Maze Rooms Austin – The Shed [Review]

Dinner & puzzles

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $45 per player for teams of 2 or $30 per player for teams of 3-4

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The Shed was an intense escape room for a small, trusting, and communicative team. Chained to the walls (with safety releases) and each able to access only a corner of the small space, we had to work together to escape this serial killer’s lair.

The Shed lacked some essential clue structure. Maze Room knows this, and has worked to mitigate the issue, but they have a ways to go before the gameplay will truly flow.

These frustrations aside, The Shed was unique and exhilarating. If you’re looking for a dramatic and challenging small-team escape room in Austin, we recommend this dinner date.

In-gameA wall with chains a digital display and a handprint in a gritty murder basement.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who are comfortable with physical restraints and a dark, unnerving environment

Why play?

  • Unique staging
  • Intense environment
  • Forced self-reliance
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

Good News: Our new friend had invited us over for dinner.

Bad News: We were unaware that our new friend was referred to as “Austin’s Cannibal” by local police.

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Setting

The Shed fell comfortably into the category of escape rooms that we’ve taken to calling the “murder basement.” While it was physically small, it was convincing without being too gory.

Each of 4 players was shackled by the wrists (with a simple mechanical safety release) to a different corner of a small room with a central pillar. The environment was grim, detailed, and foreboding.

In-game: a menacing hooded man in a workshop.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Gameplay

Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

It was atypical because each player was handcuffed to a different corner of the room for most of the experience. We had to solve the puzzles without moving around in the space.

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

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Analysis

➕ We played most of The Shed with both wrists chained to the wall. These were the most comfortable handcuffs we’ve ever been strapped into. We were free to maneuver without causing any scraping or bruising to our wrists. Our handcuffs were attached to the walls by a length of chain and safety clips. The setup was great.

➕ The opening sequence of The Shed worked beautifully. It was hard to get started while chained to a wall and search capacity was limited, but The Shed had an onramp that taught us how to play within its confines.

➖ We had a lot of props in play at any given time. It could be overwhelming to ascertain what was immediately relevant and it was challenging to keep everything we might need in reach. It was also difficult to stay organized with all of the props while restrained.

➕ The Shed did a lot with a small gamespace. It looked great in a dark and creepy way. It hid its secrets well.

➖ When we triggered a solve, we rarely knew what we’d opened. Maze Rooms could add stronger lighting and sound clues to draw players’ attention to the reveals. Providing this immediate reward for any solves would have allowed us to focus on the puzzles rather than searching.

➖ The clue structure didn’t quite support the gameplay. Maze Rooms has mitigated this by adding a runbook. While we appreciated that additional cluing, it was annoying to spend most of the game with my head in a notebook. This was especially frustrating given the dim lighting and that both my hands and any flashlights were restricted by a length of chain.

➕ The gameplay emphasized communication. We couldn’t explore, or even see the entire game. We needed to communicate well and trust our teammates.

➕ Our favorite moments involved multiple players coordinating information and actions to solve puzzles.

➖ When we eventually freed ourselves from the restraints, we had access to new spaces… that our teammates knew intimately. We had to pause to share knowledge or waste time re-exploring known spaces.

➕ The penultimate sequence came together well with a surprising reveal and a plot twist.

➕/➖ The Shed required each player to rely on their teammates and hold their own. If one individual couldn’t find/ solve/ interact with an element, there was only so much the other teammates could do to help. We mostly found this exhilarating. Sometimes it made the game stall for a bit too long. Your choice of teammates will significantly impact your experience in The Shed.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Accessibility: Height Requirement of 55 inches (4’5”ft) or taller
  • You can play this game with 2 – 4 people. You cannot add additional people. 4 people is the optimal number.
  • Left-handed players may find this game more challenging than right-handed ones will.

Book your hour with Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Maze Rooms Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Haus – Forensics Classroom [Review]

Killer class.

Location:  New Braunfels, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 5-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In Forensics Classroom we solved more puzzles and opened more locks than in almost any other escape room we’ve played to date. This was a puzzle frenzy.

In-game: A classroom with desks, lockers, bulletin boards, and cubbies.

The varied and approachable puzzles solved cleanly and flowed well from one lock to the next. They were generally thematic, but didn’t convey narrative. Occasionally, they felt a bit too process-y for our liking in a timed game.

