Video: 2018 Golden Lock-In Livestream Recording

Livestream and learn.

Lisa and David all dressed up in black and gold.

We had a ton of fun with our first livestream on Wednesday night. We livestreamed the announcement of the 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards.

You can view it below. There were some audio issues in the first few minutes, but we got them sorted out.

That said, the audio isn’t perfect, so be careful with headphones. It gets spontaneously loud. 

Lessons For Next Time

We’re still getting comfortable with the video format. So here are a few things that we learned:

  • Don’t break the link… we accidentally started a new stream instead of activating the one that we had scheduled. Thankfully, some of our intrepid viewers figured out what was going on and filled everyone in via comments. I 💛 escape room players.
  • Turn on the right microphone input. That caused some chaos at the top of the stream. Thankfully I was able to clip that from the video.
  • Be more careful with levels. We sound way too quiet. We had two mics, so in theory we should have had that covered.
Brendan setting up the lights and technology.
  • MOAR LIGHT! Seriously, it felt like our living room had a sun in it… but it didn’t really shine through on camera.
  • Stage it better. While our couch is super comfortable, it didn’t really work as a set.
  • The live audience was so fun. We need to figure out how we’re capturing that audio without blowing out our listeners’ ears.
A large chocolate cake dusted in gold with the outline of the golden lock-in award in the negative space.
Lisa baked an amazing cake. It didn’t survive the party.

Thank You

A lot of folks made last night possible.

Brendan Lutz provided more technology than I am aware of. I literally do not know what we had running. He made all of this happen. He’s amazing.

Our friends all dressed up for the party.

Theresa Piazza, Theresa Wagner, and Ryan Byrne came over early to help with all manner of things. Like with the technology, I don’t exactly know what was going on… but I know that they helped with a lot of it.

Brett Kuehner loaned us the lighting.

Thank you to all of our friends for coming over and adding your energy to this silly project that started out as a joke and then profoundly snowballed… which is pretty much how our lives operate.

2018 Golden Lock-In Awards

2018 Golden Lock-In Award features an open REA padlock with a golden ring around it.

We played and reviewed 191 escape rooms in 2018.

This was an invigorating year of escape games.

We throttled down our playing a little bit (255 in 2017) and put an emphasis on hunting down amazing and unusual games in the markets that we visited. As a result of that decision, we have a diverse pool of Golden Lock-In winners that broadly span styles, budgets, and geography.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again.

There were plenty of other amazing escape rooms, but we can’t honor them all. In the end these 13 rose to the top.

Rules

  1. We only considered games that we both played in 2018.
  2. We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In.
  3. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
  4. A company could only win once for the year.

2018 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order we played them.

The Blind Pig

Murfreesboro Escape Rooms – Murfreesboro, TN

In-game: a boarded up business with a sign out front that says, "Hammer Realty, the secret is in the name."

With its intimate setting, great puzzle flow, and hidden surprises, Murfreesboro Escape Rooms designed a remarkably tight and balanced adventure game. The Blind Pig was a traditional escape room where everything gelled.

Sasquatch

Escape the Netherworld – Stone Mountain, GA

In-game: A wood door chained shut.
Image via Escape The Netherworld.

What began as  a traditional cabin escape room became so much more as Sasquatch’s narrative hiked to a magical finale. Escape the Netherworld told an unusual story that was intense, exciting, and unexpectedly charming.

Catacombs

Logic Locks – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In-game: a wall of human skulls lit by a lantern.
Image via Logic Locks

In the depths of a church, we unearthed Logic Locks’ theatrical story of crypts and demons. As the puzzles built tension and the scenes became more dire, win or lose, Catacombs careened towards a commanding conclusion.

The Experiment

The Great Escape – Zwolle, The Netherlands

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Intimidating yet funny, The Experiment made us feel like we were truly escaping, more so than in any other game in our memory. The Great Escape designed around character building, both theirs and our own, which added depth to the experience.

Honeymoon Hotel

DarkPark – Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]

In-game: A wooden bellhop's desk with a bell and a note.

Escape Challenge builds games that feel alive, haunted, and out to get you. Honeymoon Hotel transformed from mundane to insane as it pushed us through an exquisitely detailed reimagining of the H.H. Holmes “murder castle” story.

Cutthroat Cavern

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, LA

In-game: a large stone wall with a massive skull carved into it. The skull's eyes glow with fire.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

With towering ceiling and wet depths, Cutthroat Cavern was breathtaking. For 60 minutes we frolicked in our own Goonies adventure. The scale of this escape room is unrivaled. 13th Gate Escape’s latest creation is in a class of its own.

