David Kwong’s Enigmatist [Review]

A Gold Bug

Location:  New York City

Date Attended: January 12, 2019

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $95 / $125 / $150 per ticket depending on seat

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Enigmatist was a night of puzzles, magic, and storytelling. It was as quirky as it was phenomenal.

It was a performance, not an escape room, but it included escape room-style solving.

The Enigmatist has just extended its run of Friday and Saturday evening shows through March 2019. If you read this blog, and you are near New York City, you should purchase tickets immediately.

The Enigmatist sign.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Magic fans

Why Attend?

  • Wonderful feats of magic and word play
  • Good puzzles
  • Lots of hidden layers and meaning

Story

The Enigmatist was a one-man show performed by magician and New York Times cruciverbalist (crossword constructor) David Kwong.

Throughout the evening, Kwong explored the story of Riverbank Laboratories.

The performance was an unusual mixture of magic, puzzles, cryptography, crosswords, and storytelling.

Instructions for how to approach the four initial puzzles.

Setting

The Enigmatist was set on a small stage at the High Line Hotel. Upon arrival we were presented with 4 puzzles to solve in the lobby.

Once we took our seats within the intimate theater, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the performance and solving the puzzles within it.

A map of the Fabyan Estate Street Car.

Gameplay

David Kwong’s The Enigmatist was a performance with gameplay. There were multiple puzzles to solve throughout the evening. The audience’s ability to solve the puzzles shifted the energy and dynamics of the show.

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

Lisa and David bundled up in front of a tree covered in lights.
Winter is here.

Analysis

➕ The opening puzzles were lovely. They generally struck the right difficulty balance. They set the tone for how to approach the puzzles in the show.

➖ Of the initial 4 puzzles, one was noticeably more involved than the others. Unfortunately it was also the most compact and hardest to see. This led to a an uncomfortable crowd around it. Having an extra copy or spreading it out more would solve the problem.

➕/➖ There were self-service hints available for the opening puzzles. This kept solvers of all levels engaged with the puzzles. That said, more granular hinting would probably have helped alleviate bottlenecks.

➕ Kwong has an impressive gift for sleight of hand. In general, the magical moments of The Enigmatist were really well produced. He put a fresh spin on everything by integrating the tricks into the story. In the process he gave both more meaning.

➕ Kwong played with words a lot… and I don’t mean puns. I mean he manipulated words and letters in mind-bogging ways. My biggest takeaway from the night was to never play a word game against David Kwong.

➕/➖ Throughout the performance, Kwong told an intriguing story of cryptography. He integrated a lot of charm and historical facts. At the end of his tale, however, he made some questionable decisions. I think I get why he did it, but I didn’t like it. I still don’t.

➕ There were layers and layers of hidden meaning and hidden magic. The last few minutes of The Enigmatist were 🤯.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s New York City. Good luck.
  • Food: It’s Chelsea. You’re spoiled with options.
  • Arrive early and enjoy the puzzles.

Book your tickets with David Kwong’s The Enigmatist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Seven Forces – The Summons [Review]

A wonderful Masonic secret.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played: December 29, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Private booking for your team, but other teams play at the same time

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

This multi-team gala was puzzle-driven, beautifully staged, and wholly interactive. It incorporated group challenges, private team experiences, and an auction.

With The Summons, The Seven Forces introduced a new and exciting format. This large scale escape room-style event was unlike any other we’ve played to date.

In-game: A stage at the front of teh room features an assortment of strange pieces of technology and mystical artifacts.

The environment was energetic. When we weren’t solving puzzles, we were participating in various group activities. The dynamics were intriguing and constantly changing.

If we told you any more, it would spoil the game for everyone.

If you enjoy escape games, we strongly recommend The Summons  to anyone who is anywhere near Cincinnati. You could play The Summons without any experience, but if you feel comfortable with escape room-style gameplay, you’ll probably enjoy it more. There’s a lot to do, and the smarter you play, the more you get to see.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • 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?

  • Escape room-inspired gameplay in a new staging
  • Up to 48 people can actively engage at once
  • Group dynamics
  • The Cincinnati Masonic Center

Story

We had been summoned to an underground gathering of criminals for a gala and auction at the Cincinnati Masonic Center.

