These 10 rooms are the games that we wish we could play again.
There is no perfect game, but these are the ones that still make us smile long after we escaped or, in one instance, failed in the attempt.
That isn’t to say the 55 other games we played were bad; many of them were great too.
1. We only considered games that we personally played in 2015.
2. We both had to agree to add the room to the list.
3. There was no minimum or maximum number of rooms that had to appear on the list. (It’s a coincidence that the number is 10).
4. Each company could only have one game on the list. (Note that two companies have merged since we played, giving one company two games on this list. However, the games were designed and originally executed completely independently of each other.)
2015 Golden Lock-In Winners
Listed chronologically in the order in which we played them.
It was kind of like Legends of the Hidden Temple… Except I wasn’t screaming at the TV because some kid couldn’t figure out how to assemble the three freakin piece statue in the Shrine of the Silver Monkey.
Location: Queens, New York
Date played: November 8, 2015
Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5
Price: $25 per ticket, must book at least 4 tickets
Theme & story
The Dungeon of Elements was an Indiana Jones-style tomb raid. There was an old mystical thingy… and you wants the precious… So you need to solve some puzzles to unlock it.
The premise was simple and familiar. Instead of loading the game up with story, the puzzles, setting, and huge set pieces carried us through the adventure. It worked well.
The Dungeon of Elements was located in the basement of an older building in Queens. The basement itself went a long way towards achieving that old dungeon feel that so many rooms fail to achieve.
Huge set pieces
The large set pieces set this game apart. There were a lot of impressive fixtures in The Dungeon of Elements. All of the big, sturdy, mechanical, aged components made the game feel like it had a gravitas that many games fail to achieve.
At times the feeling was undermined by obviously modern components and a heavy reliance on color changing LED lighting, but these were relatively minor infractions.
The dungeon was split into a few different areas, each themed on the mythical elements of water, fire, air, and earth.
Each element presented its own challenge in the form of a physically interactive puzzle. It worked well because each puzzle felt intimately tied to the element that it represented (with the exception of the fire challenge… But it’s tough to make a safe fire challenge that actually involves fire).
All of this culminated with a massive conglomerated puzzle that required the entire team to solve.
As with their other rooms, Mission Escape Games, Queens’ website accurately nails their team sizing: The room maxes out at seven people, but they recommend five or six players.
Should I play Mission Escape Games, Queens’ The Dungeon of Elements?
The Dungeon of Elements was a top tier game. It was elegant, big, brilliantly designed, memorable, and engaged the entire team at all times.
There’s magic in Alexandria, Virginia. Go experience it.
Location: Alexandria, Virginia
Date played: November 1, 2015
Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6
Price: $28 per ticket
From the moment we exited the elevator, we entered the world of Escape Room Live Alexandria.
That world included a reception area and a spacious, styled, and decorated lounge and function room. The space was comfortable, inviting, and designed unlike any other escape room we’ve encountered.
This production value and styling extended to the The Wizard’s Apothecary: The Power of the Rings. The set was remarkable and believable, in so much as wizardry was believable.
The King’s wizard is missing and only you, as the wizard’s apprentice, have the skills necessary to find him. You have 45 minutes in his study for this task.
Escape Room Live Alexandria is not legally allowed to lock players in rooms. Thus, they created a win condition completely divorced from escape. The game didn’t suffer because of this.
As one would expect from a wizard-themed game, puzzles unfolded in unique, magical ways. The uses of sensors to create moments of magical happenings were clever, creative, and exciting.
This game also had a magical hinting system through one of the props in the room. Thus the fiction was sustained throughout the entire experience.
This technique made requesting a hint fun (which is impressive because asking for a hint is decidedly not fun).
The Wizard’s Apothecary had one massive choke point in its gameplay. There was a single prop that affected so many puzzles that it created multiple bottlenecks as various members of our team vied for it to solved different puzzles.
This didn’t wreck our experience, but it forced us to stand around waiting… Which isn’t awesome when the timer is ticking down.
The games at Escape Room Live Alexandria are only 45 minutes long.
Normally I find 45 minute games too short. In this case, however, it was 45 minutes without much fluff or tedium. It worked because all of the puzzles were strong… But I would have loved to see a few more challenges and an extra 15 minutes of play.
