Trap Door Escape Room – Cure Z: Quarantine [Review]

Bigger, longer…

Location:  Bartonsville, PA

Date Played: August 25, 2019

Team size: up to 16; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $49.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Trap Door Escape Room builds big, strange, narrative-driven escape games. They have a style all their own and I’m into it.

Cure Z: Quarantine, the sequel to their retired second game Cure Z, was massive. It ran 120 minutes and took up a ridiculous amount of square footage. I cannot think of another escape game in the Northeastern US that’s anywhere near this big.

In-game: A test subject with dead eyes in a containment chamber.
Image via Trap Door.

What became clear over the 120 minutes was that what Trap Door Escape Room does well, they do really well: size, scale, narrative, effects, atmosphere. Trap Door Escape Room falls short in puzzle design and hinting.

The hinting seemed optimized around keeping us in the game for as close to 120 minutes as possible. This led to choppy gameplay. We found ourselves frustrated and wanting hints with no way of receiving them during much of the game… and then a flood of solutions wrapped as hints in the late game.

The puzzle quality was inconsistent with a few dreadful challenges. I have long believed that Trap Door Escape Room is a puzzle designer away from greatness. I think that now, more than ever.

Overall, I find myself coming back to the same feelings about Trap Door Escape Room. There is so much genius in their work… even when their puzzle play leaves me wondering, “was that even a puzzle?”

Trap Door Escape Room is all about spectacle and physicality and Cure Z: Quarantine brings what we’ve come to expect. If you’re near the Poconos, it’s well worth exploring; there isn’t anything else like it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Zombie fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s physically massive
  • 2-hour game clock
  • Fun interactions

Story

One year after the original zombie virus outbreak was contained, a large portion of the population takes Quiet Z by Quieten Pharma to suppress the disease.

With the world beginning to pull itself back from the brink, a new attack from a terrorist organization named 1 World Alliance could push society into collapse if we couldn’t contain the threat.

In-game: a strange coiled device glowing green.
Image via Trap Door.

Setting

Trap Door Escape Room likes building big… and Cure Z: Quarantine was among the largest escape rooms we’ve encountered in terms of square footage. There were many different rooms, each with a unique aesthetic and purpose.

The general quality of the build was fairly high. There was some variation in quality, complexity and intrigue from scene to scene, but Cure Z: Quarantine had a lot to love in the set department.

In-game: an old and rundown travel agency.
Image via Trap Door.

The game itself had an unusual opening sequence. I could call it theatrical, but not in the sense that you’re probably thinking. Trap Door Escape Rooms opened their game with a ~10-minute coming attractions reel for their other experiences before pivoting into a video briefing. This was really clever, although its runtime was excessive.

Finally, the first set – a police station – was the weakest in the game. It was just barely designed and it wasn’t an inspiring first impression. The good news was that things rapidly improved from there.

In-game: an alleyway with "zombies = people" painted on the wall.
Image via Trap Door.

Gameplay

Trap Door Escape Room’s Cure Z: Quarantine was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a red faux rotary pay phone.
Image via Trap Door.

Analysis

➕ Cure Z: Quarantine was an adventure. Foreboding, but not horror, this escape room had us racing through a large gamespace, exploring, solving, and interacting. It was exhilarating.

➕ The story of Cure Z: Quarantine worked. As we played, we learned more about the characters and the extent of the goings-on in this space. We understood the scenario and our role within it.

In-game: a dead body on the floor in the foreground, a zombie lurking in the background.
Image via Trap Door.

➕ As we played Cure Z: Quarantine, we were continually opening up new spaces. The floor plan was sizable and unusual. It was exciting to open up a new place. Trap Door Escape Room built some wonderful sets and drops. These were detailed and interesting. We had a continual sense of exploration and discovery throughout the experience.

➖ We played the entire game with flashlights. Although this could be justified by the staging, it was inhibiting as a player. We would have really liked spotlighting or a puzzle that revealed better light in key areas. 120 minutes by flashlight was too much.

➖ The puzzles needed additional refinement. Most puzzles seemed to be almost – but not quite entirely – clued. In one instance, we had the wrong tools to solve the puzzle. In another, the UI didn’t accept reasonable variation. At one point, the clues didn’t give us order. The puzzle-play dragged; it was the least exciting part of the experience.

➕ Trap Door Escape Room gated gameplay by illuminating the next input. In a game with such a large footprint and so many opportunities, this worked well to keep us on task.

