else, which was fine.

I really enjoyed this game, and absolutely recommend it for families and friend groups. It was light-hearted, easy to learn, and varied. I truly liked that we weren’t just solving puzzles, or just playing Pictionary or charades. The constant flux of game modes kept things playful.

Moreover, this is a fully replayable game. We have replayed it and we will continue to do so. We’d love it if The Escape Game created an expansion with more challenging actions, puzzles, and a set of blank “create your own” action and puzzle cards. Personalization would add even more replay value to Escape from Iron Gate.

If you enjoy tabletop games, party games, and puzzles, you’ll enjoy their combination in Escape from Iron Gate.

Who is this for?

  • This is general audience tabletop game.
  • Avid puzzlers, talented drawers, and skilled pantomime actors will have some advantages.

Why play?

  • Humor
  • Flexible play
  • Some amusing puzzles
  • It had a lot more depth than initially appeared

Story

We had all been wrongfully accused of crimes and locked up in Iron Gate prison. Naturally, the only path to freedom was a puzzle prison break.

Close-up of The Yard with two meeple and a pair of large custom dice.

Setup

Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive tabletop game the blended a few genres into a unique experience with a party game vibe.

We aimed to collect sets of item cards that would allow us to bust out of different areas of the prison. We had to proceed from the cell block, to the yard, to the cafeteria, and finally to the warden’s office before achieving freedom (and winning the game.) Each area required each player to collect a unique set of items.

We earned item cards by solving puzzles, playing dexterity mini-games, and playing Pictionary or charades. Dice rolls and luck of the draw determined which games we’d play when.

The details are explained in this video:

Special Rules

If there was a gap in the rules or the group wanted to tweak the way things worked, we were encouraged to create our own prison rules. We quickly added our own rules and adapted the game to our play group.

The REA Rule: Whenever a player used a card set to break out of an area, that player had to tell the group a story about how they used each item to do the deed.

4 stages of gate cards.
Each player gets their own set of unique gate cards.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate was a party board game with a puzzle-solving component and a moderate level of difficulty.

Unlike escape rooms, Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive (not collaborative) game.

The puzzles were drawn from a massive stack of cards and included a mix of spatial puzzles, logic puzzles, riddles, ciphers, and reasoning challenges. They were all contained on individual cards, so they were static.

Core gameplay revolved around rolling dice, playing charades, playing Pictionary, accomplishing mini dexterity challenges, searching, solving puzzles, negotiating, and planning ahead.

A gate card and its matching card set.
Accomplishing a gate card collection allows a player to advance to the next area.

Analysis

➕ The artwork looked great. We liked the matte aesthetic and the color scheme. Everything felt polished.

Escape from Iron Gate was easy to learn. The engaging rules video presented the game clearly. The rulebook included a full-page diagram of the sequence for a turn, which we found to be especially helpful while we got the hang of the gameplay.

Puzzle card examples including some wordplay puzzles, a cipher, and a reasoning challenge.
A few examples of puzzle types.

➕ The structure of actions, puzzles, and trading kept everyone continually engaged, even on other players’ turns.

Escape from Iron Gate was reasonably well balanced. For a puzzle game, it included quite a bit of chance, but that kept it interesting. Even with the chance, it felt fair.

➖ Some of the puzzles quickly became tasks (especially the ciphers). We could only have the aha moment the first time we encountered some of these puzzle types.

➕ Gameplay was funny. The whole concept was ridiculous. Escape from Iron Gate didn’t take itself too seriously… which encouraged us to laugh along with it.

Action card examples, including a pictionary card and a charades card.

❓/➕ Acting and drawing really didn’t fit the prison escape theme all that well. We debated whether the actions in the game were thematically relevant, but in the end it didn’t really matter to us because they were entertaining.

➕ The red filter hint/answer system was simple and effective. Additionally, hints mattered less in this game than most tabletop escape games because failure to solve a puzzle didn’t break the game.