We knew that there would be other criminal crews, a competition, and an auction. Beyond that, we were told to dress classy.

In-game: A large waiting room in the Masonic Temple. The room is elegant and looks old but very well maintained.

Setting 

Set within a few rooms of the gorgeous and imposing Cincinnati Masonic Center, we gathered with 4 other groups of classy criminals and a few characters to outwit others within this area.

In-game: The ceiling of the ballroom features beautiful woodwork and intricate light fixtures.

We’ve written before about the difference between an immersive set and the genuine artifact. This place was the real deal. The level of detail in its design and layout harkened back to a century ago when ornate detailing and overt displays of craftsmanship were highly valued.

In-game: View of the room from the stage with 8 different tables, and a balcony full of seats above.

The seating along the side gave the game an almost gladiatorial feel (even if there weren’t onlookers in the seats.)

Seven Forces also constructed a number of movable structures within the game, as they could not make any true modifications to the actual building.

Gameplay

Seven Forces’ The Summons was an unusual multi-group escape game that was approachable to play and challenging to win.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and group dynamics.

The introduction of group dynamics was what made this game especially interesting.

In-game: close-up of a game table with large puzzle components resting atop it.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles were approachable, but still challenging. They felt like the right difficulty level for the experience. Hints were readily available.

➖ Many of the puzzles didn’t feel grounded in the mythology. There was opportunity to more intricately link the puzzle play with the worldbuilding.

In-game: A wooden locker with sliding doors and a series combination locks.

➕ We didn’t need to solve every puzzle in The Summons to win the game, or even fully participate in the entire game. Small teams could have an equally fulfilling experience.

➖ At times The Summons bottlenecked. There were limited actors with multiple responsibilities.

➕ The Summons fostered elaborate group dynamics. It really shined in this regard. I have to imagine that based on the individuals playing in that booking, any given game could be wildly different from any other.

In-game: Close-up of a large metal device that displays the word, "Disarmed" beside a mystical artifact.

➖ We found one late-game moment ill-advised. Although The Seven Forces took precautions to ensure this scene went smoothly, the payoff wasn’t worth the risk. It felt hollow and could be reworked into a more powerful and less risky scene.

➕The Cincinnati Masonic Center was the perfect stage for this adventure. Its majestic allure supported the narrative of The Summons. It was a fun environment to explore.

In-game: Close-up of a door handle that looks demonic.

➕The Seven Forces used inexpensive components, but combined them cleverly into puzzles. Together with the beautiful staging, this delivered an experience that felt far more grand than it maybe should have. We were impressed.

➕The Seven Forces built temporary structures into the gameplay. The air of secrecy surrounding these spaces and the experiences within added to the ambiance and excitement of The Summons.

➕/➖ Every team received a private puzzle, which was delivered in an alluring manner. We solved ours quickly, but the puzzle was missing a bit of clue structure.

In-game: two sides of an ornate 7 Forces coin.

➕ In The Summons, solving puzzles had a tangible reward in the form of currency, in addition to more puzzles. The reward funneled back into the overarching gameplay. It worked brilliantly.

➕ We learned how to play The Summons by playing it. The Seven Forces designed earlier interactions to set up later ones. It all came together spectacularly.

➕/➖ The final puzzle was an interesting beast. From a puzzle design standpoint, it was probably the weakest of the night. Conceptually, the interaction was absolutely brilliant.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • Review our tips for playing escape rooms with actors.
  • Come in costume and get into character for The Summons. It’s worth it.

Book your hour with Seven Forces’ The Summons, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Seven Forces provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escapism – Do Not Disturb [Review]

Do Not Disturb

Creepy dolls & good flow.

Location:  Southington, Connecticut

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

It’s great to see a new company come out of the gate with a strong game. Escapism gets escape rooms, and we’re incredibly excited to see where they take their designs.

Do Not Disturb was a fantastic game for less experienced players. It was well designed with strong puzzle flow.

If you’re an experienced player, there was something to enjoy in Do Not Disturb, but it wasn’t a must-play.

If you’re new to escape rooms, this would be a wonderful place to start.