➖ The hints weren’t hints; they were solutions. Trap Door Escape Room pushed us hints as they felt we needed them, based on our timing, but these hints came far later than we would have wanted them, long after we’d stopped enjoying solving a puzzle. When hints arrived, we could move forward again, but not in a satisfying way. We would have had stronger momentum with gentle nudges earlier in the game.

➕ The plot culminated with a nifty prop. The UI worked great. It delivered satisfying successes and humorous failures. It was fun to use. 

In-game: A dead person on an operating table in a green lit room, their organs are exposed.
Image via Trap Door.

➕/➖ Before our adventure began, we watched the previews… for Trap Door Escape Room’s other experiences at their other locations in New Jersey. We respect the hustle. It’s a smart move… if it were half the length, it would have been genius.

➕ The scope and size of Cure Z: Quarantine was admirable. Trap Door Escape Room isn’t afraid of throwing an incredible volume of square footage at a game; that’s pretty cool.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trap Door Escape Room is located at the back of the plaza. Drive behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • We highly recommend Pho Saigon II for a meal before or after your game. They are located in the same plaza.

Book your hour with Trap Door Escape Room’s Cure Z: Quarantine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door Escape Room comped our 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.

Trap Door Escape Room – Bogeyman [Review]

Who ya gonna call?

Location: Red Bank, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

REA Reaction

Bogeyman was an exhilarating hide-and-seek-and-puzzle game. Trap Door transformed their space into a maze where a potential scare lurked at every turn. The challenge and intrigue came from the menacing world of the Bogeyman. This escape room is not for the faint of heart.  

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Horror fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who can solve puzzles while scared

Why play?

  • The thrill of the looming bogeyman
  • The story
  • The finale

Story

After a number of children had been abducted under paranormal circumstances, we had been brought in to investigate the disappearances. Could we find the children before we became the Bogeyman’s next victims?

In-game: a paper sign tacked to a door that reads, "Alans room: no girls allowed that means you Lily."

Setting

The majority of Bogeyman was set in the bedrooms of the missing children. Each child’s bedroom revealed his/ her age, interests, personality, and circumstances, making them distinctive characters.

The Bogeyman’s presence was not implied; there was a live actor haunting our game. While he wasn’t out for blood, he was out for frights.

In-game: a string of child's art held up by clothespins, hanging over some kids toys.

Gameplay

Bogeyman was all about fear. While those of us who had played Zoe or had bravery kept our cool, some of our other teammates were paralyzed by fear.

Escape room camera image of a team puzzling and a guy cowering and sitting against a door, blocking it.
Game camera image provided by Trap Door.

There weren’t a ton of puzzles, but each one tied directly to a child and their life. The limited amount of puzzles worked just fine because the Bogeyman and our panicked friends were pretty effective at disrupting our flow.

Trap Door splits larger teams in two, starting them in different parts of the gamespace. I imagine that this split would make Bogeyman easier in some ways and more intense in others.

In-game: A strange purple glowing passageway.

Standouts

Bogeyman was scary. The lighting, actor, and gamespace kept us continually on edge, in a good way. The gamespace was never quite familiar or comfortable enough for us to let our guard down.

The actor was phenomenal. He kept track of our movements within the gamespace and delivered well-timed scares. He was menacing, but mysterious.

The dramatic ending delivered escalation and narrative closure.

The puzzle flow worked well with the structure of the space and the narrative. We enjoyed one interactive prop that fit the staging and added humor.

Shortcomings

As much as we enjoyed this interactive prop, it was distracting. It was a bit too easy to take this down a rabbit hole… which we did.

When we checked for monsters, we’d frequently find wiring. Trap Door could hide their tech more cleanly.

Bogeyman included one tight transition space. While it worked well in the gamespace, it will make Bogeyman inaccessible for larger and less agile players.

There was not enough light in Bogeyman. During the pre-game briefing we were told that we “could bring our phones in for light.” That instruction really ought to be, that we “should bring our phones in for light.” We didn’t all carry them into the game and thus we didn’t have adequate lighting. This was frustrating.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is an actor in this escape room. Read our 6 Rules For Playing Room Escapes with Live Actors.
  • Some crawling is required to traverse Bogeyman.
  • Bring your phone in as a flashlight. You’ll need it.
  • There is a large public parking lot across the street from Trap Door.
  • Red Bank has many excellent restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Book your hour with Trap Door Escape Room’s Bogeyman, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

 

Trap Door – Puzzles & Corks [Review]

🍷 The gateway drink.

