Puzzle Out – Grand Theft Jersey City [Review]

You’ll never guess what that shoe cost.

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: September 25, 2017

Team size: 4-30; we recommend 4-16… Note that they have two copies of the game and larger teams can split and play head-to-head, 16 = 8 vs 8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

Grand Theft Jersey City took place in a bank vault, where we were trying to steal as much loot as possible… and more than our friends stole… and then escape with it all.

Each of the valuables had a barcode affixed to it. We “stole” them by scanning the barcodes. As we scanned each item, its dollar value was added to our running total.

The space looked more like a museum than a vault, with white walls, bright lights, and valuables in glass cases.

In game: A museum-esque vault behind a gave. There is the Mona Lisa, a dress, and many cases of rare artifacts.

Puzzles

Grand Theft Jersey City was loaded with puzzles. Most puzzles lead to a scannable valuable. Some puzzles were stand-alone and others were interconnected.

While the puzzles had physical components, they were generally more cerebral than tangible. They relied on logic, ciphering, math, and observation, among other skills.

There were additional bonus puzzles labeled with a green and gold star. These indicated high dollar value items that were not necessary for victory. The bonus puzzles were especially challenging.

Standouts

The barcode concept worked really well. It enabled Puzzle Out to create a heist where we didn’t have to hang onto or keep track of a ton of large and heavy loot.

The barcode concept even factored into the puzzling. This was a brilliant puzzle design. It was challenging, rewarding, and fit right into the overall gameplay.

There were many fun and satisfying puzzles to solve within this escape room. Puzzle Out did simple, puzzle-driven gameplay really well. This has been Puzzle Out’s signature each time we’ve visited.

Grand Theft Jersey City kept our teams of 7 experienced players each fully engaged throughout the experience… and we were all playing for just under an hour.

As a head-to-head game, Grand Theft Jersey City was intense. We were scurrying around solving for and scanning loot as rapidly as possible. We could see our dollar value and the opposing team’s increasing on a screen. As the minutes ticked away at the end, and we could see that we were neck and neck, we debated whether to escape or try to add more money to our tally.

The soundproofing between the two games was excellent. We may have been next to one another, but we never heard the other team.

Shortcomings

While Puzzle Out leaned into their strength, challenging puzzles, we would have loved to see more attention to the set. It never felt like we were in a vault.

Some of the puzzles – and especially one of the more complex layered puzzles – was suffering from wear and tear.

We relied heavily on the barcode scanning app. While it generally worked, a few small UI tweaks would greatly improve the experience… and make one particular puzzle a lot more fair.

The scanner app was also a little too slow to respond and sometimes failed to scan an item at all. Our gamemasters were on top of this and promptly added the correct dollar value to our score.

The excitement came from the head-to-head gameplay as the monetary values increased. We would have loved to see a more interactive head-to-head design where one team’s gameplay could impact the other’s. That would have further increased the drama.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City?

Grand Theft Jersey City was a game for puzzle lovers of any experience level.

You could easily book this for a few friends to play together without the competitive aspect and have a great time.

I’d recommend, however, that when you visit, you go all out. Bring two teams of evenly matched puzzlers and distribute the skill sets across the teams. Make sure you have at least one person per team who is willing to work a scanning device. Also, if you’re bringing large teams, someone will likely need to play “project manager” to keep the puzzling, loot, and gameplay organized.

While Grand Theft Jersey City was a heist in name, it was really a puzzle battle.

Book your hour with Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Out comped our tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Faceoff [Review]

LET’S GET READY TO PUZZLE!

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

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

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Faceoff was a head-to-head competitive room escape game. America’s Escape Game elected to forgo any kind of story or pretense in favor of a red-team-versus-blue-team competition.

The room’s aesthetic had kind of a 1980s TV competition feel to it. Pretty much everything on the red side was painted a slightly washed out red, and nearly everything on the blue side was painted a washed out blue. In the middle there were a number of different ways to interact with the other team.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but we were moving too quickly to care.

Two head-to-head faces. The red one is on fire. The blue one is radiating electricity.
Faceoff’s exterior wall painting. There was nothing worth photographing inside of the game that didn’t spoil something.

Puzzles

There were a number of different pattern recognition puzzles as well as physically involved dexterity challenges.

America’s Escape Game also mixed in an element of negotiation, which was unusual and interesting.

We split into teams as women versus men: Lisa teamed up with Amanda Harris (to my knowledge, the most experienced escape room player in the English-speaking world). I teamed up with Amanda’s boyfriend Drew Nelson (probably the second most experienced player).

