Broken Ghost Immersive – The Bunker [Review]

Legally distinct apocalypse.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: August 11, 2018

Team size: 8-15; we recommend 8-12

Duration: Between 120 – 150 minutes

Price: $55 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Bunker was a wild ride of an immersive game. It mashed up roleplaying, tabletop gaming, puzzling, and storytelling into a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic that was both compelling and funny.

We loved The Bunker, but caution that people should only book tickets if they are willing to embrace whatever the game throws at them and play. If you’re too uncomfortable or too cool to play in The Bunker’s fiction, then this experience is decidedly not for you.

Similarly, if all you want are puzzles, or an elegant story presented to you… there are plenty of escape rooms or immersive shows that will scratch that itch; The Bunker is not what you’re seeking.

Your mileage will vary based on whom you’re playing with and the choices that you make. By total happenstance found ourselves teamed up with Kathryn Yu from No Proscenium & Michael Andersen of ARGNET, which was the most amazing random teammate assignment possible.

For those that showed up with their imagination and a willingness to play, The Bunker presented countless opportunities to explore within a strange world and build our own unique story.

In-game: David's shirt with a empathy sticker on it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Best for players who are willing to embrace the game
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every scene

Why play?

  • Fantastic gamemastering
  • Open-ended interactive storytelling that relied heavily on player decision
  • Unique moments for every player who desires them
  • Opportunity to leave your mark on your group’s story
  • Humor
  • Brilliant game mechanics
  • Each group receives a unique ending

Story

As backers of a crowdfunding project to create a series of apocalypse survival bunkers, we had gone for a tour of one of the facilities when the world ended. The bunker had locked down and the shelter’s AI DeBUNK had put us into stasis for over a century.

When DeBUNK revived us, things weren’t so great. The world had been transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland of familiar yet legally distinct horrors, our bunker’s life support systems were starting to fail, and we were low on food.

In-game: A laptop sitting on a counter in a red lit kitchen.
DeBUNK, our Bunker’s AI.

Setting

The Bunker was staged in Wildrence, a NYC experiential space and consulting studio that helps provide other creators with an immersive space and the tools necessary to bring their experiences to life. Previously this facility has hosted RefugeContagion, and Six Impossible Things (which is an exceptional close-up immersive magic performance. Get tickets if you can!).

Our bunker and homebase was staged in the Wildrence kitchen set. Leaving the safety of our bunker required a hazmat suit (holding a hazmat suit card). Outside our bunker, we met a character who facilitated our exploration of the rest of the game’s expansive world.

In-game: A mechanical bug on some papers.

Gameplay

The Bunker was an immersive game with a variety of game mechanics, a tabletop crafting game, some puzzles, and a lot of free-form roleplaying.

In the bunker we could ask questions of our AI DeBUNK (a gamemaster character over Google Hangouts), attempt to build things via the crafting tabletop game, use the tablets that we found across the wasteland to communicate (text) with other bunkers, and manage our resources.

In-game: cards representing duct tape and a hazmat suit.

Resources were drawn playing cards: rations, Twinkies, hazmat suits, tools, medicines, and whatever else we found while exploring the world. Some resources were reusable; others burned as soon as we committed them.

In-game: The world map, revealing the names of different locations.
Our world map.

Exploration involved going out into the wasteland and telling the character which direction we wanted to go. Along the way, he told us which structures we had encountered and we made choices about which to visit. Once we had made a selection, he described the encounter and we decided how to react using only our wits and whatever resources we had onhand.

When the exploration ended, our gamemaster informed us of how everything had resolved. This included what resources we had found and what terrible physical and psychological afflictions we had picked up along our journey through the hellscape… and some strikingly bad things happened to our people.

In-game: a hobbled sticker, player can't explore as effectively.

When things happened to us, we received stickers depicting our abilities or afflictions. Some stickers gave us additional powers to help us; others represented physical or psychological damage that diminished our abilities. Some of these afflictions could be cured; others couldn’t… and some we simply didn’t want to cure because they were amusing.

Ultimately, each player had to take responsibility for their own good time.

Analysis

The Bunker had a massive amount of story content and opportunities for us to explore, create drama, or stumble into trouble.

+ More than just about any immersive game that we’ve played, the choices that we made in The Bunker had immediate and logical consequences. We were never totally shocked when something happened because it flowed out of a decision that we had made either in that moment, or earlier.

+ The more each of us put into the game, the more the game gave back to us. Many of us had some wild experiences. The Bunker rewarded those of us who embraced the game and its fiction.

+ For us, the best parts were the adventures that we had when we left our Bunker. The game world, the choices, and the implications were endlessly entertaining.

+ The stickers signifying afflictions and abilities were brilliant and amusing. The illustrations on them were funny. It was especially clever that they could be quickly applied or removed (if cured).

+ The gamemasters were interactive, funny, and effective at facilitating the game. Their mastery over their own story and content was perpetually evident.