Location: Morristown, NJ

Date played: July 31, 2017

Team size: 1-10; we recommend 2-5 thirsty puzzlers

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $37 per ticket

Story & setting

Puzzles & Corks was not an escape room. It was a light puzzle hunt that rewarded solves with a round of wine tasting.

Staged at high tables in the lobby of Trap Door, Puzzles & Corks was a puzzling spin on the girls’ night out genre popularized by Paint Nite.

In-game: A branded Puzzles & Corks wine glass held up before the set of high top tables with locked puzzle boxes.
Cheers

Each month Puzzles & Corks offers a series of puzzles and wines. We visited for the German wines.

Puzzles

Puzzles & Corks was rooted in paper puzzles, presented in slightly more tangle ways. Played in the absence of large set pieces, the puzzle components all fit in small boxes and on small tables.

All puzzles led to a lock… and another one ounce taste of wine for each player.

Standouts

Puzzles & Corks introduces puzzling by combining it with a more popular leisure activity, wine tasting. It’s an unintimidating initiation for anyone wary to spend an hour entirely focused on puzzles.

The gamespace, sectioned off from the rest of Trap Door’s lobby, was conducive to both tasting and puzzling. There was room to maneuver, crowd around a puzzle, or move off to an empty table with a tasting pour.

The pacing worked well. We didn’t spend too long on any one puzzle or any one wine.

The wine was delicious.

If you like the game, you can play it 12 times per year.

A Puzzles & Corks loyalty card. The 6th game is free.

Shortcomings

While the wine was themed, we would have liked to see a more cohesive collection of puzzles, along the lines of Puzzled Pint. This would make the puzzles more engaging.

Some of the puzzles seemed not quite complete. For example, we’d derive numbers, but then guess at an input order. On multiple occasions strong puzzles had a weak finish. One puzzle was too imprecise.

Should I play Trap Door’s Puzzles & Corks?

Trap Door created Puzzles & Corks for a different audience – not the avid puzzlers who spend their weekends in escape rooms. The puzzles were less involved, non-immersive, and less engaging than what we’ve come to expect from escape rooms. For non-practiced puzzlers, they are also less intimidating, but certainly still challenging… especially if you aren’t an avid puzzler.

With Puzzles & Corks, Trap Door has a business model that caters to repeat business in a way escape rooms cannot. With less involved construction, the puzzle elements can be swapped out each month and the customers enticed with new wines. We hope that Trap Door can keep up with the puzzle design and play testing necessary for a monthly cycle because this idea is pretty great. We know that there is a large audience of people who are intimidated by the escape room concept. Puzzles & Corks provides a fantastic soft entry into the hobby.

For escape room enthusiasts and other more experienced puzzlers, know that Puzzles & Corks is not designed for you. It was a fun time, but it was a different sort of activity. It was as much about sipping wine as it was about solving puzzles.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s Puzzles & Corks, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – F5 [Review]

Puzzle storm.

Location: Morristown, NJ

Date played: July 31, 2017

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

As a tornado approached, we needed to navigate a corn field and secure ourselves in the barn’s storm cellar to survive.

Trap Door created a ominous atmosphere for F5. An abundance of corn stalks rustled in the dim light and loud wind of the impending storm. We were equipped with only a handheld radio, our strength, and our wits.

In-game: A kid's bicycle with a teddy bear in the basket abandoned beside a gate. An ominous corn field is beyond it.

F5 was part escape room and part obstacle course. A pair of massive fans blew and the projections of a tornado drew closer as we climbed, crawled, and moved heavy objects to navigate the corn maze towards the safety of the barn’s storm cellar.

Puzzles

F5 was both mentally and physically demanding. We determined how items interacted and then we exerted the strength or dexterity necessary to accomplish each feat.

F5 also included some more typical escape room-type puzzles that did not require feats of strength, agility, or dexterity.

Standouts

We loved the premise of F5. We don’t often escape into shelter and we had never been chased by a killer storm before.

Trap Door constructed a compelling Midwestern landscape into their suburban building. They minded the set details. The lighting, sound, and giant fans added dramatic effects. We could easily imagine the impending tornado barreling toward us, which motivated us to move swiftly.

The hint system was funny and served to further the fiction.