Playground

The Escape Game – Nashville, TN

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who would have guessed that returning to the classroom would be as joyful as it was at The Escape Game? With a playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay, Playground had us frolicking through school.

The Edison Escape Room

Palace Games – San Francisco, CA

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

The invisible adaptive intelligence within The Edison Escape Room floored us. Palace Games took ambitious design to another level by hybridizing escape rooms and video games into something  beautiful and new.

Lab Rat

Hatch Escapes – Los Angeles, CA

In-game: a massive hamster water dispenser, lit purple.

As we ventured through Lab Rat’s whimsical yet imposing world, we journeyed through a story. Hatch Escapes put narrative in the driver’s seat with gameplay that supported it… humorously, intensely, and ridiculously.

Stash House: A Los Angeles Crime Story

Stash House – Los Angeles, CA

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Story-driven and puzzle-focused, expansive and intimate, challenging and fair, Stash House achieved a balance that few escape rooms deliver. Through these oppositions, we were immersed within its imaginative and cohesive world.

Over the Falls

Escape City Buffalo – Tonawanda, NY

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

With an over-the-top build, Over the Falls was light on puzzles and high on adventure. We were engaged and enthralled with Escape City Buffalo’s vessel and its seafaring woes.

The Grand Parlor

13th Hour Escape Rooms – Wharton, NJ

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

In the vast expanses and the tight nooks of The Grand Parlor, we played a challenging puzzle game with a beautiful set that continually surprised us. Plus we  met 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ delightfully rambunctious actors (who only roam when the haunt is operating).

The Observatory

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Marvelously eccentric, The Observatory taught us how to unravel its mysteries through the act of playing. The Gate Escape crafted a fair and challenging game for experienced escape room players, with great  interactions to boot.

Congratulations to the 2018 Golden Lock-In Winners!

Past Golden Lock-In Awards

About Room Escape Artist

Room Escape Artist is supported by our generous Patrons. Their contributions make the blog and its events – like livestreaming awards – possible. Please consider visiting our Patreon page to learn more.

The Gate Escape – The Observatory [Review]

A revolution & revelation

Location: Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 17, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Don’t let the description of The Observatory fool you. This wasn’t just another room escape. This was something special.

The Gate Escape designed The Observatory for experienced players; it presented a stiff but fair challenge. They managed to nail this rare combination while putting a unique spin on their game.

This game made us feel so smiley.

If you find yourself in Boston, and you love escape rooms, it’s worth the hour drive to The Gate Escape. The Observatory is a must-play.

If you’re a newbie, we suggest starting with The Gate Escape’s other delightful games before you attempt The Observatory. This is a special game, and you’ll want to level up your skills so that you can truly appreciate it.

In-game: the wood walls of an observatory with orange galaxy paintings on the wall.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Ridiculous design choice… that works so well
  • Strong puzzles
  • High value (90 minutes for your $33!)

Story

The Observatory was a sequel to The Gate Escape’s first game, The Assistant.

While at a conference, Dr. E R Bridge had called upon us, his trusty assistants, to enter his lab and retrieve his hidden research notes. He needed us to get them to him before he made a fool of himself on stage before his peers in the scientific community.

In-game: a desk with assorted items and a strange wire running from it.

Setting

Nothing was as it seemed.

We entered a seemingly mundane office-like environment. The space was sparsely decorated with graffitied notes and equations left behind by Dr. E R Bridge.

This was one of those rare times where I want to tell you what’s special about the set of a game. I want to paint a picture that sells you on it… but you’re going to have to take me at my word that it’s special. Once you see it, you’ll understand why spoiling it would be tragic.

In-game: a star chart with unusual mathematical notation on it.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s The Observatory was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Analysis

➕ With The Observatory, The Gate Escape introduced a unique twist on the escape game format. When it dawned on us what was happening, we turned giddy.

➕ As we played The Observatory, we built mastery over the game flow. This escape room taught us how to play it without ever feeling heavyhanded. We were enthralled as we discovered how this game wanted to be played.

➕ At first glance, The Observatory felt overwhelming. As we became comfortable with the puzzle design, however, we recognized instead a creative thematic aesthetic choice.

❓ If you aren’t comfortable puzzling, this will be an especially challenging game.

➕/ ➖ The Observatory looked handcrafted. There was a charm in this aesthetic that worked with the setting and story. We could tell how much love went into this build. That said, we expect some players will find handwriting variation challenging, or simply less appealing. There was opportunity for aesthetic refinement.