If you enjoy puzzles, Forensics Classroom would be an amazing way to spend an hour, especially if you’re on the road from San Antonio to Austin, or spending time in either city. If puzzles aren’t your calling, you’ll probably want to cut this class.

Who is this for?

  • Large groups
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Adorable theming
  • Volume of puzzles

Story

With Miss Enigma’s forensics class all but complete, we had 60 minutes to complete her final examination and prove the ability of our class to collaborate and solve problems under pressure.

In-game: Lockers, bag hangers, and a map of the USA in a classroom.

Setting

Forensics Classroom was a revamp of Escape Haus’ earlier Kid’s Classroom.

Kid’s Classroom was a bright and convincing school setting. Forensics Classroom was essentially the same space with a few of the brighter elements swapped out and a completely new set of puzzles.

In-game: A classroom with bulletin boards, locks, a human skeleton model, and an overhead projector.

Gameplay

Escape Haus’ Forensics Classroom was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

The difficulty was mainly due to the high volume of puzzle content.

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

Analysis

➕ Forensics Classroom was well themed. From the child-sized desks to the cubbies, it was an elementary-esque classroom. The decor and puzzles leaned into forensics. This strange hybrid theme totally worked… even if the desks seemed a bit small for forensics students.

➕ Forensics Classroom was jam-packed with puzzles. Over all, they were approachable and enjoyable.

❓ While many of the puzzles were aha solves, we stumbled upon a few long process puzzles that ate a lot of time. Feelings on this will vary from player to player.

➕ We especially enjoyed puzzles that turned classroom objects into interesting puzzles.

➖ We didn’t get a sense of adventure from this escape room. It was a one-note, puzzle-solving marathon. We would have liked to unlock a grand reveal or surprising moment.

➕/➖ Escape Haus designed multiple puzzle paths into this escape room. Once we unlocked a path, we followed it sequentially from lock to lock. Given the volume of puzzles and locks in the game, this structure was helpful. We always knew where to input a solution. That said, we found it difficult to open a new puzzle path. We wasted a lot of time early on before we understood that we could simultaneously open multiple puzzle paths.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Bring a large team.
  • Try to open multiple puzzle paths as quickly as possible so that you can parallel puzzle throughout the hour.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Forensics Classroom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – CSI: Murder at the Asylum [Review]

Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In CSI: Murder at the Asylum, Lockout Austin did the crime solver genre of escape room justice.

CSI: Murder at the Asylum was a puzzler’s escape room. It was organized and focused. It combined standard escape room-style puzzles with a larger deduction-based narrative.

Although the setting wasn’t particularly interesting, with their in-character gamemaster, Lockout Austin built just a bit more world around the experience.

Play CSI: Murder at the Asylum for the puzzles and you’ll get just a bit more than that from it. If you’re in Austin, we recommend you stop by to solve this crime.

In-game: A nesting doll sitting on a bookcase.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • To solve the crime!
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

There was a murder at Pinnhurst Asylum and for unexplained reasons, the feds wanted to take over the investigation. We had to solve the mystery before they arrived at the scene.

In-game: A wall with 10 profiles of active suspects.

Setting

CSI: Murder at the Asylum was set in a fairly bland office-like environment for the first act and a more interesting asylum in the second act.

While the second half was a little more visually interesting, the set was merely adequate, serving as a container for the puzzles and gameplay, which were the real reason to play this game.

In-game: A big stuffed teddy bear sitting on a chair.

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s CSI: Murder at the Asylum was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a twist. In the first act, we had to solve a crime by discovering alibis and narrowing our list of suspects.

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

In-game: A steel wall for eliminated suspects.

Analysis

➕ Lockout Austin’s gamemasters are characters in their experiences. In CSI: Murder at the Asylum, we didn’t just start puzzling when the door closed. This added intrigue and fun.

➖ CSI: Murder at the Asylum had a dull, sterile set. While appropriate, the set wasn’t invigorating.

➕ The investigation made sense. We searched for alibis to verify innocence. Any fact we learned could apply to one or more suspects, which felt a bit more realistic than what we’ve experience in many crime-scene deduction games.

➕ The puzzles flowed well and were satisfying solves. They became increasingly more challenging as the game progressed, which worked well.