There was an incredibly satisfying Zelda-inspired puzzle. David was a little sad that the Zelda puzzle sound didn’t chime when we solved it… until one of our teammates sang it herself.

The physicality of Trap Door’s puzzle-by-way-of-obstacle course design intensified the experience. These integrated challenges made F5 special.

Shortcomings

The final act of F5 abandoned the obstacle course aspect of the game’s design for a more typical escape room-style series of puzzles. In doing so, it shifted away from what made it exciting and the tension cooled before we made it to the finish line.

Toward the end, the puzzles relied on “escape room logic” rather than continuing to work within the environment as the previous puzzles had. The puzzles worked, but they didn’t feel natural within the game.

Should I play Trap Door’s F5?

F5 was unlike any other escape room we’ve visited to date. It was an obstacle course and a puzzle game, dramatically staged, and integrated into one complete adventure. It was more escape room than Boda Borg and more strenuous than… most other escape rooms.

If you like both physical and mental challenges, you will enjoy this.

While you don’t have to be physically fit to succeed in F5, you will need to climb over and crawl through obstacles. Your teammates can assist you, but they can’t do these things for you. I recommend bringing at least one teammate who actively seeks this type of activity.

Do not wear a skirt, heels, or other impractical clothing to F5.

Trap Door has taken necessary safety precautions in designing and constructing F5. It was a safe experience. That said, you could certainly get hurt, especially if, in the excitement of the moment, you aren’t smart about how you move through this adventure.

The gymnast-kid in me loved F5. The decidedly indoor-kid in David loved F5 too. We each tackled it in our own way and left smiling.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s F5, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – Witch Hunt [Review]

“She’s a witch! Burn her!”

Location: Morristown, NJ

Date played: February 13, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

With an accused witch waiting at the gallows, we had an hour to search her residence to find evidence of her guilt or innocence.

Set against a fictionalized 17th century witch hunt, the game was staged inside a dark and creepy home. Witch Hunt flirted with horror, but remained approachably intense for all but the most timid of players.

In-game: A close-up of a mantle with candles, a stone bust, and a a copper plate sitting atop it.

The home itself was dimly lit and fairly compelling. There were a few brilliant details, but also a few modern items that stood out a little too strongly. Post-game we learned that the local fire marshal was very assertive in Trap Door’s design process.

In-game: A fire burning in a small cauldron hung by chains.

Puzzles

Trap Door leaned heavily on narrative, but not at the expense of gameplay. The puzzling felt strong and kept our whole team involved.

We’ve knocked Trap Door for issues of gameflow and puzzle design in our previous visits to their Red Bank, NJ location. I am happy to say that those issues were not present in Witch Hunt.

Standouts

Trap Door has always leaned into their exceptional video production skills. This was absolutely true of Witch Hunt. Their use of video was brilliant.

The puzzles largely felt born of the narrative. This was true of the hint system as well.

The set and props had some magnificent details that both brought the room escape to life and tied everything together.

In-game: A table with a cutting board, herbs, and other cooking utensils and ingredients lit by candle.

Witch Hunt instilled a sense of adventure in our team that lasted the entire experience, which ultimately escalated to a wonderful climax.

Shortcomings

Lighting was our greatest foe in Witch Hunt. We were provided with one lantern for our team of 6; dim LED candles could be used for light in a pinch. Making light into a scarce resource slowed the gameplay and created situations where a player’s primary role became light holder… and in the words of Errol of REDivas, “No one wants to be lamp holder.” Witch Hunt could benefit from either more lamps or the addition of some built-in lighting in key locations.

While the hint system was excellent, most of our team had a hard time hearing the hints or even knowing that they were being delivered.

I would love to see Trap Door continue to level up their skills as immersive set designers by finding ways to create smoother physical puzzle interactions and hide their tech a little more. If the wires, magnets, and seams were to disappear, Witch Hunt would have felt considerably more magical.

Should I play Trap Door’s Witch Hunt?

Witch Hunt feels like the game that Trap Door has been trying to make for 2 years. Each time we’ve visited them, we’ve understood their desire to make us feel a story through their room escape, but it just didn’t come together. Until Witch Hunt.

Witch Hunt is a force to be reckoned with in the ever-strengthening northern New Jersey escape room scene. It’s a game that could be enjoyed by both newbies and experienced escape room players as long as everyone is comfortable with the darkness and the intense theme.

