2020 Golden Lock Awards

We played only 34 real-life escape games in 2020.

While our play count doesn’t come close to that of past years (which peaked at 258 in 2017), we found some incredible gems on our two international trips, and in our own home market. We’re excited to announce these winners, which would haven been strong contenders in past years as well, and deserve the recognition.

In addition, in 2020 we played many digital and remote escape games. For the first time this year, we’ll recognize our favorites in this category too, out of the more than 50 we played.

2020 Golden Lock Award Ribbon

Rules

  1. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could win the award.
  2. A company could only win once for the year.
  3. We (either of us) had to play the room during 2020.
  4. To be eligible for the “Online” category, games had to be playable from home, without any shipped components.
  5. To be eligible for the “Real-Life” category, we had to visit the venue in person to play the game.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again. Here are our 17 favorite escape rooms (9 online, 8 real-life) of 2020.

2020 Golden Lock Winners

Category: Online

Listed chronologically in the order that we played them (which is not necessarily chronologically equivalent to when we published the REA Hivemind review):

The Lost Temple

CU Adventures in Time & Space – Urbana, Illinois, USA

The flooplan for a university library with a hand written letter on it.

In The Lost Temple, CU Adventures in Time & Space integrated crafty printable puzzles with an inviting and well-organized digital interface, such that playing this style hybrid felt entirely seamless. It was an impressive and innovative take on escape room gameplay.

The Truth About Edith

Mad Genius Escape Co. – Portland, Oregon, USA

Edith up close to the camera on a Zoom call.

With its custom interface, The Truth About Edith required a team of 4 players to coordinate individual actions to collaboratively complete a mission. Mad Genius Escape Co.’s worldbuilding added tons of energy and personality to this quirky game.

Pursuit of Assassin Artist

Omescape – San Jose, California, USA

The artist walking around in his home.

Pursuit of the Assassin Artist took advantage of the online format with scenes that wouldn’t work in real-life escape gaming. Omescape’s elegant execution of a time loop mechanic, combined with amusing actor interactions, ushered in what we expect to be a jumping off point for future creativity in escape rooms.

Miss Jezebel Online

60out – Los Angeles, California, USA

Miss Jezebel looking handsome over zoom.

60out’s edgy blend of over-the-top character interactions with traditional escape room gameplay in an absurd setting worked brilliantly in its avatar-led online adaptation. Miss Jezebel was uproariously funny with outstanding acting – perfect for any adult audience comfortable participating in raunchy humor.

Avatar Stalker

Project Avatar – Ukraine

First person view of an old building, the avatar's hands are visible along with various HUD indicators.

Project Avatar was a groundbreaking hybrid of video game and avatar escape game. Their silent avatars imbued the role with personality, while also acting as stuntmen. Avatar Stalker was an absurd scavenger hunt/ choose-your-own-adventure game with a bonkers story and hilarious cutscenes.

The Hot Chocolate Incident

Improbable Escapes – Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Jingle the exuberant elf gamemaster.
Improbable Escape’s The Hot Chocolate Incident

The Hot Chocolate Incident was serious about being adorable. With their family-friendly holiday game, Improbable Escapes designed a staging specifically for online play, with streamlined searching and inputting, and the illusion of tech, enabling their bumbling, excitable elven avatar to focus on holiday cheer.

Club Drosselmeyer 1943

Green Door Labs – Boston, Massachusetts, USA

An assortment of puzzle components.

For its 1943 installment, this annual Christmas spectacle was reimagined as a radio show, complete with music, character interactions, branching narrative, and mailed (or printed) puzzles. Club Drosselmeyer 1943 created the frenzied energy of the real-life event through an impressive modern back end that orchestrated a digital experience which felt true to the period of the narrative.

The Beast

Emergency Exit – Greater Manchester, England

A black statue of a demon.

Emergency Exit reinvented their real-life games into an extraordinary online adventure in The Beast. The narrative foundation, cinematography, and in-game audiovisual trickery, combined with a skilled avatar – plus cameraman – afforded this game new opportunities to shock.

Super Squad

Trapped Puzzle Rooms – St. Paul, Minnesota, US

Comic booky Super Squad logo.

Trapped Puzzle Rooms used the audio medium to its fullest for clever situational puzzles. The magic of Super Squad was a fantastical world where we could try anything, however ridiculous, and it just might work, because the gamemaster embraced creative off-the-wall solutions and rewarded us with rich, improvised responses.

Category: Real-Life

Listed chronologically in the order that we played them:

Wigwam Escape

Washington – Washington, Connecticut, USA

In-game: A beautiful authentic wigwam in the middle of the escape room.

In Wigwam Escape, every design decision had purpose. Solving through a day in 1518, we learned through gameplay, and marveled at novel interactions that surprised and excited us. There was a ton of innovation crammed into Wigwam Escape.

The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen

Escaparium – Laval, Quebec, Canada

In-game: A view through a long, old, wood ship. A treasure chest sits on the floor.

Escaparium’s blockbuster escape room took place aboard a ship with a breathtakingly detailed set. The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen induced a child-like urge to explore and discover, and solves were rewarded with outrageous effects and dramatic moments.

The Reflection of Madness

Codex – Montreal, Quebec, Canada

In-game: A portal splitting open reality, a tenticle is vaguely visible beyond the gap.
Image via Codex

The Reflection of Madness captured the epic feeling of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It wasn’t a particularly scary game; it played with the boundaries of human perception and expectation. While Codex was one of the victims of 2020, this game remains eligible for a Golden Lock because it was purchased and will live on.

The Grand Immersia Hotel

Immersia – Montreal, Quebec, Canada

In-game: closeup of the hotel's key display.
Image via Immersia

The Grand Immersia Hotel was a narrative-driven, blood-pumping adventure through a set that became increasingly compelling around each bend. Immersia built tension, excitement, and momentum with each discovery and solve.