➕ The gameplay was organized. The locks were labeled. The suspects were neatly presented and when we eliminated them, it was clear where to put their pages. No clutter. We could solve with incredible focus.

➖ It was easy to miss the story while focused on solving puzzles. For those paying attention to the story, the ending didn’t really land.

 CSI: Murder at the Asylum missed an opportunity for an exhilarating and memorable moment. They set it up, but it came too soon and lacked the necessary sound or lighting effects to stop all players in their tracks.

➕Lockout Austin repurposed one escape room cliché for a legit solve. It worked really well.

Tips For Visiting

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

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s CSI: Murder at the Asylum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Hour Austin – Call of the Ancient [Review]

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

The Call of Cthulhu

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Call of the Ancient, a game rooted in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft and centered around the rise of the elder god Cthulhu, was an especially challenging escape room with an optional roleplay element and a “sanity” game mechanic.

If a player lost all of their sanity points, then there were unknown consequences. And we lost sanity… frequently. This completely shifted how we played the game. This was approximately our 690th escape game… so it’s saying a lot that Call of the Ancient made us immediately shift our approach to gameplay.

In-game: a cryptex an unrolled scroll, a locked box and an idol.
Image via 15 Locks

Looking back, I found myself wishing that one or two puzzles were a little clearer, and that the sanity system was more refined. I wanted to feel more consequence.

In true Lovecraft fashion, Call of the Ancient was difficult, with some deliberately frustrating puzzles. This was brilliantly in-narrative and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

This was a really interesting game for Lovecraft fans and puzzle nerds. It was challenging and steeped in its source material. If that sounds like you, then this is a must-play. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, this game might drive you to madness. 15 Locks really went crazy on this one.

Who is this for?

  • The Lovecraft-familiar
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for something challenging and different

Why play?

  • Unusual gameplay that forced us to change the entire way we approach playing escape rooms
  • Optional roleplaying opportunity
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Connection to the source material

Story

A secret society had summoned a great evil. They had arrogantly believed that they could control it and harness its power for their own gain… but they were wrong.

We had to investigate the ritual that they had conducted and determine how to contain the menace that they had released.

In-game: A bookcase filled with old books and trinkets.
Image via 15 Locks

Setting

Call of the Ancient was set in a study-like room with a decidedly creepy Lovecraftian feel.

15 Locks included a beautiful animated painting and an animated portrait. The former served as an elaborate game clock, the latter as the hint system. These embellishments added a ton of atmosphere.

In-game: A faux rotary phone on a desk in an old study.
Image via 15 Locks

Gameplay

15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient was an unusual escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Call of The Ancient introduced character cards, special abilities unique to each character, and “sanity points.” If a player lost all of their sanity, then they triggered a new, adverse effect within the game. The fear of losing sanity was real. It quickly shifted how we approached playing.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, unraveling complex problems, and making connections.

In-game: an old study with a bookcase, phonograph, and a mesmerizing clock.
Image via 15 Locks

Analysis

➕ The animated clock and hint system were fantastic.

➕/➖ The puzzles in Call of the Ancient were intense and in a few instances, a bit maddening. They felt at home in a Lovecraft game, which was amazing. For those who didn’t like or appreciate this stylistic choice, however, it was a bit maddening.

➕ There were some really unusual interactions that completely belonged within this strange, chaotic world.

➖ We were pretty sure that one puzzle had an incorrect solution.

➕ The sanity system was really cool. All sorts of normal escape room actions could result in a loss of sanity. This quickly changed the way that we approached puzzling, which was so damn amazing.

➖ The sanity system functioned on the honor system. If a player didn’t want to go insane, they could simply pretend that they hadn’t triggered a sanity loss. On the one hand, this meant that an individual player could have whatever experience they desired. On the other hand, it meant that a big portion of the game could be essentially ignored, and one player’s decision did impact everyone else’s experience. It was also possible for players to honorably follow their own interpretation of portions of the sanity game. The mechanics weren’t entirely clear.

➖ Partway through the game, I decided to try to go insane while following the rules. There were too many powers at play, however, that allowed my teammates to “save” me. I wish that I could have fairly triggered insanity; it would have been a jolly good time… for me.

➕/➖ The character cards were an interesting addition. The characters’ powers injected another dynamic to the game. Unfortunately, nearly all of the powers were focused on preserving sanity points. This turned the entire power section of the game into a sanity preservation side-game.