– There was a 3-person staff managing the entire game. As the scope of the world grew, it became a bit chaotic. They were surprisingly adept at wrangling everything that was going on, but there were times where it was clearly a bit too much.

– Our teammates who hung out in our bunker and made no effort to embrace the experience clearly didn’t enjoy themselves. On one hand, during the game I was annoyed with them because it seemed clear to me that they were doing themselves a disservice and all that they would have needed to do was volunteer to do anything at all to jumpstart a better experience. On the other hand, there truly was no mechanism for pulling these wayward players into the experience if they failed to show initiative. This really was a flaw in the game.

+ Broken Ghost Immersive had created some really smart afflictions to prevent strong personalities from overpowering the game. I saw this happen in real time at least once and knew exactly what was going on. I was dumbfounded by how brilliantly and elegantly our gamemaster used the mechanic.

– While we didn’t have any problems, I am confident that one hyperaggressive player could severely damage the entire The Bunker experience for all involved. Although the same could be said for escape rooms, since The Bunker was entirely social, the human element was even more critical.

– Lisa and a few of our other teammates spent a lot of the game off on their own journey away from the main story. While Lisa enjoyed her experience and the part she played in that narrative, by the time her narrative reconnected with the main story, too much had happened in the bunker for her to even begin to follow what was going on. She was pretty confused by the events of our end game.

+ The puzzles, for those that encountered them, were solid and thematic.

– The level of physical immersion was spotty and required a lot of suspension of disbelief and a willingness to embrace imagination. Broken Ghost Immersive delivered storylines that were clearly less immersive with a wink and a nod and a dose of humor, but sometimes it wasn’t necessarily enough.

+ At the end of the game we were given the opportunity to choose a long-term strategy for our bunker. Based on that decision we immediately received an epilogue describing the conclusion to our story. It was intriguing, deeply rooted in the decisions that we had made throughout the game, and sensical. The epilogue put a lovely bow on our apocalypse.

Tips for Visiting

  • Show up willing to interact, explore, and play.
  • Bring a group of people who all want to play.
  • When you’re playing, be bold, imaginative, and decisive. Great and terrible things will happen to your group regardless.
  • It’s not an escape room. Leave your searching skills at home.
  • A few of our favorite restaurants in the area include Russ & Daughters Cafe, Vanessa’s Dumpling House, and Mission Chinese Food.
  • By subway, take the F to East Broadway. Street parking can be challenging in this neighborhood.
  • The Wildrence is located down a flight of stairs.

Book your session with Broken Ghost Immersive’s The Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Broken Ghost Immersive comped our tickets for this game.

Mister and Mischief – Escape from Godot [Review]

A real-life actor’s nightmare.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: June 17, 2018

Team size: 8 tickets per time slot

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket (limited run during the Hollywood Fringe Festival)

Ticketing: public

REA Reaction

At its best, Escape from Godot felt a little like that dream where you’re on stage and you can’t remember your lines… only exciting and fun. A refreshing blend of escape room and immersive theater, Escape from Godot used puzzles and gameplay to drive the stage production forward. The experience was appropriately absurdist… being based on Waiting for Godot (synopsis).

The actors blew us away with their commitment to delivering their lines while managing game flow.

Escape from Godot broke away from escape room conventions. What emerged was fun, engaging, and impressive. We left feeling entertained and energized. If Escape from Godot is revived in another form, it would definitely be worth checking out.

In-game: Three actors performing a scene. One actor looks very surprised.
Photo credit: Anne Rene Brashier

Who is this for?

  • Theater fans
  • Players who enjoy interacting with actors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Quirky puzzles integrated with a live theater production
  • Talented and enthusiastic actors
  • Unique, playful experience
  • Bowler hats

Story

Upon arriving at a theater to attend a friend’s play, we learned that everyone involved in the production was being threatened with a lawsuit if they continued the play without permission – including the audience. We had one hour to fill in for the stage manager and help the actors complete the play before the lawyers arrived to shut it down.

Setting

Escape from Godot was an escape room intertwined with a theater production. Rather than relying on scenery and effects, the immersiveness of Escape from Godot unfolded mostly temporally, via actors and props on the stage. The set, a relatively ordinary theater, was secondary to the puzzles and interactions.

Gameplay

Mister and Mischief’s Escape from Godot was an escape game and theater blend that revolved around theatrical cues, dialogue, and actor interactions. We participated both as audience members watching the actors and as crew members puzzling out how to guide the play (and the escape room) to its final curtain.

Escape from Godot included medium-difficulty escape room puzzles involving logic, observation, and wordplay.

Two actors standing on stage while another actor whispers to a player
Photo credit: Anne Rene Brashier

Analysis

+ Escape from Godot was fun for theater buffs and theater newbies alike. Those of us who were more familiar with Waiting for Godot got extra enjoyment from certain details and interactions, but we didn’t need to have seen the play.

+ The absurdist theme meant we weren’t always sure what we were supposed to do, but orienting ourselves was part of the challenge. It felt like being in an actor’s nightmare, with all the chaos and confusion of being thrust on stage without our lines – but in a good way.