In-game: closeup of a creepy doll.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An elegant set
  • A great hint system
  • Smart puzzles

Story

Our team of private investigators was called to investigate an abandoned and allegedly haunted apartment. It was up to us to determine the fate of its tenant.

In-game: View through the door of Do Not Disturb into a studio apartment with a creepy doll sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

Setting

We “broke into” a small, grandmotherly apartment with a cohesive aesthetic. It wasn’t a fancy setting, but it looked and smelled right.

In-game: a small table two two unusual wooden locked boxes.

Gameplay

Escapism’s Do Not Disturb was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: An old apartment bedroom's dresser. There are metal boxes with wires running from them.

Analysis

➕ The set looked homey, but slightly creepy. It had a gentle, welcoming aesthetic with just the slightest edge.

➕ Escapism’s set design included visual, auditory, and olfactory ambiance. These extra details added a lot to the experience.

Do Not Disturb had a stellar entry for onboarding escape room newbies.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. Escapism even augmented a few puzzles so that experienced players wouldn’t accidentally (or purposely) bypass parts of the game. It worked well.

➖ One puzzle could easily become overwhelming depending on the order the players connect various in-game elements. In part, the ambiance contributed to potential sensory overload. This puzzle could benefit from either more gating and/or stronger cluing.

➕ The hint system was designed specifically for Do Not Disturb. This detail added to the overall experience. We didn’t use any hints… but Escapism clearly knew how cool the system was and worked it into our game nonetheless.

➖ Escapism mixed locks with tech-driven opens, but too often the tech was too visible. If they can build housing around the tech and hide it in the decor, it’s effects would be far more effective.

➕Escapism had a beautiful, spacious lobby. Leave yourself a few extra minutes to hang out.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Tavern 42 for BBQ nearby.
  • Leave some time to hang out in Escapism’s gorgeous lobby.

Book your hour with Escapism’s Do Not Disturb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapism comped our tickets for this game.

The Gate Escape – D.J. Death [Review]

Don’t fear the reaper.

Location:  Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 35-45 minutes depending on play style

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

D.J. Death was The Gate Escape’s introductory Halloween popup game that didn’t die.

With structured puzzle sections, this game was far more directed than your typical escape game. Additionally, it was nonthreatening, even if the theme sounds scary.

Although the set design was a bit uneven – with some puzzle sections looking great and others looking a bit cheesy – it played well and culminated in a delightful conclusion.

D.J. Death would be a wonderful game for newbies. Even as experienced players, we found a lot to enjoy. It wasn’t hard, but it was amusing. If you’re an experienced player, The Gate Escape’s other games are must-plays. D.J. Death is worth adding to your lineup if you’re open to sacrificing some difficulty for a novel game structure.

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

Who is this for?

  • Dance party goers!
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Halloween fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Music
  • Dance party
  • Fun puzzles 

Story

Death DJ would host the most exclusive Halloween party of the year. If we wanted to gain admittance, we would have to pass his test and help him build his playlist one puzzle at a time. If we failed, we’d be cut… from the guest list.

In-game: A wall of massive blocks in the middle of the room.

Setting

D.J. Death was a large, open space with 10 smaller puzzle stations along the periphery. Each station had a unique, spooky theme: vampire, voodoo, mad science, etc. (They ranged broadly.)

The level of detail was a little uneven. Some areas looked great; some felt like party-store Halloween. Generally, the visual focus directed us at the puzzle components.

The coolest parts of the set were the dance floor and DJ booth… which were really what mattered.

In-game: closeup of a voodoo shrine.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death was an unusual escape room with a low level of difficulty.

This large gamespace was divided into sections, each containing one puzzle. We moved through the space solving the puzzles and collecting tunes from the D.J. himself.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

The Gate Escape offered two play modes. If the entire group traveled between puzzles together, the game clock was 45 minutes. If the group split up to tackle the puzzles separately, the game clock was 35 minutes. (Our group of 4 stayed together so that everyone could experience the entire game. That worked well.)

In-game: An open coffin lit red.

Analysis

➕ D.J. Death was cute and joyous. It didn’t take itself seriously.

➕/➖ The set looked a bit party-store. With the Halloween theme, this generally worked just fine. There were, however, opportunities to improve the aesthetics.

