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 intesterested).

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 poorly implement this 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: June 18, 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 Shed, Maze Rooms Austin
  4. Blue Meth Breakout, Lockout Austin
  5. 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.

Perplexium – Incoming Transmission [Review]

Engage!

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Incoming Transmission was a sprawling space epic in the vein of Star Trek.

We’ve learned to count on Austin’s 15 Locks/ Perplexium to produce creative and unusual escape games that tinker with the formula. They did just that with Incoming Transmission.

In-game: The bridge of a space ship with multiple control consoles and many glowing lights.
Image via Perplexium

This space-based escape game was less about discovering a physical space and puzzling through it. It was more about learning the ship’s systems and using them to traverse the universe, completing missions and solving the problems of alien species. This escape room felt more like a giant control panel than a puzzle room.

This structure meant that Perplexium was able to produce a replayable game with plenty of dynamic missions to tackle.

With gameplay that felt more like a hybrid of video gaming and some tabletop gaming, Incoming Transmission could be the perfect game for your team or it could fizzle. We enjoyed ourselves and could imagine going back for a second go at space travel if we’d finished playing out the other escape rooms that interest us in Austin.

If you’re a little intrigued by all of this and near Austin, Texas, then you should beam aboard Incoming Transmission. At the very least, you’ll be in for an novel ride.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • 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?

  • Unusual, replayable game structure
  • Great set
  • A humorous script

Story

As cadets in the fleet, we had been beamed aboard the SS Adventure. We had to get the ship running and then traverse the universe to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly solve intergalactic problems.

In-game: A series of large control toggles.
Image via Perplexium

Setting 

We were beamed aboard a Star Trek-inspired spaceship with an angular, futuristic aesthetic, complete with dozens of blinking lights, buttons, switches, and dials… all of which were active game components.

In-game: A space ship control panel with multi-colored glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium

Gameplay

Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission combined standard escape room gameplay with atypical elements. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Incoming Transmission could be played in “story mode,” which combined more typical escape room-style gameplay with video game-like elements. It could be replayed in “points mode” which opened up the star system and allowed crews to go off and have a real-life video game-like adventure without some of the more tangible escape room moments.

The gameplay was similar to something like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

Core gameplay revolved around figuring out how to interact with the environment, following instructions, and communicating.

In-game: A space ship control panel with glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium

Analysis

➕ The spaceship set was interesting and beautiful.

➕ As we brought this ship to life and completed missions it reacted with different effects. These upped our excitement about the missions and our feelings of triumph.

➕ There was a heavy video component that involved alien characters appearing on a large screen to ask for help, make demands, or threaten us. It was both Star Trek-y and funny… kind of like The Orville… but without dick jokes.

➕ We enjoyed the escape room-style gameplay of configuring the ship. We especially enjoyed operating the ship’s transporter.

➖ The gameplay often felt more like following instructions than exploring or solving puzzles.

❓ The second act of the game took place at consoles, much like a multiplayer video game. It was fun, but the novelty wore off quickly. We would have liked more puzzle variety or a quicker pace during this segment. Reactions to this segment will likely vary based on individual player preferences.

➖ Incoming Transmission lacked an intense boss flight. The gameplay felt one-note, even as our ship came under fire. We would have liked to build toward the climactic battle.

➕ The replayable “points mode” concept was interesting. There were so many console-based puzzles packed into the game that we could return again and again to play though the challenges from our consoles aboard this intergalactic ship.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This room involves crawling, ducking and tight spaces. At least one player will need to do this.
  • This room includes flashing lights, fog, and loud noises.

Book your hour with Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Perplexium comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Space Games – The Play House [Review]

Birth Control: The Game

Location:  San Marcos, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key*

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Play House offered some interesting puzzles. It was a search-and-puzzle escape room, with quite a bit of stuff to sift through in a minimal set. We weren’t huge fans of the rummaging (there were a lot of diapers). This was also complicated by playing the game in darkness with flashlights.

That said, we especially liked when Escape Space Games had repurposed children’s toys into puzzles.

If you’re in San Marcos and need a puzzle fix, check out Escape Space Games.

In-game: 2 locked toolboxes beside children's toys in a dark room.

Who is this for?

  • Locals
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles

Story

We found ourselves trapped in a daycare after hours. The lights were out… and the toys wanted to play with us.

In-game: The numbers 1 through 5 hanging diagonally on the wall of a dark room.