+ The puzzles were whimsical and integrated with the theme.

+ Escape from Godot involved actor interaction, but some players were in the spotlight more than others. Shy players didn’t have to worry because interaction was limited and only as involved as each person wanted it to be. Accommodating different audience member personalities made the show approachable to extroverted players as well as people who were less comfortable with interaction.

+ The actors went all out. On top of their solid acting, they delivered hints subtly and seamlessly, right when we needed them. By calibrating our timing with thoughtful cluing, they had the ability to control the flow of the experience and make sure each group felt victorious at the end. This kind of improvisation must have been tricky to pull off. We were impressed with how effortless it felt and how much it added to our enjoyment.

– The venue wasn’t perfect. The space near the stage was a bit cramped, which made it hard for all eight of us to participate equally at times when we were in the audience area.

+ Playing Escape from Godot felt true to the experience of watching a play; it also felt like putting on a play. Even without elaborate sets, the action and the puzzles kept us engaged and immersed for the whole hour.

? Due to the linear gameplay, there were a couple of bottleneck moments. Fortunately, the show was designed so that the least busy of us could always entertain ourselves by watching the actors perform their scenes.

+ The beginning and ending of Escape from Godot were largely unguided, which gave us a feeling of mystery when we entered the theater and triumph when we led the show to our curtain call.

+ Escape from Godot showed that the theater is a natural setting for an escape room hybrid. Solving puzzles to influence the show is a unique and fun game mechanic. We’d love to see more people experimenting with integrating gameplay into stage productions.

Tips for Visiting

  • Escape from Godot had a limited run and is no longer playing. If Mister and Mischief decide to revive it, the venue and other details may change.
  • This experience had live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; having one or two outgoing teammates should be enough.
  • Since Escape from Godot was an escape room within a play, it was more about enjoying the experience than beating the clock. You might have to wait for the actors to finish their lines before you can progress anyway, so take your time and enjoy the performance.

Escape from Godot took place in June 2018 and is not currently running.

Real Life Gaming – Prison Escape (Exclusive English Edition) [Review]

80 actors, 170 players, 1 actual prison.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 10, 2018

Team size: up to 400 players; we recommend ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 3 hours

Price: €79.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Very public

REA Reaction

Prison Escape was no escape room; it was a massive and intense roleplaying game with 80 talented actors and a gigantic cast of players. Prison Escape was a living, breathing entity, an organism with systems that impacted one another. A disruption here trickled down to there.

From their extensive prison intake introduction, to the various escape conspiracies, Prison Escape was a factory that produced individual moments for its players to experience. Some of those moments were epic; others were dull snippets of prison life. They all came together to form a story arc for each player.

The planning, coordination, and care that went into Prison Escape was mind-boggling. When we stop to think about what they have achieved, it’s impossible to be anything but impressed.Lisa's Prison Escape mugshot in an orange jump suit.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • LARPers or people who are willing to be social
  • Players who are comfortable knowing that they will not experience most of the things that this game has to offer

Why play?

  • Fairly open-ended gameplay where with some luck, you’ll get out of it what you put into it
  • Playing a prison escape game in an actual prison
  • The actors were phenomenal.
  • Prison Escape was truly massive in scope.

Story

We were all new convicts serving 10-year sentences in the Breda Prison Dome. We could either find a way to make a new life behind bars or attempt to escape.

The crowd of 180 players gathered outside of the Breda Prison Dome.

Setting

Prison Escape was played in and around the Breda Prison Dome, the retired prison that also hosted Up The Game. While some key components like prison locks had been removed from the structure, this was an otherwise authentic setting. It would have been impossible to ask more of the set.

The Prison Dome was massive, imposing, and strangely beautiful. While we had just spent two days in this building for the conference, it felt a lot less friendly under these circumstances, devoid of stage lighting, booths, and conference infrastructure.

David's Prison Escape mugshot in an grey jump suit.

Gameplay

Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape was not an escape room at all. Prison Escape was something between a real life game and an immersive theater.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, conversation, and a willingness to take action.

Exterior of the Breda Prison Dome with barred windows and barbed wire.

Analysis

This is an ever-evolving production so these points may not be relevant. If you’re planning to play Prison Escape, I strongly encourage you to skip the spoiler boxes below as the information contained therein may impact the way you choose to play the game.

Have your own experience first. Then return to read the rest of this review. You’ve been warned. 

+ The Breda Prison Dome was a phenomenal venue. This setting that had felt friendly days before was suddenly foreboding. It was an incredible transformation back to its natural state.

Prison Escape had an imposing introduction. It established the game world. It put us in character and costume. The prison warden delivered a badass welcome to hell speech.

Introduction - Discussion

+ The costumes – both ours and the actors’ – further solidified our characters in this experience. The prison guards had a clever technique for efficiently getting each prisoner into a prison jumpsuit that fit them perfectly, without ever disrupting the intense introductory sequence or breaking the fiction.