➖Despite the name and the Halloween theming, D.J. Death was not a scary escape room. I have to imagine that this marketing is confusing to The Gate Escape’s customers.

➕ D.J. Death provided a gentle on-ramp to a puzzle game. By wrapping the game in a dance party, encouraging teams to work together, and keeping related puzzle components contained, it would be approachable to new players of all ages and abilities. The Gate Escape is willing to turn the lights on for nervous players.

In-game: 4 large, vertical metal tubes with grates over them.

➕ The Gate Escape built a great mix of puzzle styles into D.J. Death. They were largely tangible and interactive.

➖ Our least favorite puzzles were the less interactive of the lot. The puzzles with larger components generally felt more exciting.

➕ The separate puzzles came together with a meta puzzle. It made the escape room feel whole.

➖ There was opportunity for a more engaging meta puzzle in this space.

➕ The finale. D.J. Death had a wonderful ending. It really was the only way this game could have ended.

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.
  • D.J. Death is not scary.

Book your hour with The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Trapology – Crush Depth [Review]

Crushed it.

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Crush Depth was a great escape room.

It had an intense, detailed, and imposing aesthetic. The puzzles were meaty and entertaining. The story put an atypical twist on a fairly common concept.

While we encountered a bit of ambiguity with puzzle sequencing, and it was occasionally difficult to find what we were supposed to do among the various set details, it still played really well.

We wholeheartedly recommend it for players who are nearby and have a bit of escape room experience.

In-game: overhead shot of a the bunks in the submarine.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Submarine aesthetic
  • Unorthodox story choice
  • Strong puzzles

Story

While we were serving aboard a submarine, the spirit of the boat’s former captain assumed control, and in a final vengeful act, set a course for crush depth. We had to banish the angry spirit and retake control of the submarine before we all received a gruesome physics lesson.

In-game: an axe hanging over a porthole.

Setting

Crush Depth was an aesthetically gorgeous game, among the most beautiful that we’ve seen in the region.

The submarine set was detailed and weathered. It felt right. There was a lot to look at.

Additionally, the layout felt correct. The entire game took place in a narrow series of rooms.

In-game: wide angle of a the bunks in the submarine.

Gameplay

Trapology’s Crush Depth was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a high voltage electrical box.

Analysis

➕ Trapology turned a few rooms of their downtown Boston office building space into a submarine. The set design looked great.

➖ Although the set looked great, not all of the puzzle components were on the same level. Trapology relied on laminated paper for some clue structure.

➖ The submarine set contained interesting knobs, dials, and gadgets. It wasn’t entirely apparent which were in play and which were decor.

In-game: closeup of a axe-head.

➕ We’ve escaped a lot of submarines, but this was the first one that was haunted by a vengeful ghost captain. Trapology twisted two themes together to create something new and exciting. (Note, Crush Depth is not a horror game.)

In-game: closeup of a small metal step.

➕ Crush Depth was a puzzle-focused escape room with many excellent solves. We always had something interesting to work on.

➖ We encountered one clunky mid-game sequence. Some of the cluing felt a bit out of order.

In-game: A shower-head in a small stall.

➖/➕We couldn’t always tell when we’d triggered an open. Trapology could add lighting or sound cues to make tech-driven opens pop. That said, our attentive gamemaster directed us to anything we’d opened without realizing it.

➕ The final sequence of interactions was massive, tangible, and so satisfying. The conclusion was explosive.

In-game: close-up of a wheel/ door handle.

➕ Trapology had a beautiful lobby. We wish we could have lounged there for longer. We loved the cozy, steampunk-inspired aesthetic.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trapology is easily accessible by T. Take the Green Line to Boylston St.
  • We recommend Explorateur on the corner for a coffee, drinks, a meal… and some really interesting desserts.

Book your hour with Trapology’s Crush Depth, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapology comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Panacea [Review]

In-game: The sign for the Panacea Apothecary in the hallway of Room Escapers.

Pandemic: Alchemy

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing:  Public / Private if you book at least 4 tickets

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Room Escapers is at their best when the build large-team, puzzle-focused, humorous adventures. They checked all those boxes with Panacea… and this may be the finest example of their style thus far.