Setting

We were in a child’s bedroom and playroom in darkness, with a few flashlights. The room was populated with tons of toys, diapers, and the kind of furniture that one would expect to find in the bedroom of a tiny human.

On the one hand, the props and furniture felt accurate… like they may have been migrated from the designer’s home after their child outgrew everything. On the other hand, there wasn’t anything exciting about the setting.

In-game: An image of a cartoon turtle hanging on the wall of a dark room.

Gameplay

Escape Space Games’ The Play House was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Some of that difficulty was derived from darkness.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

In-game: A racket hanging on the wall in a dark room.

Analysis

➖ The gamespace was a mess of toys and diapers. It had also been far too long since it had seen a vacuum cleaner.

➕ The gameplay in Play House flowed logically. It had some interesting puzzle content.

➖ When we encountered props that had been defaced with numbers, and painstakingly searched out these numbers by flashlight, we were disappointed to find they were just a red herring, or perhaps they were a ghost puzzle, or maybe they were there by accident? I don’t know.

➕ Escape Space Games turned a few children’s toys into interesting puzzle interactions. One in particular was quite the enigma. This was solid repurposing.

➖ / ➕ We played Play House entirely in the dark, with our phones as flashlights. There was no reason – in the narrative or the gameplay – that the space needed to be dark. This was just a nuisance. It did leave Escape Space Games the opportunity to illuminate when and how they saw fit. To their credit, they seized the moment better than most. But the payoff wasn’t worth the hassle.

➖ *The door was locked, but the game master told us the “emergency code” that would unlock the door in the event of an emergency. We recommend that Escape Space Games print the emergency code next to the lock so that players don’t need to recall it in the event of an emergency. Better yet, we recommend that they upgrade to a “push to exit” button. Since the fire in Poland, this kind of lock-in isn’t acceptable anymore.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Enter through a glass door at the corner of the plaza and walk down a long hallway to get to Escape Space Games.

Book your hour with Escape Space Games’ The Play House, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Disclosure: Escape Space Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Hour Austin – Dead Man’s Cove [Review]


[At the time of this review, Escape Hour Austin was called 15 Locks.]

Worth the doubloons.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Dead Man’s Cove combined puzzles and adventure into an epic sea voyage. Through the decor, sound, and effects 15 Locks delivered incredible and memorable gameplay moments.

In-game:A jolly roger flag hanging on the wall of a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

While we struggled with the dim lighting, we enjoyed the puzzles. This little ship was jam-packed with them.

Dead Man’s Cove was a highly creative take on the traditional escape room. 15 Locks added tons of details and transformed a game that could have felt like a basic escape room into something magical.

If you’re anywhere near Austin and you’re looking for an escape room adventure, regardless of experience level, you’ll find a lot to enjoy aboard this vessel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle pirates
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exciting moments
  • Detailed set
  • Excellent puzzles
  • The hint system

Story

Our ship was trapped somewhere between the land of the living and the land of the dead. We had to battle mystical evils and navigate ourselves out of troubled waters.

In-game: A locked door and a powder keg inside of a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

Setting

15 Locks staged Dead Man’s Cove inside of a cursed pirate ship. The setting was appropriately dim. It used a variety of effects to convey the various ghosts from the ship’s past that we needed to appease or defeat.

In-game: The captain's desk and a locked chest aboard a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

Gameplay

15 Locks’ Dead Man’s Cove was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The inside of a pirate ship There are ropes and chains running from the ceiling and walls, and number painted into a beam.
Image via 15 Locks

Analysis

➕ 15 Locks’ introduction worked really well… and revealed a charming and fun hint system. We enjoyed taking hints.

➕ Dead Man’s Cove looked exceptional. The wood paneling combined with heavy wood furniture, lantern lighting, choice of locks, and nautical props transported us to these troubled waters.

➖ The gamespace was unbalanced. Since so much of it was beautifully crafted into a specific aesthetic, a latter set felt under-designed in comparison. There was opportunity to do more with this part of the gamespace.

Dead Man’s Cove wasn’t a large space, but it packed a lot of gameplay.

➕ The puzzles flowed smoothly and solved cleanly.

In-game: A table with a map on it inside of a lantern-lit pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

➖ The dim lighting was frustrating. Especially given the reliance on combination locks and short passages written in a small font, we struggled with lack of light. A few spotlights on one or two work surfaces would have made a world of difference.