Before the game started, a staff member quickly delivered the game set up and walked us through a poster of “don’ts” in a lighthearted, but serious manner. It was well performed.
The staff at Escape Room Live Alexandria were all exceptionally welcoming. They even opened early for us and then held our suitcase in their closet while we went out to lunch. They earned a lot of appreciation from a pair of weary travelers.
Should I play Escape Room Live Alexandria’s The Wizard’s Apothecary: The Power of the Rings ?
A magical room calls for magical solutions. Escape Room Live Alexandria’s brilliant and seamless use of sensors elevates the gameplay to a level that few escape rooms rival.
The Wizard’s Apothecary felt like another world with its own physics and logic. The puzzles were creative and challenging.
Escape Room Live Alexandria minded all details: the décor, rules, hinting systems, gamemasters’ performance, and even the hilariously hidden camera. All of this added up to a fun, inviting, and worthwhile destination.
Escape Room Live Alexandria is an hour on the metro from Washington DC’s Union Station, or 20-30 minutes by Uber, but it is worth the trip if you can spare the time. Plus, downtown Alexandria is adorable. You can round out a half-day excursion with eating, drinking, shopping, and general site-seeing.
Every member of our team enjoyed this game. In fact, one player mentioned that her only disappointment was that she didn’t get to solve all the puzzles because they happened while she was solving something else.
This escape room is temporarily closed. It will reopen in a new midtown location in spring/summer 2019.
In the final minutes of Nemesis, I felt my world crashing, but recovered in the very last moment.
Location: New York, New York
Date played: September 17, 2015
Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6
Price: $28 per ticket
Theme & story
You’ve been sent to board a massive space-station that has lost power and is about to fall out of orbit, plummet to Earth, and end all life on the planet. You have 60 minutes to restore power to the station, correcting its orbit or the world ends.
The Nemesis looked exceptional. Every item in the room was on-theme and it was sci-fi in a dark and slightly intimidating way.
The game felt like we stepped into a new world, and it was a fun world to explore.
We were the first non-tester team to play Nemesis. Derek, the owner of Mission Escape Games, handled our introduction to the game, and it was a bit disjointed. I followed the story line because it was a familiar sci-fi setup, but some of our less nerdy teammates were confused about the goal of our Mission.
I’d venture to guess that because this is a new game, the introductory speech isn’t polished yet, but it’s an important part of the game (especially for less experienced players).
There was a bit of a mixed bag here in the puzzles.
On the plus side, there were no padlocks whatsoever and many of the puzzles were interactions with the space station.
This room was at its best when the puzzles were space station interactions that advanced a story line.
On the not-so-plus side, a couple of these puzzles were excruciatingly challenging. There was one puzzle that was so hard that I can confidently say our team wouldn’t have solved it… And I’m not even sure we would have gotten it with hints… But we accidentally circumvented that puzzle so we’ll never know.
Breakage & accidental circumvention
This game was technology-driven. Almost everything involved a sensor or something digital. Thus there was high potential for bugs, especially for early players.
In one instance we bypassed a puzzle, and didn’t even know it. We did a thing, and another thing opened. It turned out that we did the wrong thing, and had no idea that we had circumvented the hardest puzzle of the game.
There was another instance where we had the right answer, and the device didn’t work. It was a bummer because that happened at a particularly dramatic moment.
Escalation, storytelling, and a climactic moment
Nemesis had a dramatic beginning, largely because the puzzles fit into the story. It had a similarly dramatic ending. When we restored power to the space station with a minute to spare, and the triumphant theme from one of my favorite PS2 era video games started playing in the background, I was elated… More on that elation in a moment.
The middle of the game lost the plot thread. The puzzles existed for their own sake rather than to advance the story.
Nemesis had so many wonderful moments that conveyed meaning and story, a few of the puzzles didn’t feel like they should have made the cut.
A personal drama
This was a special game for me because it was the first domino in my extraordinarily complex marriage proposal to my (now) fiancée, and Room Escape Artist co-everything, Lisa Radding.
Derek graciously hid a small box in the room for Lisa to find. He asked me if I “wanted to know where it would be hidden.” I didn’t want to know anything about the game, so I said, “no.”