– The introduction took a long time. We spent a good portion of the first third of Prison Escape standing at attention. The novelty wore off quickly and discomfort set in.

– The grand introduction didn’t matter all that much. Prison Escape shattered that world just as soon as they had established it. We played the rest of the experience in a much looser, more zany prison world. As players, we had a bit of trouble accepting this transition. For quite some time, we were convinced that the harsh reality of the introduction would return. It didn’t. This dramatically impacted our understanding of the game’s world.

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Prison Escape set up epic individual moments. As an individual (or a small group), we’d be dispatched to accomplish a task that would be central to one of the plot threads. We had to come up with our own strategy and proceed. Succeed or fail, Prison Escape created memorable individual moments. For both of us, and most people we’ve talked to, these were the highlights of the experience.

Mid-Game Discussion

+ Prison Escape left a lot of breadcrumbs to lead players into a plot thread of their own. From found objects to the actors, if we observed carefully and made some basic connections, we’d find a plot thread to follow. Prison Escape worked hard to ensure that every player – even those with no experience in this type of gameplay – could engage with it.

+/- The different plot threads affected one another dramatically. When one plot succeeded long before it was intended to, it shattered another plot thread that hinged on an affected character. One group’s win caused another group to fail.

– After a certain point, if a plot thread failed, there was nothing else to do in Prison Escape. There came a point where it was impossible to break into the other storylines. There were no new plots taking shape. When David’s plot was disrupted midway through, there was no more fun to be had at Prison Escape

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+/- Many of the escape plots were comically ridiculous. This was a ton of fun. It was strange, however, when juxtaposed with the serious tone established in the introduction.

End-Game - Discussion

– The few dozen people who didn’t escape didn’t get an end to their story. They got to watch another group’s plot resolve, but they weren’t participants anymore, only onlookers. They didn’t get a conclusion. We don’t recommend that everyone win. We do recommend that everyone receive an interactive ending.

– About 80% of the participants in our play-through escaped the prison. This seemed like a high number. It diminished the victory for those who succeed and added insult to those who did not. While the escape was fun, the best moments of the experience weren’t in achieving victory. We don’t think everyone needs to escape to enjoy Prison Escape. There was a missed opportunity to catch some plots in action and bring back the intensity of the introduction.

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+ The actors were phenomenal. Furthermore, they were all speaking in their second language. This was the first time Real Life Gaming had run Prison Escape in English. We were seriously impressed with the English and the acting, especially all of the improvisation.

+ In Prison Escape, we were responsible for our own experiences, to a point. If we observed, conversed, played, strategized, and engaged, it could be a truly epic experience.

? In Prison Escape, the game structure was responsible for our experiences, to a point. There was a fair bit of luck involved in getting started. The actions of actors and other players would also affect our experiences, both negatively and positively. We weren’t entirely in control of our own destiny, which made sense in a prison.

Prison Escape is not consistent. It is not a stock experience, David and I had profoundly different experiences. Your game will be unique, as will your individual experiences within it.

The Breda Prison Dome lit at night.

Tips for Playing

  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of standing at attention.
  • Do not wear a skirt or dress.
  • Bring as few personal effects as you can. You’ll be locking them in lockers during the experience.
  • Be open to the highs and lows of the experience.
  • Take action. You have to actively play if you want anything to happen.

Book your event with Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Life Gaming provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

8Players [Review]

A wild 90s teen murder mystery.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date Played: January 17, 2018

Team size: 8; tickets are purchased in singles and pairs only

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $75 per ticket

REA Reaction

8Players is a LARP. Anticipating and obfuscation blew 8Players out of proportion. It became something larger than it could possibly pay off. We had a great time; we made ourselves a pretty fun show. However, we would have had a lot more fun if we’d approached the evening with accurate expectations. 8Players‘ intrigue was its own worst enemy.

Who is this for?

  • People who like to act
  • People who can think on their feet
  • People who are excited to participate
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Over-the-top 1990s teen horror drama
  • Anticipation
  • Nonstop involvement

Story

Each of us privately received an email describing our character’s age, gender, and style.

The story – our story – took place the night after a massacre at a high school party in the mid 1990s. Each of our characters played some part in a campy 90s high school horror murder mystery.

The only question bigger than who did it was why.

8Players roleplaying experience logo.
Like an idiot, I forgot to get a picture of us decked out in costumes. I blame the cold weather.

Setting

We were given a secret address a few days prior to the game. The location was in Brooklyn, not too far from a subway line.

We played 8Players seated around a small table in a nifty library / classroom environment. I know exactly where we were, but I’m going to withhold that bit of information because it seemed like the folks from 8Players wanted it to be a mystery.

Gameplay

Each player took their character notes, showed up in costume, and played the experience.

8Players didn’t divulge the gameplay structure. Out of respect for this, we’ve hidden it behind a spoiler. That said, we know at least a couple of people in our group wouldn’t have attended if they’d known how this would play out.

Structural Spoiler

After we were gathered and seated around our table, we were each given an opening statement about our character that we read aloud to the group in a pre-determined order.