Panacea was visually striking with an elegant color palette and beautiful faux stained glass windows. While the build quality was occasionally lacking, it was a generally wonderful environment.

From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to puzzle through. Our entire team was occupied from start to finish. Panacea just needed a culminating puzzle that brought all of us back together for a finale.

All in all, this was a seriously satisfying game, and regardless of experience level, we highly recommend playing Panacea if you’re visiting Boston.

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a lectern.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Beautiful alchemy-inspired decor
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

With a disease ravaging the world, humanity’s last hope was hidden in an old Boston apothecary. We entered the preserved establishment-turned-museum with one goal: master the 7 principles of alchemy and produce a mythical cure-all.

In-game: a stain-glass window depicting a fire-breathing dragon.
One of my favorite features of this game.

Setting

We stepped out of Room Escapers’ lobby and into a beautiful old bepuzzled apothecary-turned-museum.

The build quality varied from item to item. Some of the game was beautifully constructed, while other portions were a little more finicky or flimsy.

The most beautiful feature of the room a set of fluorescent office lights that were converted into faux stained glass.

In-game: a large hourglass in the middle of the apothecary.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Panacea was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A chest with the depiction of an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.

Analysis

➕ Panacea was beautifully themed, down to the game clock. It was an inviting space in which to solve puzzles.

➕ The stained glass windows were awesome.

➕ The story flowed through the puzzles. It became apparent early on how working through the puzzles would resolve the story. We had a good sense of our progression as we played.

In-game: sign reads, "7 principles of truth: he who knows these will find the Panacea."

Panacea offered many hands-on, challenging puzzles. It kept our entire team busy. There was a lot to do and most of it was pretty great.

➖ We encountered one ghost puzzle that led us far afield. This puzzle needed to be entirely refactored, rather than partially reskinned.

➕/➖ In Panacea we worked through a lot of puzzles in a relatively confined space. On the one hand, puzzle elements were well labeled so that we didn’t struggle to connect this astrology with that… astrology. The challenge was in the puzzle. On the other hand, it felt less organic to rely on labeling. Additionally, larger groups will likely struggle stepping around each other.

➖ Some of the tech-driven interactions were finicky. This added unnecessary frustration after we’d solved the puzzles.

➕ The hint system made sense with the story and the space. It added to the experience. (In fact, we recommend asking for a hint, even if you don’t need one.)

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a phrenology bust.

➖ In Panacea, we spread out, working on different puzzle tracks. Although we enjoyed the finale, we felt it lacked a culminating puzzle that brought the team back together for the conclusion.

➕ There was some really funny wordplay going on in Panacea.

➕ Room Escapers has upped their reveal game. In Panacea, the reveals worked wonderfully.

Tips For Visiting

  • Panacea is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Panacea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

North Shore Escape – The Cursed Caravan [Review]

The Cursed Caravan

This escape room is in tents.

Location:  Woburn, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

North Shore Escape balanced mystical cheesiness with a gritty homemade mystique. The Cursed Caravan came together into far more than the sum of its parts.

The Cursed Caravan was designed as a popup game… that never popped down. While this was evident in its construction, the silly vibe, unusual story, solid puzzles, and fantastic flow made it work.

We really enjoyed this escape room. If you’re looking to experience the stranger, more creative side of the escape room world, and can appreciate that good game design doesn’t require a large budget or fancy props… visit The Cursed Caravan.

In-game: view through the tent entrance.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  A fortune teller’s tent is a fun gamespace
  • Solid puzzles

Story

A strange fortune teller had set up shop and squatted in an escape room business venue. The owner had asked us to investigate her tent and see if we could dig up some dirt that he could use to evict her.

In-game: The poster for "The Cursed Caravan at North Shore Escape."

Setting

We entered a tent just off of North Shore Escape’s lobby. The space was essentially a tent made of bedding. By some force of will and smart theme selection, it worked remarkably well.

The Cursed Caravan had been originally designed as a temporary game, but it had stayed on.

In-game: two seats on either side of a table with a crystal ball.

Gameplay

North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: bookshelf with two locked boxes.

