2016 Golden Lock-In Awards

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.

We played and reviewed 152 room escapes in 2016.

These 13 rooms are the games that we wish we could play again.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that still make us smile long after we escaped.

That isn’t to say the 139 other games we played were bad; many of them were great too.

In the end we considered 20 games for the award and these 13 rose to the top.

Rules

    1. We only considered games that we both personally played in 2016.
    1. We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In. (We did not consider either The Basement or Palace Games because only one of us visited these companies.)
    1. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
  1. A company could only win once for the year.

2016 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order in which we played them.

Escape the 1980s

Steel Owl Room Adventures – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The bubblegum pop of escape games, Escape the 1980s felt like a living museum. It was brimming with joy, nostalgia, and VHS tapes.

Senator Payne

60 Out Escape Rooms – Los Angeles, California

With a killer ending that remains one of our favorite escape room moments, Senator Payne felt like living an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In Memoriam

The Enigma Room – Sydney, Australia

The only tender escape room we’ve ever come across, In Memoriam was full of feels and femininity in this largely masculine genre.

The Vanishing Act

Locurio – Seattle, Washington

Intrigue, magic, and superb puzzles: Locurio’s homegrown yet polished mystery started simple and escalated to a dramatic conclusion.

Firefighter Rescue

Escape From The 6 – Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Created by an actual firefighter, Firefighter Rescue managed to entertain, haze, and teach us a thing or two in this massive two-story adventure.

Crossroads

Escape Games Canada – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Beautifully designed and constructed, Escape Games Canada’s foreboding technological marvel was a psychological thriller with choice and consequence.

The Alchemist

Insomnia Escape  – Washington, DC

This mystical heist elegantly wove puzzles throughout an intricate environment without losing the thread of gameplay. Clever technology and game design showed us a memorable adventure.

The Experiment

Escape Games NYC – New York, New York

Far more than a blank white room, The Experiment hid all manner of cleverness in its seemingly simple design.

Mystery of the Magician’s Study

Boxaroo – Boston, Massachusetts

Tricksy and theatrical, Boxaroo adapted stage magic principles to toy with our senses as we solved their mystery.

Shelter R

Brooklyn Escape Room – Brooklyn, New York

This video game-inspired, post-apocalyptic adventure was light on puzzles, but heavy on atmosphere and badass moments.

The Hex Room

Cross Roads Escape Games – Anaheim, California

The Hex Room cast six players as different horror film archetypes. Cross Roads innovatively blurred the line between team and solo gameplay by adding a heavily individualized element.

Krampus

Countdown – Los Angeles, California

Countdown married elements of horror with escape room-style puzzling to create something that will satisfy both thrill-seekers and adventure puzzlers.

Gangster’s Gamble

Team vs Time – Berlin, Connecticut

It wasn’t just the room that felt like it was lifted from 1952; the experience that Team vs Time built around the game truly sold the drama.

Congratulations to the 2016 Golden Lock-In Winners!

Team vs Time – Gangster’s Gamble [Review]

Losers swim with the fishes.

Location: Berlin, CT

Date played: December 12, 2016

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

In Gangster’s Gamble, our team of undercover investigators was digging up evidence on a mob boss in the 1950s.

The setting felt pretty real. The folks from Team vs Time told us that they had brought in someone from the local historical society to make sure that all of their props and furnishings were of the era, and most of it was, with the exception of locking mechanisms. This rang true to us. Gangster’s Gamble wasn’t flashy; it simply felt right.

In-game: A large red leather chair in a 1950s livingroom. A rotary phone sits on an endtable beside it.

While there weren’t actors in the game, there was a strong presence of other people outside of the room. This ongoing presence served to ramp up the intensity of the situation.

Puzzles

The puzzles and interactions made great use of the historically accurate props, mixing them with clearly modern tech and locks to produce some magical effects.

The puzzles didn’t really carry the narrative, but they were fun nonetheless.

Standouts

The look, feel, and intensity of Gangster’s Gamble caught us by surprise. From the moment we were led into the gamespace, we were immersed, to an almost surprising degree. It felt like there were stakes, like getting caught or messing up could get us into trouble. I found myself cleaning up the room after we solved puzzles to cover our tracks.

There was no clock and we lost all sense of time. This didn’t bother us at all.

The attention to historical detail throughout the design was refreshing.

The intensity remained through the Gangster’s Gamble‘s conclusion.

Shortcomings

While most of the props felt of the era, the interactions frequently did not.

The puzzles could have better carried the narrative and upped the immersion and intensity further.

There were a number of nit-picky ways that things could have been hidden a little bit more, or the set might have crafted just a little bit better to really sell the fiction.

Should I play Team vs Time’s Gangster’s Gamble?

People often ask us if we get tired of playing so many room escapes, but it’s the hidden gems like Gangster’s Gamble that make it so interesting. We literally never know when a company is going to come along and shock us. In this particular instance, it was a company that nearly no one had recommended in the middle of Connecticut.