➖ There was variation in LED color in the final puzzle, which lead to a fair amount of unnecessary confusion.

➖ We didn’t have enough light. This was maddening… and maybe rightly so… but we much preferred that feeling to come for the game itself.

➕ 15 Locks used space in crazy ways.

➖ The initial spatial reveal was clunky. We loved the concept, but the execution needed more work.

➕ The environment looked and felt designed. 15 Locks chose appropriate locks, which added a lot to the aesthetic.

Call of the Ancient rewarded familiarity with Cthulhu and Lovecraft in a profound way. If those names mean nothing to you before you enter this game, you’re missing out on a significant chunk of the experience.

➕ The conclusion was brilliant and perfectly fit the narrative.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This is a challenging game. Bring a team that is ready for it.
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Call of the Ancient, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Haus – Backstage at the Magic Show [Review]

For my next trick…

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

After landing our dream job as magician’s assistants, we had unfortunately locked ourselves in the prop room. We had to escape with enough time to prepare for the show.

Backstage at the Magic Show’s set was a hodgepodge of performance magic-related items. The centerpiece was the “saw the lady in half” prop, an object that I had never actually touched before. This one was more be-glittered than I was expecting.

In game - the "saw the lady in half" prop sits front and center. Many other magic show props are displayed in the background.

The set made a good first impression, but as the game wore on, it felt a little shallow.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Backstage at the Magic Show was a bit choppy. While some elements of the game had excellent nuance and attention to detail, other elements felt bewilderingly forgotten.

Standouts

Escape Haus created simple yet effective blacklight interaction.

Everything in the game pulled on the theme and related props.

Shortcomings

The puzzles felt disconnected from the story and weren’t memorable.

The set made a great first impression, but it didn’t go anywhere.

There were far too many locked boxes with similar digit structures. It became tedious constantly trying the same combinations over and over until we found the correct lock.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Backstage at the Magic Show?

From the set to the puzzles, I wanted more magic.

Backstage at the Magic Show was a functional game. It didn’t have much that was absolutely wrong with it, but it also didn’t have anything that was especially right either. We struggled to find a favorite moment because so much of the game felt so similar.

If you’ve played all that Escape Haus has to offer and need a puzzle fix, you could do worse, but if there’s anything else to play at Escape Haus, I’d book it instead.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Backstage at the Magic Show, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Hour Austin – Escape the Manor [Review]

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

Haunting darkness.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Elrich, a polite and friendly ghost, had been cursed and trapped in his manor. We had to work our way through the darkness, armed with just a few flashlights, to free him from his imprisonment.

Set in a Victorian-esque office, Escape the Manor’s defining characteristic was darkness. It was mildly creepy, but not frightening or threatening. With 6 players, we found fewer light sources than we had teammates.

In-game: A dimly lit room with a large victorian desk.
Objects in image are better lit than in-game.

Puzzles

The greatest challenge we faced was lighting, particularly scavenging without it. The puzzling felt more like a secondary obstacle. That said, most of the puzzles were fun to work through… once we found them.

A fair amount of Escape the Manor was technology-driven, which is 15 Locks’ focus. Those interactions were the most satisfying parts of the game.

Standouts

The opening moments of the game were innovative.

The atmosphere worked well and accomplished its mission.

The tech was satisfying.

An in-character hinting system added ambiance and fun to the Escape the Manor.

Shortcomings

Lighting was a problem. Having to find our light sources, and then not having enough throughout the game, brought down the energy of the entire team. Players with lights felt like they were robbing others of a good time. Players without lights struggled to feel useful. In the end, it led to a lot of light exchanging which prevented anyone from achieving a solid flow state.

One particularly misleading puzzle looked like a logic puzzle, but was not. It seemed like a great opportunity to offer two different paths to a solution.

Should I play 15 Locks’ Escape the Manor?

Escape the Manor nailed so much. The setup and opening of the game, in particular, were exceptional.

The trouble with Escape the Manor was that it became pretty player-unfriendly at times, especially with 6 people in the room. I cannot even imagine how frustrated we would have been at the game’s ticket capacity of 8.

Escape the Manor was at its best when it leaned on technology-driven puzzling and the atmosphere created by the set. I think it would have been incredible if the lighting challenges were greatly reduced and another serious puzzle or two were introduced.