Analysis

➕ The story was interesting. There was a lot to follow, but it paid off.

The Cursed Caravan was well themed as a fortune teller’s tent. The eclectic mix of wall hangings and tchotchkes felt at home in the environment. It was an inspired thematic choice for a low-budget escape room.

➖ Although the tent looked appropriately fortune teller-esque, it also looked less than stable. We worried about accidentally breaking the set, props, or tech. The construction lacked refinement.

➕ The game flowed well. It was a small space, but we were able to move freely around it, rather than linearly through it, which made it feel bigger than it was.

In-game: Tent entrance.

➕ North Shore Escape balanced searching and puzzling to prevent late-game hangups. The puzzle flow was laid out such that we’d find puzzle elements before we needed them. Thus the puzzle solves moved more quickly. It was elegant design.

➕/➖ The tech looked clunky. This kind of worked. We could interpret it as weird fortune teller magic. At the same time, it felt like messy craftsmanship.

➖ Tech opens needed to pop. Especially when we’re being careful with a delicate set (and at one point we even encountered a “do not pull” sign), it would go a long way if “magical” opens were always evident.

➕ The story was available in readings and played as audio recordings. We appreciated that each player could take it in the way that worked for them.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: North Shore Escape comped our tickets for this game.

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.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation Dive [Review]

Dive into the deep end.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: November 27, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $38 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private options

REA Reaction

Exit Escape Room NYC’s third game, Operation Dive, had a small yet detailed set, and strong challenging puzzles. 

We had access to almost all of the game’s mechanisms from the first moment. We enjoyed unraveling the mystery that was how to operate the submarine, but the incredible level of access also came at a price: this new game showed a lot of wear. I hope that Exit Escape Room NYC is up to the challenge of maintaining it. It’s a lovely game. 

Operation Dive is a wonderful game to play if you feel comfortable playing escape rooms. If you’re a newbie, this one will be a bit bewildering; play High Speed NYC first. Both are high quality games, but the earlier one is quite a bit more forgiving. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A sonar station and periscope are in view.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Puzzles that reveal themselves as you play
  • Satisfying physical interactions
  • Fun submarine environment

Story

With a hostile submarine attempting to attack New York City, the Pentagon had called upon us to fire up a decommissioned World War II-era submarine, identify the target, and destroy it. 

In-game: Main electrical panel, disabled.

Setting

We entered a small submarine set filled with pipes, gauges, maps, and bunks.  The set was compact, but detailed. Some parts looked great. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A map glows green.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

The challenge stemmed from a nonlinear design where the puzzle components were mounted into the set and available from the opening moments of play.

In-game: Ballast Tank gauge.

Analysis

➕ The set looked nifty. It was detailed. It had a submarine vibe, complete with gadgets that were interactive, but not overwhelming.

➕ Exit Escape Room NYC hid the puzzles in plain sight. Once we discovered how items intertwined, the level of difficulty dropped a bit. The challenge was largely in understanding how to interact with the game, which we enjoyed.

➖ We couldn’t always tell whether we’d completed an interaction. The addition of more puzzle feedback, to help players understand whether or not they’ve completely solved a puzzle, would significantly improve for Operation Dive.

➖ The set and props showed too much wear. This included some finicky tech and disappointing prop breakage. I suspect that giving players immediate access to a lot of interactions and no knowledge of how to approach the puzzles means that a lot of players are hard on this escape room. Operation Dive hadn’t been open very long when we visited and we couldn’t help but think it was really banged up.

 Operation Dive was well themed. The set and puzzles were submarine-esque.

➕ The small and narrow set worked because it was a submarine. This was a smart setting selection given Exit Escape Room NYC’s spatial constraints. 

➕ There were some lovely thematic puzzles in this Operation Dive. They were tangible, satisfying solves.

➕/➖  Operation Dive attempted to tell a story. This delivered some fun and thematic moments. While some of the nuance of the story came through clearly as we were playing, the most interesting bits only became apparent when we were analyzing the game after we’d escaped. Operation Dive felt more like a thematic adventure than a story-driven experience. Overall, the narrative was of mixed quality, but generally better than most. 

➕ With timed use of tech, Exit Escape Room NYC trigged great moments. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.