➕ We appreciated how Escape from Iron Gate drew from escape room mythology, but stood alone as its own game. It was set in The Escape Game’s Prison Break. We enjoyed the nods to that game. In no way, however, did it feel like playing a rehash of that escape room (or any other tabletop game).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: each player needs scratch paper and a pen
  • The Escape Game encourages players to make their own house rules. We embraced this whole heartedly. REA house rules included telling a story of how you used your items to pass each gate.
  • This would work well as a family game or a drinking game. We can see lots of great opportunities for adding drinking game rules.

Buy your copy of The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game provided a sample for review.

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The Escape Game – Playground [Review]

Game on!

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Playground was a joyful escape room. The Escape Game captured the elementary school vibe with a bright and ever-so-slightly cartoonish take that made this relatable space entirely delightful to revisit (and one of the rare games to justify fluorescent tube lighting).

While the puzzling was at times chaotic, we could track our collective progress with a giant glowing report card, and the teamwork-centric gameplay kept us all engaged.

If you’re anywhere near Nashville or one of the other The Escape Game locations, Playground is absolutely worth visiting.

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The playground
  • From a puzzling standpoint, there was something for everyone
  • It was joyful

Story

It was the last day of 4th grade and the start of the annual Summer Kickoff Kickball Tournament. We were set to play against our rivals, the 5th graders. If we couldn’t complete all of our assignments before the start of the game, however, we would be forced to forfeit… and that was an unacceptable option.

In-game: A pair of classroom desks with strange projects resting on top of them.

Setting

Playground let us loose in an elementary school classroom and adjacent playground. Both segments struck a fantastic balance of realism and bright fantastic fiction. It looked almost realistic, but better, in a Hollywood sort of way.

It was a joyous environment. We all took a turn wandering away from the gameplay to simply enjoy the wonderful gamespace with childlike glee.

In-game: A red apple sitting on the teachers desk in front of the classroom.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Playground was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty and a lot of content.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, dexterity, and puzzling.

In-game: The exterior of the school building with a PA and American flag.

Analysis

+ From the moment we entered the gamespace, we felt like excited children on the last day of school. When the gamespace opened up to a playground, we were positively giddy as we explored the set.

+ The set felt overly bright, but authentically so: elementary school meets Disney.

+ This was one of the rare games where fluorescent lighting felt appropriate.

+ If we didn’t know our teammates, introductions were built in, and stayed right up on the wall… as they would all year in the classroom.

In-game: A wall poster with balloons where each player (student) wrote their name.

+ The storyline was both ridiculous and relatable. This escape room didn’t take itself seriously, in a good way.

+ The introductory video was hilarious.

+ We could track our progression through Playground with our report card. This gave us a pretty good sense of how much longer we’d be in class before we escaped to summer break.

– The subjects were a bit abstract and we often had no idea what subject any given puzzle belonged to. One in particular only revealed its true colors upon completion.

In-game: the game's report card, featuring an A+ in every subject.

Playground included gamified dexterity challenges, which made sense on a playground.

+ Many of the puzzles required collaboration. These were some of our favorite challenges.

– When I graphed the data from this game, it became clear that one puzzle overstayed its welcome.

– Nobody wants to do math on the playground.

– One of the larger set pieces didn’t contribute to anything. It seemed like there should have been a puzzle climb.

In-game: a bookshelf, ant farm, and hamster cage.

? We opened up most of the gamespace pretty early in our playthrough. This immediately upped the group energy level. That said, it caused us some confusion as to where to focus our energy, even with the report card’s guidance.

+ The Escape Game created a sweet moment that filled us with a bit of unease, then cracked us up.

+ Throughout Playground, solves resolved to a variety of exciting reveals.

+ This was a low-stress escape room and a joyous experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Playground is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.
  • At least 2 players need to be able to step over, climb up, sit down, crawl… and generally play on a playground.

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

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game – Special Ops [Review]

It’s time to kick butt and go shoe shopping.

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Escape Game significantly leveled up their set design, technological capability, and narrative chops in Special Ops. This replacement for one of their original games, Classified, blew its predecessor away.

Special Ops played out in two acts: the first set in a Middle Eastern market and playing like a more traditional escape room, the second set in an evil bunker and focused heavily on narration and adventure. This made Special Ops feel like two games.

