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.

The Crux Escape Rooms – Mutiny at the Hour [Review]

[At the time of this review, The Crux Escape Rooms was called The Hour.]

Yarrr… [insert generic pirate cliché].

Location: St. Catharines, Ontario

Date played: August 30, 2015

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Price: 20 CAD

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

Theme & story

Mutiny at the Hour was beautifully constructed to look and feel like the different areas of a pirate ship. It was an exciting and fun to inhabit a pirate ship for an hour.

The story: Your ship has been overtaken by pirates. You and your teammates are locked in the captain’s quarters. You must escape from there, through different areas of the ship… and into the ocean?

The Hour LogoWe want to walk the plank? I guess that is better than being captives of pirates? The story doesn’t hold water.

The puzzles and their props generally stayed to a nautical theme, but they didn’t tell a story. This game packed a lot of story potential that went unrealized.

Custom construction

The folks from The Hour hand built this massive game. The settings, scenery, puzzles, and much of the decor are all clearly handmade with a ton of love.

It’s easy to feel good about a game that was so clearly born of passion and care. Mutiny at the Hour is a unique experience and is as close to a fully custom construction as we ever find.

Automagically

This game has very few locks, and zero combination locks. The few key locks that are in the game are of the old-timey, heavy metal variety that feel at home on the ship.

Most of the puzzles resolved automagically: You do something, and a something else triggers via technology.

Cooperation

Many of the puzzles in this game relied on teamwork. The game was expertly crafted in this regard so that it could not be a one-man show. During our hour, I worked in tandem with each of my teammates to solve different game elements.

We escaped at the buzzer with just four players. It may be possible to escape with three, but this is a six person game.

Best victory photo ever!
Best victory photo ever!

Puzzles & difficulty

Overall the puzzles were physically and mentally engaging. In at least one instance, a player needed to climb within the set. This was well designed to be safe and fun (this also didn’t require much exertion).

There were a few instances where a player could determine their task relatively quickly but the task itself took some time to complete. Perhaps this would work well for larger groups, but with only four players, we struggled when multiple people were tied up completing concepts they’d already worked out… One or two puzzles overstayed their welcome.

Should I play The Hour’s Mutiny at the Hour?

Mutiny at the Hour brought a cleverness that exceeded that which we frequently see. The set was designed in a unique and engaging way. Puzzles were crafted such that they interacted with the set and players could not circumvent elements. And ultimately, these puzzles were fun. The pirate ship experience was exciting.

In this game, The Hour has upped their game design substantially, adding the automagic puzzles. Their sophomore effort far out-shined Jail Break. They still have a ways to climb to integrate the setting and puzzles into a cohesive story whose ultimate goal makes sense. However, this did not detract from the in-game experience.

Experienced players will enjoy the custom design of this game. New players may find this game a little out of their league, but I think it’s still worth a go. If you only have time for one game at the Hour, play this one.

Book your hour with The Hour’s Mutiny at the Hour, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Entertainment – Manhattan Mayhem [Review]

[Formerly known as Monkey Mayhem]

An abstract, tongue-in-cheek game that packs humor and challenge. Brace yourself for the primate apocalypse!

Location: New York, New York

Date played: August 28, 2015

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 6-8

Price: $29 per ticket

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

Theme and story

Ten monkeys have escaped from the Central Park Zoo, and they are destroying Manhattan! You are the animal rescue team tasked with putting the monkeys back in their cages and saving the city.

This Midtown Manhattan escape room is the first game that is set in the Big Apple. It’s about time.

Abstract art

Escape games are art: There is a lot of realism (or attempts at it) in some and others are non-objective.

This game was abstract; every element was a metaphor. In this way it expertly avoided the pitfall of the uncanny valley.

Most of the puzzles in this game were presented on a pedestal that represented an iconic location within New York City. As a player, it was clear what each puzzle represented. It all came together surprisingly well.

Escape Entertainment Monkey Mayhem Statue of Liberty

Humor

Monkey Mayhem never took itself too seriously.

Why did players only have an hour? They needed to go save a beached whale!

It was funny, and it was fun.

Audience

This was an approachable room that still packed a lot of difficulty.