He hid the box in the penultimate puzzle of the game… So I became hint happy in the final minutes. I was silently panicking as it started to look increasingly like we weren’t going to get out.
The last time we played at Mission Escape Games, we loved the Hydeout, but we thought it lacked a climax. Nemesis did not suffer from this problem.
It had quite a few wonderful moments in it and the overall feel was seductive in a nerdy sort of way. It was intense, a ton of fun, and a game that I will always remember (not all of that has to do with the game itself).
All of that being said, there were moments when the game didn’t work as designed, a couple of puzzles that were far too confounding, and a few elements that felt like they should have been better incorporated into the story. Mission keeps getting better and we keep moving the goal post on what constitutes a perfect game.
Nemesis is a game for experienced players. If this is your first room, you’re going to have a rough time. It’s (mostly) fair to experienced players, but I am reasonably sure that it will offer an insurmountable challenge to first time teams. Mission has a few games that offer a softer learning curve. Give those a try; then face off against the apocalypse space station.
Book your hour in Mission Escape Games’ Nemesis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.
Saint Angelo’s Castle requires players to wear costumes… Is it good enough to pull it off?
Location: Queens, New York
Date played: September 12, 2015
Team size: 3-5; we recommend 3-4
Price: $30 per ticket
Long Island City?
For those who don’t know New York, Long Island City is nowhere near Long Island. It’s in Queens, just across the East River from Manhattan.
It is incredibly easy to get to from Midtown Manhattan.
Theme & story
You’re prisoners in an Inquisition dungeon. You’re scheduled for execution in one hour: escape, repent, or perish.
Saint Angelo’s Castle was a real place. The story that played out felt like a mixture of myth and history; it worked damn well.
The setting was magnificent in a dungeon-y sort of way.
There was a good reason why we were locked in the game and there was an equally good reason why we needed to escape. The story was peppered throughout the game. It was both dire and fun.
Prior to the game’s beginning, our gamemaster instructed us to put on robes and hoods.
None of us were thrilled about the robes, but we all went along with it.
Only a few of us were ok with the hoods. As in OMEscape’s The Penitentiary, this presented a hygiene problem that made some us uncomfortable. As a reviewer, I’ll go along with just about anything, but I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled about it. My hood smelled of fabric softener, so I was confident that it had been washed recently, but I didn’t know that until it was on my head.
Like many escape companies, Komnata Quest had us sign an aggressive release form. I tend to find these things a bit silly, but Komnata Quest did something that really bothered me: They made me sign away their liability for lost items. Then they asked us to put our phones and bags into a locked chest outside of the game.
When I said, “No, I just won’t use my phone during the game,” I was met with more suspicion than I deserved.
That chest was probably safe, but I think that it was pretty ballsy to make me take full responsibility for my belongings and expect to take those belongings from me.
As the game began, the gamemaster led our team into the dungeon and locked us up. One player was locked up in a far more interesting, and far more uncomfortable manner than the others.
I really liked the way that this game started. However, Komnata Quest’s website did not make it clear that we would be restrained. Some of the people we escape rooms with on a regular basis would not be cool with restraint and it should be clear that restraint is involved before money changes hands.
Creative puzzles & interactive play
Once the game got going each puzzle offered a different challenge. There weren’t a ton of puzzles in this game, but the puzzles were fun, interesting, and memorable.
This room also had more than a few things that we had never seen.
Small escape games are basically unheard of in New York. One of the best parts of Saint Angelo’s Castle is that it is an intimate game.
It plays 3-5 players and it comfortably fits 3-5 players.
Should I play Komnata Quest’s Saint Angelo’s Castle?
So long as you aren’t a jittery player, this is a must play game.
The level of detail in this room is only rivaled by a few of the best rooms we’ve encountered. Komnata Quest does a lot of work to weave story, puzzles, and intrigue into a compelling hour of play.
Komnata Quest has recently opened in the United States and while they are working out a few kinks in their customer service system, their game is exceptionally sound.
While this is Komnata Quest’s first room in the States, this is not their first rodeo. The Komnata Quest Russian website has a listing of many games that sound incredibly interesting. I hope they import all of them.
Hop a subway to Long Island City and play Saint Angelo’s Castle; there aren’t many games in this league.