The puzzles flowed beautifully from one to the next. They were largely tangible, satisfying solves. For the most part, we had to work process puzzles through to completion before seeing the solution, but these didn’t feel tedious. They felt like continual discovery. There was never a boring moment.

➖ One pivotal moment could have used additional cluing to refocus the players on… well, it’s an observatory.

➕ There was an incredible late-game teamwork-driven sequence.

➖ We didn’t feel particularly invested in the characters. There was a villain in this story, but that plot point was completely lost amongst the rest of the experience. The Gate Escape could also add character building to the protagonist to more fully connect the story and the puzzling.

➕ The Gate Escape brought us down from the climactic sequence with a humorous little puzzle that brought the escape room full circle.

➖ Although this escape room was fantastic, its marketing was not enticing. The Gate Escape’s website and game description simply don’t do it justice. If one were to casually look at The Gate Escape’s website, it would be easy to write this off as “just another escape room” and it isn’t.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.

Book your session with The Gate Escape’s The Observatory, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gate Escape’s comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Grand Parlor [Review]

Earn the urn. 

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 28, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The “grand” in Grand Parlor was not an overstatement. 

13th Hour Escape Rooms delivered a creepy interactive adventure, for a larger team, on a large scale. 

The Grand Parlor felt epic and delightful. 

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

While not every puzzle made sense in the experience, or was on the same level, the vast majority of the gameplay elevated the impressive gamespace… and the majority of our critique is about details that wouldn’t even get mentioned in our reviews of more average games. 

The big brother of the Hayden family with murder in his eyes.

We visited 13th Hour in October to experience the effect of actors on The Grand Parlor. We loved this augmentation, but your mileage will vary depending on your gameplay preferences (see below for a full explanation of the actors and how to get or avoid them).

If you are anywhere near northwestern New Jersey, and can enjoy an eerie and sinister vibe, we highly recommend an excursion to 13th Hour Escape Rooms. We’ve loved many of their escape rooms and The Grand Parlor was no exception. It rivaled The Great Room.

The big brother of the Hayden family choking David.
(Atypical customer service, David had this coming.)

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the creepy
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Expansive and immersive set
  • Large-scale interactive puzzles
  • Epic and joyous moments

Story

The ashes of Bishop, a notorious killer and beloved member of the Hayden family, had gone missing. If we could help the Haydens find Bishop’s urn, then they would let us leave their parlor unharmed.

In-game: View over the balcony to a wooden box with a faint red glow emanating from it.

Setting

The Grand Parlor was set in the most spacious area of the creepy Hayden family farmhouse. From the dark and foreboding entryway, it opened up into a massive space with height, depth, and hiding places. The props ranged from parlor staples to farmhouse essentials.

In-game: A view atop the balcony, the railing is casting an intricate shadow.

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

While the puzzles were not especially difficult on their own, the large gamespace and large-team dynamic raised the level of difficulty of the overall experience.

The older sister of the Hayden family with blood spattered across her face and dress.

Actors in October

13th Hour runs a haunted house in additional to their 5 escape rooms. On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentines Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The 6 actors roam the 5 escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters.

The father of the Hayden family looking creepy in a torn up suit.

The set, story, puzzles, and gameplay do not change for October. The escape rooms are open year round.

We visited The Grand Parlor during October to experience the actors in the escape room. Our other reviews of other 13th Hour games do not include this discussion because we did not visit those games when the actors were in rotation.

The younger brother of the Hayden family with a large eye wound.

➕ The actors were impressive. They added character to the experience. They surprised us at well-timed moments. They were a ton of fun. If you’re looking for feels and immersion over focused puzzles, I highly recommend playing these escape rooms with the actors.

➖ At times, the actors were heavy-handed. They were the hint system as well as added character for the space. If you want focused puzzle-play, don’t visit in October. You’ll be frustrated by the interruptions. You’ll also have less control over the hinting.

A visit to 13th Hour in October is an individual decision. The actors don’t make the escape rooms better or worse. They make them different. We loved the creepy, playful horde roaming Hayden’s farm. They improvise and have fun with you. It’s also perfectly reasonable to have zero interest in that added layer. 

Animation of the younger sister of the Hayden watching TV while holding her dolls. She occasionally lunges forward and sticks her tongue out.

Analysis

➕ The set was impressive. It was detailed and designed. The vertical scale and the decor were captivating. It was an incredible environment to explore and puzzle through.

➕ The gamespace opened up over the course of play with exciting, grand reveals as well as more surprising, quiet opens.