We loved the overall experience and preferred the second act, both for how dramatic it was and because the puzzles seemed just a little more refined than in the opening act.

All-in-all, this was an undeniably great game and well worth playing if you’re anywhere near Nashville or The Escape Game’s other locations.

In-game: a colorful Middle Eastern market with spices, fruit, shoes, and bags for sale.
Photo via The Escape Game

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Gorgeous set
  • Fantastic assortment of puzzles
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our team had been assigned to a routine investigation of the Ansar market. Our late night inspection of this criminal hotbed unexpectedly turned into a crisis of global proportions. It was up to us to stop it.

In-game: a high tech militaristic bunker.
Photo via The Escape Game

Setting

Special Ops was an escape room in two acts. Similarly to Classified we began in a Middle Eastern market and progressed into a villain’s lair. With Special Ops, however, the Escape Game has dramatically leveled up their set design and construction abilities (which weren’t shabby in their earlier games).

The Escape Game noted every construction detail. They even chose specific buttons that would enhance the player’s experience.

In-game: an upwards view the the heavily detailed middle eastern market.
Photo via The Escape Game

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Special Ops was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The two sets of Special Ops were detailed, beautiful, captivating… and so different from one another.

+ One of Special Ops opening interactions brilliantly broke with escape room tradition.

– The accessories for sale in the Middle Eastern market created strangely frustrating interactions. In one instance, we had a puzzle solved long before the input was available. In another instance, the game trained us to interact with it one way and then required us to take a different approach.

+ The first act included some phenomenal, tangible solves.

+ The second act delivered incredible visual feedback for a variety of tech-driven solves.

+ The Escape built clear clue-structure and user interfaces into the second act. The puzzles were challenging for all the right reasons. We felt like knowledgable, badass, world-savers.

– A video segment dragged… enough that we broke out of the moment and felt our time ticking away while we waited to get back to the game.

Special Ops included one puzzle type that repeated across both sets, with completely different implementation. At first we were unimpressed with the repetition. Upon reflection, we were impressed that the game built mastery, as the second implementation was more challenging.

Special Ops started off typically escape room-y, albeit in an atypically beautiful set, and evolved into a story-driven, mission-centric game. Depending on gameplay preferences, you will likely enjoy one half more than the other. This made Special Ops feel uneven… but considering how much different folks like each part, also rather impressive.

+ The Escape Game’s quality of set and interaction design was phenomenal; especially in the second act. There was a keypad that was so satisfying to push. This may seem like a minor detail, but it really underscored how above and beyond they went to produce a deliberate experience.

Special Ops final puzzle was fantastic.

Tips for Visiting

  • Special Ops is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.

Book your hour with The Escape Game’s Special Ops, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game [Overview]

Latest Update: October 19, 2019

The Escape Game is one of the easiest recommendations we make when people write in looking for games to play. It doesn’t matter which city. If there’s an Escape Game facility there, we know that their games and customer service are reliably good… which is not something that we can say for most escape room chains or franchises.

The visitor pushpin map from The Escape Game's lobby. It's covered in layers of pins and looks like a population density map of the USA.

Nashville is the original home of The Escape Game and they are seriously cleaning up in that market. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a busier escape room facility… and that goes for both of their Nashville locations.

Must Play

Playground

Playground was a joyful game with tons of puzzles for a large group. It won a Golden Lock-In Award in 2018 for its playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay.

Special Ops

With Special Ops, The Escape Game significantly leveled up their set design, technological capability, and narrative chops. This game replaced their older game Classified.

Gold Rush

This was our early favorite from The Escape Game. It has been our go-to recommendation for newbies for a long time. Experienced players will still enjoy many unusual features.

Mission Mars

We’ve sent a lot of folks to this game and they’ve all come back happy. Our review is tragically dated because we played it in beta. The Escape Game has made many improvements to it since then. Fun fact: after playing Mission Mars we decided to avoid beta testing altogether.

Worth Playing

Prison Break

This was one of The Escape Game’s most visually appealing escape rooms. The jail cells looked great and there’s a lot more than jail cells to the experience.