From there we were given two-sided pieces of paper with our character information. One side contained information about ourselves that we needed to divulge over the course of the act. The other side had personal secrets that we would have to reveal if pressed by another player, but otherwise should be kept to ourselves.

We were given a few minutes to read everything to ourselves. Then our costumed, in-character facilitator began facilitating dialog by instigating conflict between the various characters. We sat around the table taking turns divulging each other’s secrets and deflecting or confessing to our own.

Each act followed the same structure. The key difference from act to act was our level of comfort with the game. This wasn’t a competition. The gameplay was improvisational role play. The objective was to collaboratively generate fun dialog. As a personal sub-game, I tried to say funny things that would make the facilitator crack.

8Players concluded when we were all given a closing confessional statement about our character and their part in the evening’s mayhem that we read aloud in order.

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Standouts

8Players excelled at anticipation. Their website, pre-show communication, costume notes, and meeting point/ tactic piqued our curiosity. The lack of any additional information kept us curious. We were intrigued.

8Players nailed our roles. They sent a pre-show survey and relied on our answers to assign us characters. They pegged everyone correctly. The role assignments also allowed our quieter players to hold back a little bit.

Throughout the performance, we received written information about the characters (our own and the others). The written material was concise and digestible.

One actress guided the evening’s interaction. She was a moderator in character. She expertly guided us through the narrative. She also kept us from awkward or quiet moments. This was a well-honed moderation style.

Our group: Everyone went for it. This included both friends and strangers (who, as it turned out, read this website). We were hilarious. We made our own show.

Due to the mysterious and controlled beginning, we entered the game in-character. While we were in the experience, we were our characters. The structure forced us to keep our true identities hidden throughout the event.

Shortcomings

In 8Players, we were the show. Our mysterious moderator didn’t perform for us, she instigated dialog. If we failed to pick it up and run with it in a satisfying way, we were going to have a disaster of an experience. There was no room for passive play.

Pre-show communication made a big deal of mandatory costuming, but our efforts felt like a waste. Almost every player in our group went to great lengths to put together a themed getup from head to toe. The show, however, took place around a table. Anything below the chest didn’t matter at all. We couldn’t incorporate any props. We were enormously frustrated… I was especially annoyed because I had lugged a guitar across two rivers because it fit my character perfectly.

We attended 8Players on a January evening. We approached the meeting point at exactly 7:53, as instructed. Then we waited outside, in costume, in below freezing temperatures… for a least 10 minutes. We were not thrilled.

Although we had a lot of agency to affect 8Players – to speak, joke, conspire, and point fingers – we couldn’t maximize this freedom because we didn’t know enough about our characters. If we invented the unknown, we’d later find out we’d invented incorrectly and be left backpeddling.

In the end, our agency was only perceived. We could not change the outcome of the show. Our participation affected the moment, but not the narrative.

The conclusion was so preposterous and over the top that even those of us who had suspended disbelief throughout the experience were left bewildered by the end of our tale.

8Players cost $75 per ticket. That was a steep price for this gameplay structure. Even though we had a lot of fun, given what else is out there, we don’t think it was worth it.

Tips for Visiting

  • 8Players is currently sold out for its winter 2018 run.
  • The facility is walkable from a subway line.
  • There are ample food and drink options in the area.
  • This is not a puzzle game, nor is it theater. Attend if you want to role play with friends and strangers.

Book your session with 8Players, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

This Is Real NYC [Review]

Cheap thrills at premium prices.

Location: Brooklyn (Red Hook), New York

Date played: September 9, 2017

Team size: 8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $95 per ticket Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday / $110 per ticket Friday & Saturday

Story & setting

Kidnapped and locked up in an abandoned warehouse, we had to confront our captor and work with other actors to free ourselves.

This Is Real took place in a dark, rundown murder basement that was clearly striving for the Saw vibe and largely achieved it in a gritty and dirty sort of way.

Image of the game's killer with a dirty stocking over his head, mouth exposed, and blood staining his neck.
Image via This Is Real

Interaction

This Is Real was not a puzzle game and our hosts were quick to tell us that the game was not an escape room. It did, however, have a lot in common with escape rooms.

The game was built around searching, occasionally interacting with actors, and task-based set interactions that drove the game forward.

The interactions in This Is Real were where the experience suffered.

Standouts

The deliberately quirky intro to This Is Real set an intense tone for the experience.

The set achieved the Saw-esque aesthetic that it was striving for. It also delivered a few fun moments.

Although we were physically restrained and locked in cages, it would have been easy to free ourselves in an emergency. That said, doing so would have eliminated the freed player from the game.

Players were given a full body jumpsuit. This protected our clothing from the fake blood, gross water, and debris all over the set.

Shortcomings

This Is Real was not all that frightening and did not deliver on the buildup. The scariest part of the experience was our own teammate whose erratic behavior made us jump more than anything designed into the game.

The story was hard to follow and ultimately undermined itself.

