Novel Escape – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea [Review]

Under da sea

Location:  Austin, TX

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public and Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m going to sum Novel Escape’s inaugural game, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in one word: elegant

The only thing that impresses us more than a big budget game executed brilliantly… is a humble game executed brilliantly. That’s what we’re talking about here.

The setup, puzzles, and climactic story beat were smart, elegant, and smile-inducing.

In-game: A periscope hanging from the ceiling.

Novel Escape poured a lot of love and care into this game. For those who are looking to have every inch of the set blow their minds or experience mind-boggling technology, there’s a little of each, but it’s the gameplay that stars in this show.

We heard word of Novel Escape from two long-time readers who beta tested the game. We squeezed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in on our most recent trip to Austin, before Novel Escape officially opened their doors, and we’re thrilled that we did.

If we have one concern for Novel Escape, it’s durability. We played in a pristine, pre-opening version. Some of these props might need additional reinforcement to survive the daily grind of escape room players.

Now that Novel Escape is finally open, if you’re nearby, I highly recommend diving into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jules Verne fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Wonderfully crafted puzzles
  • Adorable set design
  • Solid storytelling

Story

Our ship had wrecked and the notorious Captain Nemo had taken us aboard the Nautilus and press-ganged us into serving him. Nemo had decided to be kind and offered us a deal: if we could find and return a long-lost family heirloom of his we would be free to go.

In-game: A locked hatch within the submarine.

Setting

Our adventure opened in a one of Captain Nemo’s submersible pods. The infamous Captain was issuing his orders… and promises.

The set offered a lot of variety, and was a little uneven. None of it was weak, but some segments stood out.

In-game: A shelf covered in shells, ships in bottles, and a lighthouse.

Gameplay

Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A control panel with a variety of switches and buttons.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea carried this game forward swimmingly. They were thoughtful, clean, well-tested (we played before the game had officially opened), and generally engaged multiple people in group solves. They had depth. Each teammate had a different favorite puzzle, which speaks volumes.

➕ Novel Escape draws inspiration from classic novels. Before we entered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, our gamemaster read us the rules in the Novel Escape style. We’re hardly ever captivated by the rules, but this thematic delivery was a rare exception.

➕ We commend Novel Escape for minimal reading in an escape room inspired by a book (we were a little worried that we’d be hit with large passages). We appreciated how Novel Escape incorporated text to deliver an “aha” rather than by slowing us down with reading material.

➖ One puzzle seemed narratively out of place. Although it was a fun group solve, there was an opportunity to do something more relevant with that segment.

➕ In this primarily lock-and-key escape room, Novel Escape surprised us, hiding a twist in plain sight, and cluing it expertly. It was low tech – and low budget – but so well crafted as to deliver an incredible moment.

➖ The set was uneven. Some parts of the gamespace were more inspiring than others. It all looked good, but there was an opportunity to enhance it in some areas.

➕/➖ We enjoyed that our game was introduced in-character. Novel Escape could sell this more strongly, both pre-game and post-game, to raise the stakes of the adventure.

❓ We’re worried about the durability of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was in great shape when we visited, but this was before Novel Escape had officially opened. We aren’t convinced that the delicate components will withstand the beating that escape rooms take over time.

In-game: a quote from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"painted to the wall: "The Nautilus confirmed the words of an astute engineer, 'There is no well-constructed hull that cannot defy the sea."

➕ Hints floated in as needed. We loved the hint delivery method.

➕ We enjoyed a call back and an Easter egg. These little details added charm to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Novel Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – Enchanted [Review]

You shall likely pass!

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $175 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Enchanted was a family-friendly escape game that offered up enough challenge and intrigue to keep our excessively experienced team engaged.

Lockout Austin has a style and approach to escape game design that resonates with us. We keep going back to see what they’ve cooked up because their particular blend of in-character gamemastering, puzzles, set design, story, and adventure works. It’s unique to them and that’s no small feat in this industry.

This is one of those companies where I’m inclined to recommend playing though their entire catalog. Enchanted would make a great first game at Lockout Austin, or a wonderful first game for your family. If you’re near Austin, you should check them out.