In Gangster’s Gamble, Team vs Time set out to build a historical puzzle adventure and they succeeded. We bought their fiction and we couldn’t recommend it more.

If you’re a newbie, do know that Team vs Time’s approach is a little atypical, but it will still be fun and approachable.

If you’re an experienced player, go in knowing that the puzzles are a little light, but the adventure is strong. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy.

Book your hour with Team vs Time’s Gangster’s Gamble, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Team vs Time provided media discounted tickets for this game.

60 Out – Krampus [Review]

[At the time of this review, this game was operated by Countdown and has since been acquired by 60Out.]

‘Greetings from the Krampus!’

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 18, 2016

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

We were investigating the festive yet morbid apartment of the Krampus killer, which as Countdown’s description implies, was actually the demon-goat monster of Alpine folk-lore.

Krampus, the yin to Saint Nicholas’ yang, brings punishment (and in this case, murder) to naughty children come Christmas time.

gruss_vom_krampus

The set of Krampus was magnificently creepy. It was a dark and twisted home that was intricately decorated for a horrible Christmas. It looked great in a gross and foreboding sort of way.

Puzzles

While the haunted house-esque set was the clear star of Krampus, it had some solid puzzling.

Much of the challenge came from the difficulties of navigating a dark and morbid set, but once we made it past those hurdles, there were sound logic and observational puzzles to work out.

Krampus contained a bonus puzzle that will likely eat up the remaining time of fast-solving teams.

Standouts

The set was intense.

In-game image of a dramatically lit Christmas tree in a dark and creepy home.

The game kept our team on edge from beginning to end.

There was a moment mid-game that was incredible; I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it mimicked by other companies in future games.

Shortcomings

A little too much of the Krampus’ challenge was derived from the dark setting. There were more than a few things to read, and at times it was easy to make a mistake simply because lighting was barely present.

The bonus puzzle wasn’t particularly enticing. It involved a lot of reading and we decided to finish with a fast time instead of puzzling through it.

Should I play Countdown’s Krampus?

Krampus was a great horror escape room.

It was intense, creepy, and memorable. Watching one of our teammates (not Lisa) cling to a wooden stick for half of the game will remain a treasured memory. I don’t frighten easily and Krampus made me jump. It was a good time.

Krampus has some good puzzling, but I wouldn’t recommend it to players who are seeking a puzzle-focused experience.

This was a game for people who are open to feeling some fear, and don’t struggle with seeing and reading in low light. If that sounds right for you, then I highly recommend paying Krampus a visit.

Book your hour with 60Out’s Krampus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Countdown comped our tickets for this game.

Cross Roads Escape Games – The Hex Room [Review]

The Breakfast Club meets in a murder house!

Location: Anaheim, CA

Date played: October 14, 2016

Team size: 5-10; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

The Hex Room was a horror movie experience for six characters: Prom Queen, Jock, Virgin, Nerd, Rebel, and Detective. Cast as these film archetypes, we had to solve our way out of six individual but interconnected rooms and together escape the game.

As an added twist, in order to survive, we each had to open our own hex box, a self-contained bonus puzzle for each character.

Upon our arrival at Cross Roads, we each filled out a survey to determine our character assignments. Roles required different skills and some were more or less integral to the game.

The Hex Room was a horror game with frightening moments, but it wasn’t a terrifying game. The set, ambiance, and isolation built fear through anticipation more than any in-game frights.

In-game image of an open door looking into a room filled with trinkets.
Image via Cross Roads Escape Games

The story was basic: escape the horror movie to survive. The set was anything but simple. Cross Roads handcrafted intricate, unsettling environments for each character. These were gritty and enhanced the individual character’s experience.

Puzzles

As individual characters, we solved a series of puzzles to escape our isolated entrapment.

These puzzles were not overly challenging. The isolated uncomfortable environments and hampered communication provided the difficulty.

The Detective inhabited the central room. She alone could communicate with each trapped character through windows in the doors of each other player’s room. Ideas or items passed through the Detective. This game mechanism made otherwise straightforward puzzles far more challenging.

In-game, a hallway with a coatrack holding a fedora, and trenchcoat. Clearly the detective's room.
Image via Cross Roads Escape Games

The individual hex boxes added temptation. They yielded a survivor’s medal, but wouldn’t help the team escape. They also differed dramatically in level of challenge.

Standouts

The Hex Room was a game like no other.

The best game interactions in The Hex Room played off of the character archetypes and poked fun at them. This was creative, clever, and comical.

The game was designed to force some characters to come together, while allowing another to choose not to.

The Hex Room was a horror game with a broader appeal. By simultaneously conforming to the stereotypes of the genre and making fun of them, it offered both heart-racing anticipation and a sense of ordinary playability.

Shortcomings

Cross Roads designed The Hex Room as a replayable game; we could return to play as different characters. While it’s true that I didn’t solve the individual puzzles in the other rooms, I can’t un-know the general game mechanics or character and object relationships. The Hex Room was exciting not because of the isolated puzzles; it was about the experience we had as a team, surviving our horror film. I couldn’t justify paying full price to unlock a different set of puzzles, while trying to hold back the knowledge I already have about the game.