There were elements that were perfect for children. But our team of adults fully enjoyed the artistic creation. Tourists and New Yorkers alike will get excited over the setting.

Puzzle variety

Monkey Mayhem included a variety of puzzles crafted for different intellects. These puzzles were overwhelmingly tactile in nature, and were a joy to solve.

This game contrasted sharply with Escape Entertainment’s other room, Prohibition Pandemonium, which skewed heavily towards a few select skillsets.

Lack of scavenging

More than most games, the puzzles are clearly identified; there was no scavenging in this game. In fact, by the time we captured all of the monkeys, we had left the room less messy than when we entered the scene. This fit the theme.

This design eliminated the need to figure out what was a puzzle and how to link puzzle elements together. While I enjoyed knowing what was a puzzle, I recognize that the unambiguity of Monkey Mayhem may not be everyone’s brand of banana.

Locking locks

This was the first game where I had to close a lock to solve a puzzle. That was unexpected and fun.

… But I recommend that game-masters instruct players how to lock the locks.

Climactic moment

The missing link in Monkey Mayhem was a climax… It needed a King Kong puzzle.

It needed that moment that makes players turn their heads and think, “Wow! That was bananas!”

Optional competitive mode

Escape Entertainment offers two identical versions of Monkey Mayhem. Two groups can come to compete against each other, playing the same game simultaneously.

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this head-to-head style gameplay throughout the industry.

Post game

The staff at Escape Entertainment gave us an exceptional experience in customer service.

That said, we recommend that Escape Entertainment create a standard postgame walkthrough procedure for their staff to follow. Especially in a game such as Monkey Mayhem where single players will each solve unconnected puzzles, it is important to give a comprehensive walkthrough, whether the team wins or loses.

I missed a lot of what went on and a thorough recap would have been very helpful.

Escape Entertainment Monkey Mayhem

Should I play Escape Entertainment’s Monkey Mayhem?

We shattered the record for this game; we won in half the time allotted. We brought one of the best, most seasoned teams we’ve played with yet… And we still had a blast.

Escape Entertainment’s first two games are very different experiences. Each is a work of a different kind of art, and each is worth playing. Player sensibilities might lend themselves to one game over another. But if you only have time for one, play Monkey Mayhem. It’s a stronger game with more puzzle variety, and it offers an experience like no other.

Make sure you bring a intellectually diverse team to this one, you’re going to need a variety of skills to escape Monkey Mayhem.

Book your hour with Escape Entertainment’s Monkey Mayhem, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Games NYC – Outer Space [Review]

“Captain, we’ve encountered an anomaly and the ship’s dead in the water!”

“How long will it take us to get running?”

“At least two hours Captain.”

“Get it done in one.”

Location: New York, New York

Date played: July 14, 2015

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: ranges from $50 per player for teams of 2 to $26 per player for teams of 6

Emergency Exit: [A] Push to Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

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

Plot

“On the way home from a distant galaxy, your spaceship encounters a serious problem. Even an experienced pilot would find this job demanding! In this game, you have to regain control of the situation to escape the darkness of the universe.

Stay focused and get back on course!”

space_2_pattern

Beautiful

This game is pretty. Really pretty. It looks like no other escape game I’ve ever seen in that it captures the bright and clean Star Trek aesthetic perfectly.

With the exception of one small but significant nook in this game, everything is perfectly themed. The space just feels right.

Lots of technology that works

This game is filled with technology. There are no physical locks; there are a few keypads. All of the mechanisms feel like they ought to be there.

There are a number of different screens on the ship’s bridge. Each has its own interface with art that perfectly fits within the game.

Bad photo: This screen was flashing warning... You can still tell that everything looked really cool.
Bad photo: This screen was flashing warning… You can still tell that everything looked really cool.

Puzzle theme conflict

For a room that leans so heavily into a theme (and does it well), there are a few puzzles that feel a bit forced.

In one instance there is a riddle that while good, didn’t fit within the story of the game.

Similarly there was a puzzle that revolves around Morse code. While I love Morse code as much as the next communication and code geek, it felt like it probably didn’t belong in this far future game.

Automation without indication

This game is very linear. Each puzzle must be resolved in order, and a lot of things are triggered programmatically. Many of these computer-driven effects are obvious (large set-pieces turn on or off or big warning signs flash); some are far too subtle (like small compartments automatically unlocking).