Regardless of your skill level, play hard. Witch Hunt is a trial by fire.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s Witch Hunt, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – Cure Z [Review]

Out with the serial killer super villain and in with the zombie hoard.

Location: Red Bank, NJ

Date played: August 7, 2016

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Trap Door’s Cure Z was a zombie thriller in the spirit of Resident Evil. An evil pharmaceutical company produced a drug, which produced a zombie outbreak, which produced a dystopia.

The game was staged in Trap Door’s massive two-story gamespace. It occupied the exact same area as their previous escape room, but they had completely refactored the layout and flow of the space. The serial killer murder home vibe was replaced with a dark, gritty, creepy, and rundown zombie research facility.

A zombie locked away in a chamber beside a boarded up window.

Each room in the facility served a different purpose; some were more visually impressive than others. Most of the game felt a little bit empty just by virtue of how much space Trap Door had on their hands. Where their first game had a generally linear progression, Cure Z was more of an open world experience as most of the gamespace was available for exploration early on.

Puzzles

As with their previous game, Trap Door offered a reasonable degree of difficulty in Cure Z. While challenging, the puzzles felt uneven. There weren’t a lot of puzzles and props to interact with, but some of these puzzles required a lot of time and effort.

Structurally, this created situations where a few players puzzled while many others watched or listened. Participation was possible, but far more difficult for those who weren’t already in the fray.

Standouts

I have to give Trap Door credit. Going in, I knew the layout of the space and expected a similar feel and flow in their second outing. They immediately shattered that expectation by creating a new door as the point of entry. Nothing about this game felt rehashed from The Architect.

When Trap Door created a great set piece, it was pretty damn great. At their best, they have the ability to merge video, physical fabrication, and a little bit of technology to create truly interesting things from simple components.

Trap Door used their environment to create an ominous and threatening vibe without pushing too deeply into horror.

Shortcomings

By opening up the whole space early, they eliminated the fear that they so wonderfully created; the unknown is a powerful force.

When their staging was on, it was on. Unfortunately, the staging was uneven. Some sections of the game felt barren and boring when juxtaposed against the more interesting rooms.

The physical space of the game was too large for its contents. There wasn’t enough game to fill such a large location. This spacing issue also made for one of the most irritating blacklight goose chases I’ve been on in a while. And when I found what needed fluorescing, it wasn’t vibrant enough.

While I didn’t dislike the puzzles, some of them overstayed their welcome. There was too much to parse. In the end, the bulk of Cure Z happened in a couple of massive puzzles.

Trap Door had a long list of specific rules. The nuance of their wording mattered a great deal and a slight misinterpretation could burn a lot of time. This puts extra pressure on teams that really try to obey the rules… and even more pressure on a certain pair of escape room enthusiasts who play so many games that they can’t always keep the rules straight from company to company. This problem wasn’t unique to Trap Door; it is more common in suburban games that cater to families. That said, it was an issue that surfaced strongly in this game.

Should I play Trap Door’s Cure Z?

I haven’t been shy about being bored with zombies (both in pop culture and escape rooms), but I enjoyed Trap Door’s take on the genre. They kept it playful while still making it dark. They didn’t go for gross or over-the-top horror. They cleverly made the zombies characters in their game.

Cure Z’s puzzling felt uneven with some that solved rapidly and others that took the bulk of the game. The set was massive, but there wasn’t a lot going on in much of it. This ultimately hampered the flow of a game that otherwise should have felt gigantic and intense.

Last go around, I really let Trap Door have it for withholding a walkthrough when we failed on the final puzzle. A fair amount of their audience returns to play after having lost, but they now give players the option of a walkthrough if they pass the 50% mark.

Trap Door produces unique games. We have never played another company that feels like theirs, which is both unusual and admirable. It’s clear that they are working hard to produce interesting and unusual games. Thus some will love them and others won’t. We love the Trap Door gang and have a ton of fun with them… but we didn’t love Cure Z.

That said, if you’re near Red Bank, NJ, can climb stairs, and are open to a gritty looking game, you should go check them out and decide for yourself. Their game is interesting and unusual enough to warrant a visit.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s Cure Z, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – Escape The Architect [Review]

If you lose, The Architect does something truly villainous.

Location: Red Bank, New Jersey

Date played: December 6, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 6-8

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & theme

As a team of special agents, we were sent into the lair of a criminal who goes by the moniker “The Architect.” The objective was to find a MacGuffin left behind by agents who failed their mission, and use the item to finish the job.