The game design of This Is Real was shockingly weak. If I had to venture a guess, the designers probably had a few characters and game moments in mind and then shoehorned the interactions to advance the story around those elements.

A key interaction was so high up that a number of our shorter teammates couldn’t have reached it if they’d tried. Conversely, there were a lot of tight spaces that many of us taller folk couldn’t fit in.

This Is Real was built around a 3-life system, like a video game. Screw up 3 times and you’d be out of the game. This flawed design undermined the immersion, fun, and premium price-tag of the experience.

The 3-life system slaughtered immersion because every time any player lost a life, the actor playing the killer would scream “DEAD” which trigged the game to stop and a host to walk in, tack a Velcro lost life indicator to that player’s jump suit, and then give the player a hint about how they’d died or what they should do next.

This Is Real played like an old-school Nintendo game, but not a good one. Players frequently died for offenses that they didn’t understand. Some of the explanations kind of made sense, but only served to underscore how you had to listen to the actors with the ears of a lawyer. We had one player lose all of her lives within the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Fortunately they let her back in, but it was straight up silly.

Most of us ended up dead right before the finale, which was incredibly stupid. There was no reason to remove so many people from play prior to the conclusion.

The jumpsuits were hot as hell.

I always distinguish between dirty sets and dirty-looking sets. This Is Real was straight up dirty.

We paid a stupid amount of money for a single hour of mediocre gameplay… and most of us didn’t even get to play through the end of the damn experience.

Should I play This Is Real?

My friends and I spend a lot of time and money on escape rooms and other immersive entertainment. I do not remember any other experience in which every teammate regretted having purchased the tickets. This was the case with This Is Real.

$110 per ticket puts this experience within spitting distance of top tier experiences like Sleep No More or Then She Fell. It simply did not measure up.

I wanted This Is Real to be amazing. While I’ve never proclaimed myself a horror guy, some of my favorite immersive experiences of the past few years have been rooted in horror simply because fear can instill feeling and purpose into an experience. I was hoping to find something like Zoe, The UnknownThe Girl’s Room, or Sanatorium in Red Hook. Instead I found expensive disappointment.

Save your money. Save your time. Here are a bunch of other things to do in New York City this fall.

 

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Western [Review]

Howdy stranger.

Location: at home (either New York City or Boston area)

Date played: July 30, 2017

Team size: 10; 5 Women, 2 Men, 3 Any Gender

Duration: 90-150 minutes

Price: $40 per guest, $30 per guest student/ artist

Story & setting

Eleven folks from all walks of life found themselves in the same Old West saloon right after a murder was committed.

Ghost Ship’s Western was not an escape room. It was an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery game filled with tawdry scandal, plot twists, and betrayal… and all acted out by our friends in our small apartment.

Ghost Ship's logo of a ghostly white galleon set against a black background.
I really like that logo.

Ghost Ship co-founder Dylan Zwickel surveyed us about our friends, assigned roles, sent each person their backstory, and then showed up at our home in character bearing 3 large pitchers of mixed drinks. She set up everything for us.

All we had to do was clean up our home and get into character.

Interaction

The game proceeded over the course of 3 acts. It concluded with a vote to decide whodunit and send them to the gallows.

Each person was given a backstory, a secret, and an objective. From there, the game was a fairly free-form improv experience. Dylan played a character within the game. She provided information to each character at critical times as well as approached players who were struggling to engage, bringing them back into the narrative.

There was also a searching component. During the setup, Dylan hid evidence in our home.

Standouts

The story was engaging. Every character had their own arc and each person was consequential to the narrative.

The gathering of our friends post-game. Each person's costume has varied level of detail.
Sadly some of the best costumes are hidden. We may not have thought this photo through.

The mystery was complex. In the end, we “hanged” the actual killer, but only by a plurality. Not everyone had gathered enough evidence or made the proper connections to conclude what had actually happened.

Ghost Ship kept the backstory lean and manageable for all players.

Dylan’s role facilitated the gameplay effectively without breaking the narrative. The player-gamemaster helped pace the game and keep everyone engaged.

The included mixed drinks were pretty damn fantastic. We’d bought liquor to serve and forgot to even take it out.

As a couple who regularly hosts stuff, it was amazing to not have to worry about the logistics of running the game.

Our apartment is now incredibly clean because we had to make every room presentable for gameplay. I’m not sure that this is really a standout of Western, but it was a great byproduct.

Ghost Ship had a simple series of indicators to mark things and spaces in our home as out of play.

We had a fantastic time. Ghost Ship’s Western is a game where you get out of it what you put into it…

Shortcomings

Our friends who struggled with the roleplaying aspect of Western still had fun, but absolutely didn’t get the same level of enjoyment.

On that note, the person who was the killer in our group truly did not want that role, but was stuck with it. There were other people in our group who would have embraced being the killer, but this individual would have had a lot more fun without having to lie. Ghost Ship could easily fix this by emailing every participant a one question survey: “Would you feel comfortable being the killer and lying to your friends for a couple of hours? Y/N.”