This was the biggest failing of Outer Space.

Throughout the game, players solve puzzles, and things unlock, but there is no way of knowing what you unlocked (or that you unlocked anything at all).

This game desperately needs more audio or visual indication to let a player know that they have earned something.

Deliberately slow

This room is designed to slow your team down. It’s billed as a 2-6 person game, and that’s very fair. Regardless of your team size, the game will likely slow your progress.

Our team was mixed on if this was a good or a bad thing, and this was the first time that Lisa and I had a significantly different opinion on a room. She wasn’t bothered by this style of design; I was. It’s worth noting that our team was split on this as well.

Escape Games NYC - Outer Space - Team Room Escape Artist
“Don’t mind me, I’m just throwing off the balance of the photo.”

Should I play Escape Games NYC’s Outer Space

If you’ve broken out of a few rooms, and want to experience something different, then this is the most interesting room I’ve seen in the New York City area.

We found the room challenging, but narrowly escaped without any hints (we had 3 minutes remaining). I wouldn’t recommend Outer Space to beginners, as I don’t think they will be up for the challenge, and I know that they will not appreciate how different this game is from the norm.

It can get a bit tedious at times, and I think that the room could benefit from a little more iteration, but it’s a special room that deserves to be played.

Book your hour with Escape Games NYC’s Outer Space and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape the Room Philly – The Dig [Review]

[Formerly known as The Cavern]

A delightful adventure that is begging for a tangible plot.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Date played: May 30, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-8

Price: $28 per ticket

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

Plot

“You’ve been summoned into the deep and have 60 minutes to unravel the mystery of the Cavern.”

Digging up the past

Defying expectations, “The Cavern” begins by dropping players into a church-like environment; it was decidedly not-cavernous… That part comes later.

The Cavern gives a second life to the expensive set pieces born from Escape the Room NYC’s (owners of Escape the Room Philly) collaboration with the USA Network on their Dig Escape Game. If you played that game, then you’re going to feel like you’re in familiar territory. Don’t get too comfortable (we did); the breadth and difficulty of this game has been ramped up a few levels (but you’re still going to know how a few things work).

Theming

The game feels like Indiana Jones and The Da Vinici Code had a baby, and that’s a good thing.

The look, the feel, the sights and the sounds of this game are all on-point. The experience is pretty incredible (especially if you hadn’t played Dig).

Puzzle variety

The folks from Escape the Room NYC have become exceptionally talented at crafting a wide variety of puzzles that fit elegantly into their games. The Cavern is no exception.

Each puzzle offers its own challenge, most of those puzzles are memorable, and many of them are physically interactive (more so than with most escape rooms).

Often the puzzles resolve in exciting, fun, and unexpected ways (not putting a combination into a lock).

Escape the Room Philly - The Cavern - Room Escape Artist

Tuning

Later in the game, there are some seriously inventive puzzles; two of them could use a bit more tuning to guide players along the way.

One we solved with the help of a clue (and I really don’t think we would have resolved it without one). The other we solved, but didn’t know it. Saying more would be too spoiler-y.

Story please!

This game begs for a story. The puzzles are almost telling a story, but each player must imagine what that story is.

Spicing it up with a cohesive narrative would make this game shine.

Up to 10 players?

The Cavern is billed as a game for “up to 10 players.” While the game space in totality can more than comfortably fit 10 players, I don’t think there are enough puzzles to keep 10 players busy throughout the game.

As you press deeper into the game, it becomes more linear (in a good way). However, there isn’t room around these puzzles for more than a few players at a time.

We had 6 people, and that felt right.

Should I play Escape the Room Philly’s The Cavern?

The Cavern would stand out as a great game in a competitive market; in Philadelphia it’s incredible.

If you didn’t play the Dig game, this one is going to really wow you. If you did, there’s still a lot of fun to mine from the Cavern, but it’s not going to shock you in the way it will an unfamiliar player.

If you recognize re-purposed props, there is one puzzle that you should sit out and let someone else solve it (I wish I had).

It’s a new game, so I would expect it to evolve some over the coming months. I’m betting its going to get even better.

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