Escape From St. Louis – Murder at Denbrough Mansion [Review]

Clue did it?

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 22, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3v3 or 4v4 (They have 2 copies are you can play competitively.)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $34 per player for team of 2 to $24 per player for team of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Murder at Denbrough Mansion was an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. We had a dead man, a series of suspects, and a lot of personal effects from those suspects. We had to analyze the information and conclude who had committed the murder, why, and with what weapon.

The stakes were raised by the fact that Escape From St. Louis had two copies of this escape game and we were racing against the other team. (My team beat David’s in this game; our competitive record is once again even.)

In-game: Denbrough dining room table, and breakfront.

While the story and mystery were loaded with details, the set wasn’t inspiring and the input mechanism for solving the crime was as out of place as it was clunky to operate.

We enjoyed Murder at Denbrough Mansion for its unusual take on the murder mystery deduction genre of escape games. It was different and had some good gameplay moments. If that’s something that appeals to you and you’re in St. Louis, then you should take a stab at solving this crime.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Competitive groups

Why play?

  • You can play competitively against your friends
  • Challenging but fair deduction puzzle

Story

Philip K. Denbrough had been brutally murdered in his mansion after hosting a dinner party with all of his friends and family. We had to gather evidence, analyze it, and solve his murder.

In-game: Denbrough's dining room.

Setting

Murder at Denbrough Mansion was staged within a dining room-like environment. It wasn’t fancy or particularly exciting, but it conveyed the setting.

The set was fine, but it wasn’t the reason to visit Escape From St. Louis.

In-game: the breakfront in Denbrough's dining room.

Gameplay

Escape From St. Louis’ Murder at Denbrough Mansion was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Escape From St. Louis has two identical copies of this escape room. They offer the option to book both copies and play competitively.

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

In-game: a system for organizing suspects, weapons, and motives.

Analysis

Murder at Denbrough Mansion culminated in a giant deduction puzzle. The deduction elements made sense and the puzzles generally flowed well.

➕ Escape From St. Louis provided the tools (different types of charts) to solve the murder. We had our choice of different ways to keep track of the information and reason out a solution.

➕ As we solved the puzzles, we learned about the characters and their relationships and motives. While these were surface level revelations, it gave the playthrough added depth.

➕/ ➖ Escape From St. Louis built a solution input mechanism into the game. They designed it such that we couldn’t brute force our way to the solution of this murder. It was, however, an odd contraption to have on the wall in the dining room.

Murder at Denbrough Mansion took place in a dining room… with a murder-solving input mechanism. It was a serviceable, but uninspired set. The set was simply a container for the deduction gameplay.

➕ Escape From St. Louis had put a lot of thought in the nuances of the items within the game. We “brought” some of the evidence into the room with us because in the narrative it had been gathered at the homes of some of the other suspects. This was a level of nuance often forgotten by game designers.

In-game: A pile of evidence found elsewhere and brought to the crime scene for analysis.

➖ Some of the later puzzles could have used a bit tighter cluing. A few of the logical connections we needed to make seemed a step off.

➖ The triumphal moment of solving the murder fell flat. It wasn’t entirely clear how to register that solution. As the winning team, we were confused whether we’d won, as we could still hear the audio of the other team playing.

➕/➖ We enjoyed playing this room competitively against our friends. For those keeping track at home, we are now tied again at 3 wins each in competitive escape games against each other. That said, it would have been more interesting if there had been opportunities for the two groups to impact one another or even be aware of each other’s progress.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking is available on the street in front of the location, as well as in a private lot behind the building.
  • Stay organized while playing this escape room.

Book your hour with Escape From St. Louis’ Murder at Denbrough Mansion, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape From St. Louis provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Project Escape – Saw [Review]

How did one team win by 6 seconds?! Read the epic tale.

Location: Marietta, GA

Date Played: March 24, 2018

Team size: up to 6 per room; we recommend 3-5 per room (book both copies and put even teams in each room)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Project Escape’s Saw looked as good as it played. This team vs team competitive game wasn’t particularly challenging, but the intensity of the competition amped up the excitement of the experience.

Lisa and I once again played against one another and my team won by 6 seconds. For those keeping score at home, we are now 2 & 2 against one another.

If you’re anywhere nearby and have enough people to play Saw competitively, I’d encourage you to do so.

In-game: A rundown white tiled room with a big slop sink and a toilet.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Competitive escape room players

Why play?

  • Competitive gameplay
  • Great set design
  • Strong puzzles

Story

We woke up handcuffed to our friends in a strange room. In the next room, another group of victims were locked up in the same manner.

Only the first group to escape would emerge unharmed.

It was Saw staged as a team vs team battle… and without all of the blood, screaming, death, and dismemberment.

In-game: A rundown white tiled room with lockers and a maze along the back wall.

Setting

Project Escape did a great job of capturing the dirty white-tiled aesthetic of the original Saw film. The gamespace was detailed and eerie, without instilling terror. It was well lit and easy to focus on gameplay.