Most of the characters had some level of history with at least one other character and were frequently confused when they learned something about themselves from another player. Ghost Ship did a great job of keeping the backstory lean, but a little more detail could smooth out some of the “Oh… I didn’t know that we did that together” moments that made many of our friends break character.

The searching component got a little strange because all of the items were hidden in our bedroom. This meant that Lisa and I were the only ones who were truly comfortable rummaging. I found things just because I could easily recognize what was out of place.

Should I play Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western?

We’ve hosted boxed murder mysteries in the past and been disappointed in them. Ghost Ship’s Western did not suffer from the many flaws and shoddy storytelling of those boxed games.

Western was a fun engaging game that gave each participant the freedom to make their character their own.

$40 per player felt more than fair for a multi-hour experience, including great drinks, all of which was delivered to our door.

Since each character is important, it’s key to gather a group of people who are ready and eager to be their characters. There is no passive play in Ghost Ship. Additionally, the game requires exactly 10 players. Remind your friends that flakiness is weakness of character. If someone bails last minute, you’re screwed.

We had a ton of fun playing Western and would eagerly invite Ghost Ship to dock in our home in the future.

Book your session with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries comped our tickets for this game.

 

In & Of Itself [Review]

Profound magic.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: April 20, 2017

Team size: Book individually, it’s theater

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $53-148 per ticket, depending on seats

Story & setup

Over the course of 75 minutes, closeup magician Derek DelGaudio used storytelling and magical performance to take us on a journey exploring the nature of identity: his as well as our own.

The show was produced by Neil Patrick Harris (yes, that one) and directed by Frank Oz (as in Yoda, Frank Oz). While it was absolutely a magic performance, In & Of Itself was about our collective attempt at building identity and finding meaning in life.

A wall that says, "In & Of Itself" covered in individual cards that read "IAM" and have a variety of labels.

Interaction

While this was largely a magic and storytelling performance where the audience sat in the seats and the performer resided on stage, every audience member made at least two decisions that affected the show. A few people played far more in-depth roles in the performance.

Standouts

Derek DelGaudio’s performance was calmly magnificent.

The storytelling and idea exploration ran cohesively through the entirety of In & Of Itself.

DelGaudio used magic not for its own sake or for spectacle; he used it to make points, advance his story, and instill feelings into his audience.

Shortcomings

A few audience volunteers play critical roles in each performance of In & Of Itself. Your mileage will vary depending upon the chance encounters of who ends up on stage. In our show, these audience participants were not particularly engaging. Under different circumstances, however, I could easily imagine these show segments being among the most moving moments of the performance.

Should I visit In & Of Itself?

I love magical performance, but I rarely enjoy it for its own sake. Magic is a powerful tool for telling stories, underscoring points, and engaging an audience in dynamic ways. Derek DelGaudio did this so beautifully. His performance was refined and executed perfectly. It moved us.

As we walked out of the theater and onto the streets of New York City, we wandered with purpose, contemplating what we had seen and seeking to satisfy a curiosity that DelGaudio had instilled in us… He didn’t let us down. We’re still reflecting on what we saw and we’re thrilled that we had the opportunity.

In & Of Itself has been extended through September 3, 2017 and you should seize the opportunity to see it before it vanishes.

Book your showing of In & Of Itself, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest [Review]

So many feels.

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date played: June 2, 2017

Team size: 1-2; we recommend 1-2 (see below)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $65 per ticket

Story & setting

As the next of kin for a recently deceased relative that we’ve never met, we were given access to her long-lost storage unit.

Staged within a beautiful and dark storage unit, we explored the life of this stranger. We got to know her through her personal effects and her audio recordings on cassette tapes that narrated most important moments of her life.

In-game: A close up of an old portable cassette player with a tape that is labeled in a child's handwriting: "My 12th Birthday"

Puzzles

The Nest used a variation of the escape room format to tell an intimate and moving story. There were puzzles within this experience, but it was not a puzzle game.

The puzzles were easy obstacles that served as gates between chapters of the story. The puzzles weren’t the point of The Nest.

A row of lockers. The closest locker has the words "Goodby Josie" painted on it and is sealed with a combination lock.

Standouts

The story was painfully moving.

The set was gorgeous and brilliantly designed.

In-game: a closeup of a flashlight illuminating a crumpled piece of paper that appear to be notes from a journalism class.

The puzzles served as clever gates that also made sense within the narrative.

The voice acting on the cassette tapes was magnificent.

Shortcomings

The darkness added to the atmosphere, but necessitated carrying around a handheld flashlight along with the cassette player. This was clunky and distracting.

The flashlight was in bad shape and frequently flickered out on us.

Should I visit Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest?

Lisa and I emerged from The Nest and couldn’t bring ourselves to speak about what we heard, saw, and felt for hours. The Nest wasn’t a puzzle game and it wasn’t an adventure: it was a journey through another person’s tragedy.

It was powerful and beautiful.

If you approach The Nest as a game to win, you will completely miss the point. Don’t look for clues or meaning in the props as you would in an escape room. The puzzling simply leads you through the experience. You aren’t at risk of losing.