➕ 15 Locks used light and sound to surprise us. Dead Man’s Cove continually delivered exciting, interactive moments. We enjoyed experiencing these as a group.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Dead Man’s Cove, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

All in Adventures – Superhero’s Adventure [Review]

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na…

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $20.32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape The Mystery Room Mystery Room All in Adventures builds out escape rooms in malls. The walls partitioning the games don’t reach to the ceiling. The decor is minimal and the puzzles are bolted on rather than integrated into the props. Superhero’s Adventure was full of paper-based puzzles that more or less worked, and locked props, roughly on theme.

In-game: A brick facade, a newspaper vending machine, a handheld stop sign, a blue mailbox.

Going in with the right (low) expectations, the right attitude, and a fun group of friends, we found some enjoyment brute-force solving our way through all these locks. Your mileage will vary.

All in Adventures is a value question. Is this type of low-budget escape room experience worth $22 for 50 minutes? If yes, go in with the right attitude and find your own fun. If you’re looking for higher production value or more meaty puzzles, look elsewhere. For just a bit more money, you could buy a lot more investment in design and gameplay from another escape room company.

While we were there, our gamemaster/ facility manager had expressed frustration that past escape room enthusiasts hit them with negative reviews, but didn’t understand that All in Adventures was striving to do something different. At the end of the day, the biggest flaw with All in Adventures isn’t their approach to game design, but that they want to be viewed as serving a different niche, without labeling themselves as such.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a company attempting to target a lower quality and price point. That said, there is no way for a first-time player to realize that All in Adventures is the O’Doul’s of escape rooms. Their tagline is, “Your Ultimate Escape Room Destination,” and by that standard, well… let’s just say that they are no Cutthroat Cavern.

Who is this for?

  • Walk-ins
  • Deal seekers

Why play?

  • To get your escape room fix
  • You’d rather not be shopping

Story

The intergalactic hero known as the Golden Skateboarder had stashed his spare board on Earth before taking a vacation in the cosmos. Unbeknownst to the hero on holiday, his board was disrupting Earth’s magnetic field.

We had to find the location of his skateboard and send a message, summoning the Golden Skateboarder back to Earth so that he could permanently rectify the problem.

In-game: A yellow cage labeled "flammable materials" a garbage can, an orange traffic cone, and an oversized wall decal of a screenshot from the Batman from Arkham Knight video game.

Setting

Superhero’s Adventure‘s gamespace was a single room surrounded by 3/4 height walls. Two of those walls were covered in full-sized decals.

The few props were supposed to evoke a city environment: a blue post office mailbox, a parking cone, a garbage can (filled with garbage), etc.

The set was bare-bones. It served as a container to hold the game’s locked boxes and puzzle content, while evoking a vague superhero theme.

In-game: A trunk with 20 super hero logos on the top, sealed with two combination locks.

Gameplay

All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The staff at All in Adventures were energetic, friendly, and engaging. They welcomed everyone entering their doors.

➖ All in Adventures used a call-button hint system. We could ring for help. Unfortunately, the few staff had to oversee the entire facility including the lobby and the teams in the other games. It could take a long time to get a hint, which wasn’t cool in a timed game.

➖ Because the walls weren’t floor-to-ceiling, we could hear everything going on in adjacent games. This was distracting. (We could also hear when the staff were otherwise preoccupied helping another team.)

❓ It was strange seeing a massive wall decal of a Batman: Arkham Knight press screenshot.

➖ The props were simply containers to gate the gameflow. They looked cheap. Most of the cluing was on laminated paper and not worked into the surroundings.

➖ The puzzles weren’t well thought out. Potential puzzle solutions were just that: possibilities. We never had confidence in our answers, even the ones that did pop locks. The solutions could be overly obvious or ridiculously obscure.

➖ We spent most of our time trying potential puzzle solutions in every lock in the game. Most of the locks had similar digit structures. Because the majority of props and locks weren’t logically connected to puzzles, potential solutions could go just about anywhere. Our gameplay experience felt like a giant brute force.

Superhero’s Adventure included a bonus puzzle. We applaud this effort to make sure that teams who were solving quickly got to spend more time playing. We enjoyed the puzzle. Note that it was far more complex than we’d been conditioned for, based on the rest of our experience in the room, which threw us off for quite some time.

Tips For Visiting

  • This escape room is located in The Domain.
  • Park in the adjacent garage.

Book your hour with All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: All in Adventures comped our tickets for this game.