➖ It was easy to miss the best moments if they triggered while we were elsewhere in the gamespace, working on something different. The Grand Parlor would have benefited from gameflow that guided all players into position to witness the most exciting moments.

The Grand Parlor was creepy, playful, and joyous. Note for the timid: it was creepy, but not scary.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms produced layered, but approachable puzzles. We had to connect elements across the large gamespace, which forced communication and teamwork. This structure worked really well.

➖ The gamespace echoed a lot. With a large team of players – and the actors as well – the space was full of commotion. Communication became frustrating.

The 13th Hour Hallway
The entire facility is themed. This is their main hallway.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ entire facility is themed. Their lobby and hallways look more aesthetically impressive than most escape rooms. 

➕ For one simple puzzle, 13th Hour designed an original take on a common escape room trope. It was phenomenal.

➖ We spent a lot of time trying to solve one puzzle before we had all the information. We would have appreciated additional gating here, especially because the eventual solution didn’t feel like adequate payoff for the wasted time.

➖ A few interactions seemed to belong in a different game. One in particular didn’t make sense – conceptually or aesthetically – in the Hayden family’s parlor.

➕ One standard parlor prop surprised us with an impromptu, silly, and playful interlude. It was delightful. 

➕ The large-scale interactions supported the grandeur of the set. These contributed to nifty and satisfying puzzle solves that felt great in the gamespace.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • We recommend Hot Rods BBQ.
  • Most of the team needs to be able to climb stairs. While it is possible for a player or two to play The Grand Parlor without climbing any stairs, if you play this way, you’ll miss significant components of the game.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

A special thanks to the Hayden Family for allowing David to photograph them and live.

Escape City Buffalo – Over the Falls [Review]

“You’re aboot to die, eh. Soorry.”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Over the Falls took us on a trip down the Niagara River on an old cargo ship beset by nefarious Canadian pirates.

The ship setting was expansive, varied, and beautiful in a worn and weathered way. Over the Falls was brimming with fantastic effects and memorable events.

While the challenges varied, and leaned a bit too heavily on search, Escape City Buffalo crafted an incredible environment to house an adventure. Above all else, adventuring aboard this vessel felt grand.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo, this is a must play.

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Tourists to Niagara Falls
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The phenomenal set
  • The water feature
  • Tactile solves

Story

We had been traveling across the Niagara River when those infamous Canadian pirates seized our cargo ship, stole the goods, and abandoned the ship, leaving us on course to go right over Niagara Falls. We needed to avoid this impending disaster.

In-game: steaming furnaces.

Setting

We began Over the Falls handcuffed to railings in the furnace compartment of an old cargo ship and worked our way to the bridge. The set was sprawling, magnificently detailed, and weathered. The bowels of this vessel felt lived in. It looked and smelled like a cargo ship.

Escape City Buffalo built some elaborate and impressive features into the later sets of Over the Falls.

In-game: A closeup of a rusty and weathered porthole.
Look at that detail.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: engine controls.

Analysis

+ The set was incredible. Escape City Buffalo’s attention to detail created a gamespace that instilled a sense of adventure in us. It was a wonderfully fun environment to explore. It was gorgeous.

In-game: heavily weathered and rusting ceiling.
This was from the ceiling.

Over the Falls was well player-proofed. Escape City Buffalo’s epoxy game was solid. In this way they build detailed environments without leaving red herrings in their wake.

In-game: a workshop and a set of gauges and valves.

+ The initial furnace room set was especially fun to explore. We enjoyed the effects. A discovery felt like treasure.

– Over the Falls started with the team split between two different sides of the furnace room. This start felt uneven. One group had a lot more that they could accomplish than the other did.

+ There were a lot of captivating effects and memorable events.

In-game: The entrance door.

– Over the Falls relied heavily on search challenge. We lost a lot of time retracing our steps, scouring for minute details. The most exciting gamespace asked us to search for small details with weak light.

+ Our favorite challenges required us to manipulate objects in the gamespace to achieve our goals. These were satisfying, tactile solves.

– It was difficult to understand the captain of our vessel when he spoke to us over the speakers. We pretty much never heard a word he said.

– Over the Falls lacked a finale. In the end, a door opened as we escaped the cargo ship. It didn’t make a ton of sense (Did we set the ship back on course? Did we find treasure?) and it didn’t punctuate the victory with any of the grand effects we’d seen earlier in the game.

+ The water feature. Wow.

Tips for Visiting

  • Wear clothing and shoes that can get a little damp.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.