The individual adventures were more exciting than the culminating story. Once our team came together, the game wasn’t able to do anything with the anticipation or build to a satisfying climax.*

If the characters are assigned incorrectly, the team will struggle. While the puzzles seemed more or less even, the settings were not. For example, one role was more claustrophobic and another included more grotesque props. If even one teammate is too uncomfortable in their assignment or can’t hold their own with the puzzles, the team will have problems.

Most importantly, if you have the wrong person as the Detective, the game will fall apart.

Should I play Cross Roads Escape Games’ The Hex Room?

The Hex Room was not inherently intellectually challenging. Instead, the puzzles were rendered difficult through atmosphere, isolation, and limited communication.

Players who like to focus in on complex, challenging puzzles won’t necessarily love this game. It was designed to be unsettling and force you to puzzle in an uncomfortable environment. We loved this. Not everyone on our team did.

Players who enjoy horror movies or horror experiences will thoroughly enjoy the game that Cross Roads lovingly created.

The Hex Room achieved the incredibly challenging feat of creating a game that brings individual plots together. It did this while staying true to the horror movie theme. Seasoned players will appreciate the subtleties in the game’s design.

This is a game for a team of six people who can rely on themselves as much as each other. Make sure everyone feels comfortable puzzling and operating locks. Cross Roads will modify the game so that as few as five or as many as ten people can play, but bringing any more or fewer than six people would be a mistake.

Book your hour with Cross Roads Escape Games’ The Hex Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Note that we played the second version of Cross Roads’ The Hex Room. The original game had an extremely different ending, among other differences. As always, we’ve reviewed the game we played and we cannot speak to the earlier version.

Brooklyn Escape Room – Shelter R [Review]

[At the time of this review, Brooklyn Escape Room was called Claustrophobia and this escape room was called Vault 13.]

The nuclear Fallout bunker.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date played: October 9, 2016

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket weekdays, $35 per ticket weekends

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

We had spent a generation living in a vault beneath the earth, the product of nuclear holocaust. The life support systems had begun to fail and we had 60 minutes to escape.

Vault 13 was the escape room version of the video game series Fallout; it was loaded with references.

A vending machine for

On a barely related note, my longtime guitar teacher Billy Roues had a song featured in Fallout: New Vegas and also played our wedding (with very different music).

Vault 13 looked superb. Aesthetically speaking, it was one of the most impressively designed and constructed gamespaces we’ve encountered in New York City. It was filled with solid, beautiful, post-apocalyptically setpieces. Nearly all of it was custom construction.

A view of the Vault. There is an old diner bench, a workbench, and a large radio. On the rusty walls hands a picture of a pinup girl.
This was the most mundane corner of the game… but it doesn’t give anything away.

It’s also important to note that while the company is named “Claustrophobia” their gamespace was not even remotely claustrophobic.

Puzzles

The two games we have played from Claustrophobia leaned heavily on immersive adventure and were decidedly less puzzley than those from most other companies. Every task and puzzle in Vault 13 advanced the narrative.

This ultimately lead to a game that was more about observing, scavenging, and making connections than it was about solving puzzles. That said, making those connections was a generally fun experience and it wasn’t always easy.

Standouts

Vault 13 contained one of the most badass, video-gamey escape room interactions I have ever seen. After we did it, I wanted to do it again. (Sadly, that wasn’t an option.)

It also had one of the most brilliant applications of a reasonably common escape room interaction that I have seen to date. It was elegant and clever.

Countdown clock illuminated with nixie tubes. The clock is part of the
Nixie clocks are too damn cool.

Vault 13’s custom constructed scenery and props were a blast. They allowed – and occasionally encouraged – a bit of destructive behavior, and these setpieces could take a beating.

Shortcomings

Because the set was so sturdy, we were told that there weren’t any special rules and we could pretty much go nuts in the room. That was largely true, until our gamemaster pointed out a section that we had to be careful with. That one delicate section was also Vault 13‘s most confusing and unrefined segment. It would benefit from more polish.

There were some painfully sharp edges in one of the doorways. A little bit of Sugru would soften those edges and protect players.

At times, lighting was kind of a pain in the ass. We had one handheld flashlight between the four of us.

A few of the props were shockingly heavy. While they were awesome, I can easily imagine them being too unwieldy for some groups.

Should I play Claustrophobia’s Vault 13?

Vault 13 is among the most impressive immersive room escapes in the New York City boroughs. It was beautiful, solidly constructed, and a ton of fun to occupy for an hour.

While Vault 13 was open for business when we played, it was still under active iteration. We usually wait until a game has been operating for at least a month before we play it. We didn’t do that this time because we were going to be in the neighborhood. In retrospect, I wish we waited a little while longer because I get the impression that this game will be even better in a month or two.

As long as you aren’t expecting intense puzzles, Vault 13 will deliver a great experience.

Book your hour with Claustrophobia’s Vault 13, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Claustrophobia comped our tickets for this game.