The Scholar Ship – Harry Potter [Review]

Harry Potter & the Prisoners of Ms Jamie.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 4-8 kids (ages 7 and up)

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $60 per group of 4 kids plus $15 for each additional kid

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key*

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Scholar Ship escape rooms were created especially for children by an educator. They are designed to help groups of kids work together to solve puzzles in a themed environment.

Harry Potter was one of the many games offered at The Scholar Ship. The game consisted of locked boxes, props, and clues, which were set up in the escape room space. These can then be swapped out for a different escape room games. Harry Potter nodded at the fandom.

In-game: winners get candy!

We were impressed by The Scholar Ship. Harry Potter was clearly crafted with care to give children the opportunity to puzzle and triumph together. If you’re a parent in Austin, we recommend you check out these escape rooms and the other educational games they offer.

If you’re an adult escape room fan, this game is not designed for you.

Who is this for?

  • Primary school children
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Designed by an educator for children
  • Adorable concept

Story

We were there to help find Colin Creevey’s stolen camera.

In-game: A wizard's broom and a cardboard cutout of a black and white cartoony detective.

Setting

The Scholar Ship is a multi-purpose learning and entertainment space for primary school-aged kids. They have VR, and room for crafts, science experiments, and whatever else Ms. Jamie cooks up.

In the back of The Scholar Ship was a room that Ms. Jamie populates with different locked boxes and puzzle components that make up her escape games. The space itself always stays the same. She adds different puzzle content and props for each game.

In-game: A silver and purple room with televisions ikea furniture, and locked boxes.

The Harry Potter books and a Quidditch broom were among the few items that marked this game as a Harry Potter experience.

Gameplay

The Scholar Ship’s Harry Potter was an escape room designed especially for groups of children. It had a moderate level of difficulty, for the intended audience.

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

Analysis

➕ The Scholar Ship escape rooms were created by an educator especially for children. The concepts, structures, and puzzle types were designed to excite and involve kids and enable them to work together.

➕ Harry Potter didn’t set us up to relive an epic moment from the book/ movie series. Instead, it set our puzzling around a minor character from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Potter fans will recognize the character and the prop at the center of our mission. It was a charming, relatable story that played into the fandom.

➕ Every aspect of the experience was designed around the needs of a group of kids. The introductory Power Point explained how to work together in an escape room and how to approach the types of locks and puzzles the group would encounter. There was even a bathroom in the escape room.

➖ We found the initial instruction from our gamemaster as to how to get started to be misleading. By following the instruction, we didn’t follow our normal play style and were needlessly tripped up.

➕/➖ Harry Potter wasn’t a permanent fixture. The Scholar Ship uses the same physical room to house all of its escape room scenarios. They swap out the locks, boxes, and puzzles for each theme. The space was purely a container for the content and didn’t have anything to do with the experience. Harry Potter was unapologetically low tech and low production. Although this design lacked the excitement we’ve come to expect from escape rooms, kids feel comfortable in the space. It’s more like a classroom puzzle game than an adventure game. Because of this design, the games can be mobile. The Scholar Ship sets up escape rooms at schools and events.

➖ We came across a few unintended red herrings, due to the nature of the multi-purposed space. These were frustrating.

Harry Potter was playful. It included some charmingly obvious red herrings – nobody will be confused – and we can imagine children delighting in these. We enjoyed them.

➖ We escaped the room… but did the story resolve? This wasn’t readily apparent. The story was more thematic.

The Scholar Ship's lobby has a Playstation VR among other things.

➕ The Scholar Ship offers more than escape rooms. It’s an activity space for children. They also offer VR, Xbox, and sciencey activities. It’s a neat place that was clearly designed with care for its target audience.

❓*The Scholar Ship takes safety seriously. The door is locked, but it’s a transparent door. Anxious kids can see out. There is always a staff member in the room with the children. The staff member has a master sheet with door combo. There are always other staff, parents, and kids on the other side of the door who could open it at any time. Parents can also watch the kids in the escape room through a security camera. We listed “Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key” because the players cannot simply walk out the door or push a button to free themselves, but The Scholar Ship does not fit neatly into our categories for traditional, adult escape rooms.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This escape room is explicitly designed for groups of children. It is not for adults or habitual escape room players.

Book your hour with The Scholar Ship’s Harry Potter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Scholar Ship comped our tickets for this game.

Escapology Austin – Assassination Express [Review]

Whistle stop

Location:  Round Rock, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Assassination Express is unique to Escapology in Austin, TX. It is their version of the popular Escapology game Budapest Express, available at many other franchises.

In-game: A vase with roses, two wine glasses, and a bottle on a table before a window with a snow storm beyond it.