It was intense and we were neck and neck for most of the game… until we were outclassed by their pattern recognition skills. In the closing moments of the game, they pulled off a spectacular win with partial information.

Standouts

Leaving story out of Faceoff was a good decision. The game was us versus them. That was all the motivation that we needed.

The head-to-head competition was good fun. In our particular case, the evenly matched teams heightened the experience and made the stakes feel much larger than in most escape rooms.

The negotiation component added complexity to the competition.

The design of the space created some interesting opportunities for interplay between the two teams.

Shortcomings

One of the more physical challenges was awkwardly constructed and forced most involved to contort into strange positions. Lisa left with a large bruise on her arm from the environment.

That same physical challenge had almost no tolerance for error. This made it shockingly difficult and ultimately anticlimactic. That my team was able to do it at all meant that we won that challenge. It didn’t feel fair.

There were too many locks with the same digit structures. In a game where every second counted, it was annoying to repeatedly try the same combinations all over the room.

The puzzling was a little uneven and greatly favored some puzzling skills over others. Those with strong pattern recognition can power through the puzzles with limited information, which was exactly what Lisa and Amanda did. They didn’t need to negotiate with us because they were that damn good.

Faceoff lacked feedback for when the one team did something that affected the other.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff?

There aren’t a ton of competitive room escapes out there, and this is only the second one that we’ve encountered.

The added intensity of competition was a ton of fun for all involved, even those of us who lost.

I can’t recommend Faceoff for new players. Basic experience and an understanding of how room escapes flow will allow you to focus on the game itself rather than trip up over how to puzzle or how the locks work.

Bring some collaborative teammates and worthy opponents… and you might want to leave the sore winners and losers back home. This could get intense.

Book your session with America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

Escape The Place, Colorado Springs – The Chamber [Review]

A head-to-head competitive escape room that feels a lot like the video game “The Room.”

Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Date played: September 5, 2015

Team size: up to 10 (5 versus 5); we recommend 4 or 6, definitely an even number

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Golden Lock-In Badge
2015 Golden Lock-In Winner

Theme & story

The setup for this game is a little out-there:

Two teams that are part of a demolition crew have finished setting explosives in a building. The timers were set for an hour when both teams stepped into identical rooms with cosmic scrawling on the walls, Leonardo da Vinci art, and a mysterious sealed cube in the middle of the room. The doors lock behind the teams and they have to find a way out before they are killed by their own explosives.

Like I said… A little out-there. Thankfully the setup doesn’t stop this from being a very special escape game.

“The Room”

“The Room” (and its sequel, “The Room Two”) are far and away my favorite mobile/tablet video games. The entire game is about unlocking a puzzle box. Each time you solve the box, it reveals another box within it. It’s the Russian nesting dolls of puzzle games.

The elegance of “The Room” is derived from the simplicity of its interactions. The game designers allow the player to control the game by directly touching the puzzle box. The controls are simple, and the game is beautifully rendered.

The real-life room escape industry owes a debt of gratitude to this video game, among others. I have been waiting a long time to see a live room escape game company riff of The Room.

Escape The Place has done just that.

The cube

The beating heart of this game is the cleverly engineered cube in the middle of the room. It produces a linear experience that is filled with original puzzles.

It’s physically interactive and it left quite an impression on me.

Competitive play

We had five players, so we split the teams along gender lines (at the suggestion of the gamemaster). Two women vs. three men… Neither Lisa nor I were thrilled to play one another.

The hinting system worked via walkie-talkie. If your team asked for a hint, the other team heard it.

This particular game played almost entirely to my strengths and Lisa had a rough time. It also turned out that three people was the right team size; two was a serious handicap.

Both teams escaped, but with about a 20 minute differential.

Each team can track the progress of the other via the LEDs on the control panel.
Each team can track the progress of the other via the LEDs on the control panel.

Some bumps

We were the first paying customers in The Chamber. As such, we contended with puzzle failures:

There was a lock that neither Lisa nor I knew how to release.

There were two locks that were positioned in ways that were very challenging to open.

And in Lisa’s room, there was one mechanical puzzle failure.

All of this stuff is fixable, but it detracted from our overall experience.

Should I play Escape The Place’s The Chamber?

This was our first competitive room escape experience and we really enjoyed it. This room was designed for us to escape; the game was in the race.

Get an even number of people together (ideally 6 in total, but 8 would be ok). Make sure players have played at least one room escape game before. Then go at it to outplay the people in the next room.

The Chamber has a silliness about it at first, but that quickly fades as the experience takes over… It is a must-play experience if you’re anywhere near Colorado Springs.

Book your time with Escape The Place’s The Chamber, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.