The Sanatorium

Lockhill – Athens, Greece

In-lobby: A building's entrance lit by lantern light.
Image from Lockhill’s lobby

Lockhill’s The Sanatorium (2.5 hours on Midnight Mode) was an enormous, beautiful, menacing experience with surprises around every corner. Traversing the environment and interacting with the actors felt like living a survival horror video game.

El Exorcista

No Exit Escape Rooms – Athens, Greece

In-game: an alter in a crypt covered in candles.

In El Exorcista, with each transition we were terrified, shocked, awed, and delighted… and this repeated on loop for the 90-minute theatrical escape room. No Exit Escape Rooms’ talented actors made this exorcism story come alive.

The Bookstore

Paradox Project – Athens, Greece

In-game: The exterior of the bookshop, from the street. It appears as a real bookshop.

Paradox Project’s epic second adventure (at 200 minutes!) took inspiration from classic escape room sets and gameplay, but opened up in unexpected ways. Although grand in scale, The Bookstore was composed of intimate scenes connected by outstanding reveals and exciting transitions.

Ghost Light

Myss Tic – Brooklyn, New York, USA

In-game: Two changing stations backstage. Makeup, perfume, and jewlery are laid out.

In Ghost Light the lighting was beautiful, but also elegantly designed to focus our attention on the elements that mattered and deprioritize everything else. It was subtle, but genius. With strong puzzle design realized through classic escape room gameplay, Myss Tic reminded us why we love escape rooms.

Congratulations to the 2020 Golden Lock Award Winners!

Past Golden Lock Awards

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Live at 4pm Eastern: The 2020 Golden Lock Awards

The 6th Annual Golden Lock Award winners will be announced in just a few hours. Join us today at 4pm Eastern for the livestream award ceremony and conversation.

2020 Golden Lock Award Ribbon

We’re so excited to recognize our favorite escape rooms that we played in 2020 – both real-life and online – with this event.

Live Q&A

For the first time this year, the Golden Lock Award Livestream will include a live Q&A with Lisa and David, hosted by RECON’s popular Q&A host, Peih-Gee Law.

Throughout the broadcast, you can type your questions into the YouTube chat, and Peih-Gee will select from the questions for the Q&A.

About the Golden Lock Award

Check out our list of previous winners to learn more about the award and read about some phenomenal games:

Trapped Puzzle Rooms – Super Squad [Hivemind Review]

Super Squad is an audio escape game created by Trapped Puzzle Rooms in St. Paul, MN.

Comic booky Super Squad logo.

Format

Style of Play: audio escape game

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection

You’ll need to sign up for a free Discord account if you don’t already have one. The host is skilled in onboarding new players.

Recommended Team Size: 3-6

Play Time: about an hour

Price: $15 per person, with a 3-ticket minimum

Booking: book for a specific time slot

Description

Trapped Puzzle Rooms offers spoken-word, Dungeons & Dragons-esque gameplay with some supplemental art. The host told the story, the players reacted to the world, and the host explained the ramifications of those actions. The more imaginative and willing to play the team was, the more the group got out of the experience.

Hivemind Review Scale

Club Drosselmeyer 1943 – Digital [Hivemind Review]

Club Drosselmeyer 1943 is an interactive audio experience, created by Green Door Labs in Boston, MA.

An assortment of puzzle components.

Format

Style of Play: interactive audio experience with tabletop puzzle components

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection, mobile device, pen and paper, scissors, and a printer if you purchased the print-and-play version

If you’re playing with remote friends, you’ll need a video conferencing platform (like Zoom) to communicate. One person will make many phone calls (ideally on speaker phone).

If you are based outside of the United States, note that telephone-based interactions are critical to this experience.

Recommended Team Size: 2-6

Play Time: 2 hours

Price: $35 for print-and-play or $55 Drosseldossier of mailed components

In advance of the live shows in December 2020, there were also Drosselboxes of mailed components for $65, which is the version most of our reviewers played.

Booking: with no more live shows, you can now purchase a printable PDF or mailed Drosseldossier and play at your leisure

Description

The year is 1943, and every citizen has a role to play in the war. You’re corresponding with non-player characters through a phone line, hoping to advance your mission of aiding either Herr Drosselmeyer, Rhett the Rat King, or both!

The story and gameplay were delivered by a blend of printable (or shipped) puzzles, a web-based radio show, and phone-based interactions.

Note that the radio broadcast and phone number are connected. If you’re playing in a group, you must make all the calls from the phone number linked to your radio broadcast.

A wax sealed envelope from Drosselmeyer Industries Inc.

Hivemind Review Scale

Announcing The 2020 Golden Lock Awards Livestream

The 6th Annual Golden Lock Award winners will be announced live on Saturday, January 2. This award is bestowed upon our favorite escape rooms that we played in 2020.

2020 Golden Lock Award Ribbon

Key Details

• Date: Saturday, January 2
• Time: 4pm Eastern
 Duration: Less than 30 minutes

Unlike with previous Golden Lock Award livestreams, there will be no live audience this year. Because 2020.

More Details

Stay tuned for the livestream link, which we will share that morning – January 2 – at our regular 10:01am Eastern blog post time.

New for 2020

With two densely packed trips before March, we managed to play 34 in-person escape rooms this year. Many of these games deserve recognition, and we feel they’d be strong contenders even if we’d played another 200 games throughout the year.

As a first this year, we’ll also recognize online adaptations of the escape room genre with their own category of 2020 Golden Lock Award winners.

About the Golden Lock Award

Check out our list of previous winners to learn more about the award and read about some phenomenal games:

We hope you’ll tune in on Saturday, January 2 at 4pm Eastern for the livestream!