Escapology Austin created a beautiful and detailed dining car to stage this game. It was a ton of fun to explore and puzzle through. Although the aesthetics diminished in the second act, Assassination Express hurtled towards an explosive conclusion.

If you’re in Austin, we recommend Assassination Express for puzzlers and scenery aficionados alike. This would be a great first game for escape room newbies. While it won’t offer experienced players anything extraordinary, it’s still a fun playthrough with some lovely details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The introduction
  • The gorgeous train car
  • Solid puzzles

Story

We were transported to a train traversing Minnesota in 1932. Franklin D. Roosevelt was aboard on his presidential campaign… and someone trying to disrupt history had planted a bomb. We had to stop the bomb and ensure the proper flow of the time stream.

In-game: Red and gold curtains covering the wood walls and a window with a snow storm.

Setting

We entered into a beautiful old train car with wood trim, velvet curtains, and a snow squall happening outside. It was a visually striking set, especially at first glance.

In my experience, Escapology games usually have an elegant first room, and then the level of detail, square footage, and visual appeal drop off with subsequent rooms. That was true of Assassination Express. The second act’s set design wasn’t on the same level as the first.

Gameplay

Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ As time travelers, our experience started with getting to Minnesota in 1932. We weren’t prepared for the wild ride that is time travel. It was pretty great.

➕ The train looked beautiful. We loved the decor in the dining car. Escapology’s attention to detail created the world for this train trip.

➖ The second act didn’t feel as rich or detailed as the first. It also felt cramped. We lost some sense of the staging that we’d felt early on.

➕ The puzzles were solid, satisfying solves. They included both locks and more technology-driven triggers. Both worked well in the experience.

➖ Although the puzzles worked well, at times we struggled with game flow. It wasn’t always clear which puzzles were available to solve at any given time.

➖ We encountered a search-focused puzzle that was more frustrating than fun.

Assassination Express had a satisfying culminating solve.

Escapology Austin's steampunk lobby filled with large leather couches and ottomans.

➕ Escapology has some of the nicest lobbies in the business. Escapology Austin was no exception.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Escapology has a comfortable, spacious lobby.

Book your hour with Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapology Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Project Panic – End of the Line [Review]

Tickets please.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As a New Yorker, Project Panic’s End of the Line is kind of what I think non-New Yorkers think New York is: a subway with criminal gangs ruling everything.

In-game: An authentic turn style before a subway car.

End of the Line captured the subway aesthetic. It was a fun set to explore. While we enjoyed many of the puzzles, we wished Project Panic had instilled them with more narrative and purpose.

End of the Line was a puzzle-forward escape room within an exciting set. If this sounds like your kind of ride, check it out next time you’re in Austin.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Fun set
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

As investigators for the subway agency, we had been dispatched to look into rumors that a notorious gang was using the old station and lines as a hideout.

Setting

End of the Line was Project Panic’s take on a subway escape game. We entered through a turnstile, puzzled on the subway platform, and worked our way through a train car.

The environments were all reasonably convincing and hit enough of the right notes to feel pretty great.

In-game: A subway platform with a train.

Gameplay

Project Panic’s End of the Line was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ End of the Line flowed well. The puzzles progressed, taking us from one gamespace to the next.

➖ At times, the puzzles bottlenecked, with nothing for other players to do but wait for their teammates to complete something… at least there were seats on the subway.

➕ The gamespaces were interesting and generally well designed. We were excited to step into each new gamespace and we enjoyed the various subway props.

➖ A big generator switch that didn’t trigger anything was a missed opportunity.

➕ / ➖ We enjoyed most of the puzzles. They were thematic and made use of the decor and the props. They weren’t connected to each other, however, and didn’t help us feel a narrative.

➖ The mission switched in the middle of the experience… but we didn’t notice. We would have moved along solving puzzles if our gamemaster hadn’t interrupted to deliver the story notes. While we appreciate this choice in game design, the mission switch needed to be more readily apparent.

➖/➕ The final puzzle didn’t make sense in the context of the experience. Although it was a good puzzle and made use of a fun prop, it also didn’t feel like a finale.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a tiny parking lot next to Project Panic, but that is for the adjacent business. Project Panic’s parking lot is around the back. It’s probably best to check with Project Panic to make sure you’ve found the correct place to park.
  • Project Panic and Austin Panic Room are two locations for the same company.

Book your hour with Project Panic’s End of the Line, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Project Panic comped our tickets for this game.