In-game: Closeup of an elaborate hourglass, a large book, and a plush, fancy chair.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • Some adorable design
  • The in-character/ in-room gamemaster & hint system

Story

We had been called upon by the Council of Ancient Wizards to endure their tests. If we could pass their trials, they would grant us admission to their order.

In-game: The wizard's chambers with the desk of the wizard.

Setting

Enchanted was a physically small escape game, with an elegant, deliberately designed set (with the exception of a stark white door or two).

In-game: The Wizard's test chamber.

The space looked solid from floor to ceiling.

In-game: The ornate black and red ceiling,

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s Enchanted was a standard escape room geared towards families, with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A glowing table with building models resting atop it.

Analysis

➕ The theme of Enchanted was fun; we especially enjoyed when Lockout Austin upended a basic design assumption.

➕ Lockout Austin set the gamemaster in the room with the aspiring wizards. He looked and acted the part well. This wizard remained behind his desk, out of the way of the players, but available to us if we needed his wisdom. He was a feature of the experience rather than a necessity, and adaptable to each team.

➖ In an artfully designed, magical gamespace, the doors appeared overlooked, which broke the world just a bit. Even painting them flat black would have been an improvement.

In-game: A locked chest that reads, "How many did we eat?"illuminated by a lantern.

➕ The puzzles were surprisingly deep for a family-friendly game. A number of layered puzzles worked well as group solves, and we liked how these engaged much of the team. They were balanced well with shorter solves.

➖ One segment needed better lighting or better contrast. We struggled for the wrong reasons.

In-game: a metal rod mounted to the wall with many rings hangning from it.

➕ We never got to see the hint system in action, but it was creative and funny.

➕ While Enchanted relied heavily on locks, Lockout Austin incorporated technology to deliver magical interludes that added character to the game. We especially enjoyed these puzzles.

➖ Enchanted needed a climax. There was an opportunity for the final puzzle or the in-character gamemaster to deliver a more dramatic conclusion when we earned our admission into the order. 

➕ There was a moment for the young child on your team to feel triumphant in a room of bigger people solving puzzles.

Tips For Visiting

  • Lockout Austin had many food options nearby.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s Enchanted, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – Area 51-2 [Review]

Enter through the gift shop

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Lockout Austin did a clever thing in Area 51-2. It’s one of those things that’s so smart that once you hear it, it almost feels like it was obvious: the game is a gift shop and you can buy most of the items in it with real money and take them home with you.

In-game: A class display filled with sci fi toys, and a gumball machine with a green inflatable alien hugging it.

If anyone else has done this before, we have neither seen nor heard of it.

Also… we hope that this doesn’t become overdone by too many companies.

Moving onto the actual game.

Lockout Austin took us on a quirky adventure and made us work for our victory.

Area 51-2 was a particularly challenging escape game compared with most everything else we’ve played in the region. (We set the record and still think it was tough.)

The set and effects seemed deliberate.

All in all, this was a strong game, and we absolutely recommend it for more experienced players who are in search of a bit more of a challenge and some creative game design and storytelling.

In-game: An old CRT TV and VCR with VHS tapes sitting on top.

“512” being the area code in Austin, there were layers of things going on in Area 51-2. The game was quirky, puzzley, and challenging.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The gift shop
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Strong game design
  • Some cool effects

Story

My uncle had been a conspiracy theorist and the owner of a weird alien museum. With his recent passing, I was left as the sole heir to his business. It was time to see what the man had been up to.

In-game: The Area 51-2 logo painted to the wall of the gift shop.

Setting

Area 51-2 opened in a low-rent gift shop/ museum owned by an alien conspiracy theorist… and it sold that pretty well. It wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t supposed to be.

Everything in the game was dated, including the technology, merchandise, and pop culture references. It felt like the original owner of this museum/ shop had done most of the work a couple of decades ago. So few escape rooms really nail this kind of detail.

In-game: A shelf of alien socks.
We may have purchased the cow socks for Lisa’s Aunt.

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s Area 51-2 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling… and shopping (if you’re interested).

In-game: Paintings, alien neon lights, and a strange glowing orb atop a cone within the gift shop.