The Nest is incredible, but it’s not for everyone. The content is mature, not in a violent or sexual way, but because it’s emotionally heavy. It’s also an experience that requires some crawling, so if you aren’t up to that, don’t buy a ticket.

Additionally, when you buy a ticket you can choose to go alone or with another person. Both options are viable, but will profoundly change the experience. I have to imagine that a solo experience would be haunting and intense and maybe a little cumbersome when dealing with the flashlight and cassette player. I was happy to experience The Nest with Lisa, but she is the only person that I know with whom I would have wanted to feel those feels.

The Nest left me feeling exposed and I am so happy that I was there. Tickets are limited, but if you can get your hands on one, take as much out of it as you can.

The next wave of tickets go on sale on June 18th at 12pm Pacific.

Book your visit to Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

First Person Xperience – RED [Review]

My personal apocalypse.

Location: Long Island City, New York

Date played: May 25, 2017

Team size: up to 15; we recommend ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $65, $80, or $99 per ticket depending upon selected package

Story & setting

It had been one month since Armageddon. There weren’t many survivors and those of us who were still kicking didn’t really know what had happened. Solar flares had struck and the world as we knew it was over; beyond that, everything was shrouded in mystery. Supplies were rare, trust was thin, and there were hidden threats looming around every corner.

In-game: A futuristic blue lit room with computer screens depicting the sun.

The set of RED was large and compelling. First Person Xperience made a smart decision in selecting a setting that allowed for variety without it feeling nonsensical or disjointed.

If this sounds cagey, it’s meant to; so much of RED was dependent upon discovery.

Puzzles

RED was NOT an escape room. It was an immersive experience that drew upon escape room elements such as searching, teamwork, and unraveling a mystery.

There were puzzles to solve, but many of them felt more practical, revolving around survival and plot progression. The more nuanced mystery was cryptically hidden.

The beating heart of RED was interpersonal interaction.

Standouts

RED was actor-driven and the actors were on point. They played their parts and reacted to us. If we questioned them, they stayed in character. We were not able to throw them off their game. The actors were the engine that drove the experience.

The set created the mood. While it was not horror, the set ramped up the intensity of the game.

RED was structured as a survival game designed to build resilience and teamwork, while also being fun. It was incredible how Lisa and I both turned into the crisis-mode versions of ourselves. (We’re useful people in a crisis.) We both did this without planning.

First Person Xperience billed RED as a replayable game. I thought that this was a dubious claim, but they pulled it off. I want to go back. While the set and mystery will remain the same, the non-player characters (actors) will change, as there are 10 different actors playing 9 different characters. RED is designed so that players will return to the scenario with a deeper understanding of what’s going on and a better methodology for collaboration and survival. Learn more. Unravel the mystery.

Throughout RED, our individual and team progress was tracked. We’re told that all of that data will persist in the game database, The Chronicle. They will track any upgrades we earn and achievements we unlock. I love this concept. Although I am not 100% sure what practical effect it will have on my game, I am eager to see it play out.

The Chronicle will also carry over our gear. We purchased the top package: the Elite. It came with a series of in-game upgrades that will belong to us when we return. We will be able to play again with all of that gear at the lower ticket price.

Shortcomings

RED was bewildering by design. That was great in this experience. However, we wished that we had purchased regular tickets going into our first game. The additional gear was utterly meaningless to us and at times we found ourselves flustered by the added complication. That said, going into our second game, I think we’re going to be happy to have the extras.

Prior to the game’s start, we met our team under a bridge near the facility. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable way to begin. If RED extends into the winter months, First Person Xperience will need a better system.

First Person Xperience’s facilities were a work in progress. The lobby, bathrooms, and everything that lead up to the start of the game felt a bit sketchy. They absolutely put their effort into the right place getting the game right, but the state of the lobby and meeting place put First Person Xperience at a trust deficit with us prior to the game beginning.

One of the late-game interactions that we encountered was a little too symbolic and left us needing to clarify what had actually happened post-game.

The day after our experience, we received an email with our game’s ending. This extra content was great, but way too lengthy… and a little too late. The rush of the game had already past and finding out the ending the next day was anticlimactic for a game that was otherwise incredibly responsive, immediate, and dire.

Should I play First Person Xperience’s RED?

RED lived up to its own hype. It was immersive and intense. We left seriously reflecting upon our individual tendencies in a crisis. Not only that, but we immediately began strategizing our approach for our next visit.

This experience is not an escape room. I repeat: RED is not an escape room. If you’re seeking a purely puzzle- and set-driven game, then RED is not for you.

If you’re averse to actors, then RED is not for you.

If you aren’t at least reasonably healthy, mobile and able to navigate stairs, then RED is not for you.

Also, players must be over 18 years of age.

RED was a psychological and physical adventure. It was bewildering and thrilling. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then go do it. I can’t wait to go back.

Book your session with First Person Xperience’s RED, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: First Person Xperience provided media discounted tickets for this game.