The Architect was basically a Jigsaw-like character and the game itself was set inside of a booby-trapped murder house. While distinctive, Escape The Architect had many seemingly deliberate parallels to the Saw movie franchise.

That being said, the game itself wasn’t particularly scary; that was a good thing. If you’re jittery, you might find the setting a bit intimidating. However, Escape The Architect didn’t come close to crossing the threshold into horror.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Timer
Somewhere hidden in this picture is my favorite puzzle in months.

The game itself takes place in a two-story building and it spans both floors. It’s a large game (especially by northeastern US standards) and each room in the game has a distinctive feel, purpose, and objective. With the notable exception of one room that had what amounted to a diorama and a green screen, it all came together really well. The diorama-like setup was out of place and confusing.

A game with character

The folks from Trapdoor have a background in video production. They previously made online puzzle adventures that involved real-life actors. This experience carried over into Escape The Architect in the form of video and auditory interactions with The Architect, who took pleasure in taunting us over the PA system.

The “presence” of The Architect gave the game a comic-booky feel that worked for me. It felt a little like we were squaring off against a bonkers Riddler-like villain who kind of wanted to get caught. Given the Batman sticker that I saw on a laptop in Trapdoor’s reception area, I’m thinking that was all by design.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Windows
Windows?! The Architect truly is a monster!

Physical involvement

Nearly every puzzle in Escape The Architect had a level of physical involvement that I found refreshing. On top of that, no two puzzles were even remotely alike.

There was a lot to do in Escape The Architect and it managed to keep every person on our team engaged throughout the entire game. Even when we stalled out on a puzzle we all remained busy. That’s a rare feat.

Artificial bottleneck

Dropping multiple locks on a door or a chest is a generally monotonous practice. From the player perspective, it makes the little victories I experience from solving puzzles feel hollow because there is no payoff.

In this situation, a failure to solve one lock brings the game to a total halt. That happened to us in a major way. If it weren’t for how quickly we worked through most of the early puzzles, the slowdown could have been catastrophic.

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Locks
I hear you like locks.

Respawning, for a second play?

Trapdoor offers teams who do not win a “medpack,” or a coupon to return at a 50% discount during the week to reattempt the game. They do not offer walkthroughs to teams who fail. They hold to this policy regardless of how much game is remaining.

We lost near the end of the game. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

I asked our gamemaster at the end if he was serious about not providing a walkthrough and he affirmed that he was dead serious.

I don’t know how the final puzzle concludes, but I have a very strong hunch.

I traveled over an hour to get to Red Bank, New Jersey to play Escape The Architect and I had to visit on a weekend. There is no chance I will be returning during the week. Even if returning during the week were an option, if I were to replay this game, I could get to the place where our game ended within 10-15 minutes… And if my hunch about the final puzzle is correct, I’d be out very shortly after that.

The notion that I would pay 50% and drive a two hour round trip for a few minutes of gameplay where I can still remember all of the lock combinations is insulting.

If we hadn’t made it past the halfway mark, then I think that a second chance would sound pretty enticing. Hell, if we lived nearby and we hadn’t made it past the three quarter mark, I think I’d consider another attempt. However, I’ve seen most of this game and I live way too far from Red Bank to even consider this offer.

When a team is as close to the end as we were, tell us the damn answer… Especially when we traveled a long way to play the game. Don’t ask for more money and tell us to come back another time to experience 4% more game.

Should I play Trapdoor’s Escape The Architect?

Escape The Architect is large, fun, and physical without requiring athleticism.

The fiction that Trapdoor has worked to build isn’t necessarily compelling, but it is entertaining, and that’s more than enough to push the story forward.

The manner in which they set up this villain to literally and figuratively antagonize us as we worked our way through his house of puzzles and traps added a dimension to the game that added tension, and laughs.

However, I cannot endorse Trapdoor’s handling of the post game. Their expectation that I would return and pay them 50% the price of admission so that I could replay they same game and take another swing at one puzzle is laughable and only served to sour what was otherwise a positive experience.

There’s no hard feelings. After the game, we had a ton of fun together shooting an episode of Trapdoor UNLOCKED… You should check it out because it’s hilarious (and contains a scene that my parents can never unsee).

Bring the best team you can, because Trapdoor has no mercy.

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

Trapdoor - Escape the Architect - Guns & Tone
“GET TO THE CHOPPA!”