In-game: An exit door with 5 glowing lights above it.

Gameplay

Project Escape’s Saw was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty and a team vs team twist.

Competitive play was handled Race To Escape style. Two teams competed in mirror image rooms. Each room had five different paths of puzzles that resolved linearly. At the conclusion of each puzzle path, we earned a key that would turn on a light. Both teams could see their own lights as well as the opposing team’s lights. The first team to trigger all five of their own lights won.

When a team requested a hint, both teams received the same hint.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The competitive gameplay was exciting. This was especially true given the two overpowered teams we fielded. We created our own pressure to succeed. It was real and exhilarating.

– When the opposing team triggered a light, it was too subtle. We frequently didn’t realize it had happened until quite a bit later. Project Escape missed this opportunity to add drama to the experience.

+ The puzzles were well executed. Some offered unique challenges; others allowed us to build skill and mastery.

– One team (the winning team) had some seriously weak batteries in a handheld light. This was a significant annoyance and could have turned into a game-breaking barrier.

+ The handcuffed opening limited our access to the scope of the room until we had earned our freedom. This provided a good on-ramp for teams to learn the basics.

+ The set looked great and was easy to operate within. We weren’t straining for light and even our most nervous players were unaffected by fear. This was a concern for some going into a Saw-themed game.

– If you’re expecting horror from a Saw-themed game, your undead princess is in another castle.

? There were no opportunities to interact with the opposing team during gameplay. The effects of this were mixed. On one hand, it was a clean race. On the other hand, this limited the tension, strategy, and tactics available.

+ Hints were fair and designed to prevent blowouts by helping keep a team from falling too far behind.

– The light indicators were laid out in a peculiar and confusing manner. The teams were labeled “Team A” & “Team B.” One would assume that Team A’s lights would be on top, and Team B’s the bottom. Strangely each room had the same layout of “us” on top and “them” on the bottom. Clue indicators, however, followed the more comfortable A on the top, B on the bottom layout. This was all especially annoying for Team B. Consistency and better labeling would have helped.

+ Each room had its own gamemaster overseeing the experience.

– The system didn’t know which team had won. In the case of our game, the 6 second difference in escape times meant that both teams were initially told that they had won. I suspect that Escape Room Master doesn’t have proper functionality for managing these aspects of competitive gameplay.

+ Both teams are allowed the full hour of gameplay. When one team wins, the other team is still allowed to play out the experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking out front.
  • Note that if you book multiple games at Project Escape, you might have to drive/walk around the building complex between games because they aren’t all located at the same entrance.

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

Disclosure: Project Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Getout Games – The Heist [Review]

Race for the gold.

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Date Played: January 4, 2018

Team size: 4-40 (4 copies of the room, each for up to 10 players); we recommend 3-5 per room

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

REA Reaction

We have mixed feelings about The Heist. Getout Games played with some truly brilliant game mechanics in creating a beginner-friendly competitive escape room. Unfortunately the first half of the game was underwhelming and it left us wishing that Getout Games had focused more on the unique elements of this escape room.

Who is this for?

  • Best for beginners
  • Teams looking to compete
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • To race your friends
  • The mid-game puzzles
  • A brilliant final set

Story

Notorious Salt Lake City mob boss Crazy Coz had left his office for the day. We were seeking to relieve him of some of the gold it was rumored he had been trafficking.

Game Door: Door placard that reads "Crazy Coz Mob Boss"

Setting

The Heist took place in Crazy Coz’s rented office… which didn’t look all the much like an office, let alone a notorious mobster’s office. It had white walls with a few hangings, a few simple pieces of furniture, and some knickknacks.

In-game: A bare bones room with a lamp illuminating a golf bag and an air purifier.

The initial gamespace was about as uninspiring as escape rooms get. Fortunately as The Heist progressed, the set became increasingly more interesting. Getout Games staged the final act in a really cool manner.

Gameplay

The Heist was a competitive escape room. Multiple teams could simultaneously race for the gold in up to four adjacent sets.

The Heist was an old-school search-and-puzzle escape room that improved over the course of the experience. The first half was mundane. The second half offered quite a bit more intrigue.

Standouts

Getout Games excelled at the transitions in this escape room. Although they used escape room standbys, they delivered. One was impressively concealed. Another was overt, but smoothly executed.

We enjoyed one mid-game puzzle sequence that changed our perspective.

The Heist was a race. We wanted to find the gold before the other team. If we had been neck and neck as we approached our prize, oh wow, would it have been a dramatic conclusion.

Shortcomings

As it was, we won decidedly. Because of this, the conclusion was underwhelming. We recommend that Getout Games shuffle the puzzle flow to increase the chances for a dramatic race to the gold. Otherwise, the unique staging is a missed opportunity. While it’s always possible for one team to absolutely blow out another, we suggest stacking the odds in favor of perceived competition, even if one team has a significant edge.

The setting was unimpressive. Getout Games could make the office facade more believable or play up the mob boss character. Either one would give the early game more depth.