The Heist

This art heist pulled off the art gallery aesthetic. It was a challenging game with a ton of puzzle content and some nifty interactions. It has been updated significantly since we played it in 2016.

Nashville

The Escape Game’s original room has experienced some serious upgrades since its humble beginnings. It played a bit old-school, but it still had something interesting to offer.

What We Haven’t Reviewed Yet

Ruins: Forbidden Treasure

We’re pretty eager to see this one, but it hasn’t opened near us yet and we don’t know anyone who’s played it yet, so we don’t have a report. Stay tuned, we’ll have one soon enough.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve had a strong admiration for The Escape Game because we’ve never had someone come back from them disappointed.

If you’re new to escape rooms, this is a phenomenal place to start.

If you’re a well-traveled mega player, I’d be surprised to learn that your absolute favorite escape room came from The Escape Game. However, I am certain that you’ll have a good time and walk away from their facilities recognizing their customer service, attention to detail, consistency, and respect for players.

The Escape Game Nashville's merchandise area with a variety of t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and other products.
Even their swag is nice.

The Escape Game – Nashville [Review]

After years of players asking… we finally played Nashville.

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: February 11, 2018

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

Since it opened in 2014, Nashville has introduced many players to escape rooms… and gotten them hooked. We are thrilled to have played this escape room that folks have been asking us to visit almost since we started writing this blog.

Nashville was fun. The puzzles, set, and reveals all contributed to our enjoyment. While some puzzles felt dated, The Escape Game Nashville made upgrades to keep Nashville relevant.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Music fans
  • Tourists
  • Players who don’t mind math
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Nashville introduced so many escape room enthusiasts to escape rooms.
  • Local theme
  • Great old-school escape room puzzles

Story

Our up-and-coming band wanted legendary and retired producer Rick Teggen to produce our next record. Rumor had it that Teggen had hidden a contract in his old recording studio and had vowed to work with the band who could follow his clues to find it.

In-game: A massive stack of blonde Marshall amps.

Setting

Nashville was one of the earliest escape rooms around and one that got a lot of players hooked on escape rooms in general. If you played this room escape in the early days, you would hardly recognize it today, as The Escape Game upgraded it dramatically from their more humble beginnings. (We know this because we had passive teammates in the room who had played it years ago and were shocked by the enhancements.)

Nashville was a recording studio complete with mixing boards, amps, guitars, a recording booth, and memorabilia from famous people who had recorded in the legendary space. It looked sharp.

In-game: A music studio's mixing station.

Gameplay

Nashville was an old-school escape room that had been upgraded significantly. It was search heavy. The puzzling was focused on building connections and working through process puzzles.

There was also a bit of math, which was one of those love-it-or-hate-it interactions that used to be common, has fallen out of favor in American escape games, and doesn’t make an appearance in The Escape Game’s newer adventures.

In-game: closeup of a large mixing board.

Standouts

The Escape Game opened in 2014 with this locally-themed escape room. This, their original creation, embodied Nashville. The premise wasn’t entirely predictable either. It came together well.

The reveal. When Nashville opened, I imagine it would have been magical. Since then The Escape Game added just enough noise to maybe throw you off, even if you’ve played their other escape rooms and you’re expecting it.

Nashville clued a search puzzle with unexpected technology. It was a neat concept and far ahead of its time.

Shortcomings

This cluing didn’t quite work as seamlessly as we would have liked; the searching was still frustrating.

One puzzle needed to be solved on a flat surface, but we didn’t have an appropriate surface. Our choice of surface disrupted our gameplay.

Nashville leaned too heavily on one “paper puzzle” that could be solved without manipulating the set and props. Given the staging for the clues, a louder and more dynamic puzzle would have better fit the beat of the interaction.

Tips for Visiting

  • Parking: If you aren’t parking at Music City Center for a conference, we recommend the lot under the Metro Courthouse (accessible from Gay Street and from James Robertson Parkway) or the Nashville Public Library Garage (on Church Street between 6th and 7th Avenues).
  • Food: Demo’s Restaurant and Puckett’s

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

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Nashville, TN from July 27-29, 2018. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.