Analysis

➕ Area 51-2. The name was brilliant.

➕ The gift shop concept was genius and novel. The in-game gift shop had amusing oddities for purchase… and we did purchase. This was a great mechanic that I hope doesn’t become overdone in escape games. It would be easy for too many companies to implement this poorly and murder the concept.

In-game: Area 51-2 t-shirts.

➕ Lockout Austin introduced Area 51-2 by setting the scene. Our in-character gamemaster conveyed our role – and his – through humorous dialogue. His introduction was outstanding and his script was expertly crafted to subtly facilitate gameplay. Well done.

In-game: Closeup of Star Trek and Star Wars action figures.

➕ There was a lot to solve in Area 51-2 . It was a puzzle-driven game with a ton of content, some of it rather involved.

➖ In the later portion of the game, many of the puzzles were rooted in similar concepts. Given how involved these were, we would have liked a bit more variety.

➖ Area 51-2 had a small physical footprint. Most players will probably want to bring a team of 6 to tackle the puzzles. There were, however, bottlenecks both in space and in gameplay that will frustrate larger teams. This makes it tough to recommend an ideal team size for Area 51-2 .

In-game: The front window of the museum, below it is the idol from the opening scenes of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

➕ The set was cleverly crafted. In-game, we felt that the set design was uneven… but upon reflection, we think that all of that was deliberate.

➖ In one close-quarters segment of this game, Lockout Austin used a lot of VacuForm. Constantly bumping into it was a regular reminder that the set wasn’t real.

➕ Win or lose, players receive a conclusion to their adventure.

Area 51-2 was noticeably harder than the other games in the region.

Tips For Visiting

  • Lockout Austin had many food options nearby.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • The gift shop accepts both cash and credit card.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s Area 51-2, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Hour Austin – Lab Rats [Reaction]

We returned for science.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 8-18; we recommend 9

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Back in January 2017 we played, reviewed, and loved 15 Locks’ Lab Rats.

We were enamored with the Lab Rats’ unusual structure, floor-plan, and technology because it was one of the only games that we had encountered up to that point that could truly handle a team of 10 engaged players. We also hypothesized that it could be replayed by disciplined players.

In-game: The Yellow Room features a variety of interactions colored yellow. A blue locked box is mounted to the wall in the foreground. The Red Room is through a glowing doorway in the background.
The Yellow Room

At the end of 2017 we were eager to bestow a Golden Lock-In Award on Lab Rats.

Two and a half years later we returned to Lab Rats. This time it was under new management, having been acquired by Escape Hour Austin.

In-game: The Blue Room features a variety of interactions. Through a barred window, the Red Room is visible.
Blue Room

I’m happy to report the following:

  • Lab Rats held up. It was in great shape and it felt like the game that we remembered and loved.
  • Our review held up. I’m not going to retread over all of that. I will add that the technology for room transitions seemed simplified and that smoothed over a few of the shortcomings that we had reported.
  • Yes, Lab Rats was indeed replayable… and still a whole lot of fun the second round. Lisa and I stuck to rooms that we hadn’t played before and it worked well.

Lab Rats remains a strong recommendation from us… but only if you can assemble a team of at least 7 communicative players.

In-game: The Red Room features a variety of interactions pained shades of red.
Red Room

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Hour Austin’s Lab Rats, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Hour Austin provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Austin, Texas: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: October 19, 2019

In keeping with the city’s slogan, Austin has some weird escape rooms.

If you’re looking for an escape room near Austin Texas, these are our recommendations.

Photo of a trombonist performing on stage, the crowd reflecting in the brass of the instrument.

Market Standouts

  1. Dead Man’s Cove, Escape Hour Austin
  2. Lab Rats, Escape Hour Austin
  3. The Escape Game (multiple games)
  4. The Shed, Maze Rooms Austin
  5. Blue Meth Breakout, Lockout Austin
  6. Call of the Ancient, Escape Hour Austin

And if you haven’t played out The Escape Game, they have some great stuff.

Set & Scenery Driven

Puzzle Centric

Big Group Games

Spooky & Scary

Games with Actors

You are always welcome to contact us if this recommendation list doesn’t answer your specific questions.