Much of this escape room took place in the dark with poor flashlights. There didn’t seem to be any reason for this frustrating game mechanic.

We experienced three reset failures during our one playthrough of The Heist.

Tips for Visiting

  • Much of The Heist takes place in the dark, with flashlights.
  • The Heist could be played by a single team, but you will be missing something if it’s not played competitively.
  • Getout Games has a large lobby and ample parking.

Book your hour with Getout Games’ The Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Puzzalarium – The Floor is Lava [Review]

“Oh my.”

Location: San Diego, CA

Date played: December 3, 2017

Team size: 7-25; we recommend as many players as you can gather

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket, $5 discounts for students, seniors, and veterans, or parties of 15 players or more

REA Reaction

The Floor is Lava was not an escape room at all. It was a human-scale social deduction game that happened to be at an escape room facility. It was massive and fun. The set was fantastic. I wish that it weren’t on the other side of the continent.

Who is this for?

  • Social deduction game players, think Werewolf or Mafia
  • People who can handle winning and losing like an adult
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It was a gigantic board game where humans were pieces
  • Skill-based gameplay where we could build mastery
  • The set

Story

The Floor is Lava was not an escape room. It was a social deduction game like Mafia, Werewolf, or Two Rooms & A Boom. The gamemaster secretly and randomly divided the group into two teams and assigned each player a special power. Then we chose our places on the islands. Falling off… or being “encouraged” off an island meant death… because the floor was lava.

In-game: The Floor is Lava set, a series of islands within a volcano linked by glowing blue paths.

Setting

The Floor is Lava was set within a volcano. There were islands (yoga mats) connected by illuminated paths that were safe to traverse. Everything else on the floor was – you guessed it – lava (shredded tire rubber).

Gameplay

The rules of The Floor is Lava were simple to learn and clearly explained in this video narrated by an amazing George Takei impersonator:

In a nutshell, as we entered the gamespace we reached our hands into a bag and each player removed on orange chip.

One side of the chip had a red or black dot on it. That indicated our team. The other side showed a special power that we could use for that round of the game.

More powers with increasingly complex and nuanced mechanics were introduced with each subsequent round. Two of the starter powers included:

  • “Phoenix” allowed the bearer of the power to immediately reenter the game after being killed one time in a round.
  • “Vindictive” allowed the bearer of the power to name any other player to die too, upon the bearer’s death .

The gameplay was simple. If I was standing on an island with another player I could ask to share my chip with them. We could:

  • Share team
  • Share power
  • Share all

Once a duo committed to a share, there was no backing out.

“Combat” within The Floor is Lava took the form of hip-checking. We could not use our arms, but we could bump other players off of an island with our hips.

If we touched the floor at any point in the game for any reason, we were out… because the floor was lava.

Once out, dead players could impact the game by voting to send dead players back in and by voting to sink or surface islands.

Standouts

Everyone had a ton of fun. Whether a player was introverted or extroverted, passive or confrontational, The Floor is Lava was entertaining.

The set was incredible. It glowed. It was gorgeous.

The set was also comfortable on our unshod feet. Puzzalarium constructed yoga-mat islands and tire-rubber lava. We could balance, jump, or fall without injury. We never had to worry while strategizing gameplay.

In each round, we each drew a power and a team. The powers were awesome. They balanced each other. They also forced us to continually change our own gameplay strategy. There were some seriously entertaining powers.

Puzzalarium introduced The Floor is Lava through an entertaining and informative video. From there, our gamemaster added more complexity with each round. The Floor is Lava could quickly become overly complex, with so many different “powers” available (at random) to the players. Puzzalarium’s smooth onboarding enabled us to just get a handle on things before they threw another wrench into our strategizing.

The Floor is Lava was replayable. In fact, I’d imagine the more you play, the more fun it could be. I would absolutely love to play it again with an experienced, competitive group. I imagine that the dynamics would change dramatically with a group where everyone fully understood the game from the get-go.

When we died, we could watch the game on a screen in another room and take actions that affected gameplay.

Shortcomings

While we did get to participate after death, players who died early struggled to be relevant and engaged.

The hip checking game mechanic meant that size was a huge advantage in the The Floor is Lava. Our group included some small women, a few big guys, and a lot of folks in between. To a large extent, size determined strategy. In some cases, it meant avoiding confrontation with the big guys.

It was hard to notice when an island was sinking. We would have liked more dramatic lighting or sound cues for that. It wasn’t fun to die on a sinking island, never having realized that we were in danger.

Due to the learning curve of rules, strategy, and tactics, the pacing was uneven. As an inexperienced group of players, most of the excitement didn’t unfold until the third and final round. Earlier rounds felt a little sluggish. I expect this would change with a more experienced group.

Tips for Visiting

  • People will see your socks.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • It’s a light contact game.
  • If you have a group of serious gamers, think about booking a double session.

Book your hour with Puzzalarium’s The Floor is Lava, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Puzzalarium comped our tickets for this game.