In its current state, I recommend it to beginners and experienced players alike… so long as the team is small. There’s a smart game in Escape the Manor, but it cannot adequately support a large group.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Escape the Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Haus – Game Suite [Review]

Hey! Uncle Milton! Thanks for the free parking!

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

Our tabletop game-creating Uncle Milton has passed away. If we can win one final game that he has left for us, he will bequeath his board game fortune to us. If we lose, his estate will be donated to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Built entirely around tabletop and casino games, Game Suite was less visually impactful than the other offerings at Escape Haus. It was cute but pretty sparse.

In game: A one armed bandit slot machine rests in the foreground. A massive chess board is built into the floor.

Puzzles

Game Suite was not the puzzliest of games. There was a fair amount of searching, some deciphering, and quite a bit of counting.

One puzzle was seriously clever; solving it felt like a triumph.

Standouts

Escape Haus did a great job of incorporating a lot of tabletop games into Game Suite. Nearly every puzzle was born of a game.

In game: a card table with a game of poker in progress sits in the foreground, assorted games and gaming related things reside in the background.

Everything was clearly clued and cleanly executed, even when it wasn’t immediately obvious.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster reference was an exceptional detail.

Shortcomings

The puzzling wasn’t particularly strong. Some of the more task-based interactions overstayed their welcome.

A large set piece wasn’t relevant to the game.

Game Suite didn’t look or feel like it had much gravity.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Game Suite?

Cute and entertaining, Game Suite’s setup had us laughing.

While it wasn’t Escape Haus’ best looking, most challenging, or most compelling game, it was still fun to play.

Game Suite was a solid beginner game; it was player-friendly and unintimidating. Experienced players could sit this one out.

That said, Game Suite would be an exceptional game for families with children. Many of the tasks that turned me off would be perfect for kids.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Game Suite, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Austin – Classified [Review]

Bazaar & puzzling.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 5, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Story & setting

We needed to stop a terrorist cell by gathering intelligence about an impending attack. This was your typical prime-time television counter-terror staging that steered clear of any specific world events.

We entered a Middle Eastern market. It was detailed, vibrant, and original. The initial setting was striking and beautiful.

In-game, a vibrantly colored bazaar market. Rugs hang from the ceiling. Assorted foods and pots sit on the shelves.

As the game progressed, we found ourselves in a dark and far more generic escape room environment.

Puzzles

Classified was primarily linear.

The challenge came from searching and making connections between relevant finds. It was not a puzzle-focused room escape.

Standouts

This was our first gamespace set in a market. The initial set was not only original, but also detailed, and polished.

The first half of the Classifed had silky smooth game flow.

Classified included neat, well-hidden physical interactions with some of the larger set pieces.

Shortcomings

Classified felt disconnected. The second half of the game lacked everything that made the first half special. It wasn’t beautiful, interesting, or exciting. It also lacked the flow of the first half. It became more challenging, but also dull and tedious.

Should I play The Escape Game Austin’s Classified?

Classified had a great first act. The visual impact of walking into such an unusual and beautiful space was energizing. The gameplay was a older escape room style that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt than The Escape Game’s other offerings. While the initial set was creative and exciting, the second act didn’t live up to the expectation set in the first half. That said, it was still more polished than many escape rooms of its era.

The Escape Game Austin has moved forward since designing this game and we recommend that you try their other games first. We visited Gold Rush, Prison Break, and The Heist at The Escape Game’s Orlando location, but took a peek at them in Austin and feel confident recommending them here as well. They’ve done a beautiful job making slight modifications to construct each of their games into the slightly different space in their Austin facilities.

While Classified wasn’t our favorite of their offerings, The Escape Game Austin is a top-notch facility with excellent staff that will deliver a fun, family-friendly experience.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Austin’s Classified, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – The Cursed Ship [Review]

The Lost ship.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 6, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Stranded on a desert island, we stumbled upon a ship that had run aground. We had to power the ship and lift its curse in order to set course for freedom.

Lockout Austin had crafted an island-meets-ship-esque design into the room. While by no means a convincing vessel, the design worked in a storybook sort of way. It was a playful shipwreck adventure.

In-game: Closeup of an anchor tied against the side of the ship's wooden hull.

Puzzles

On The Cursed Ship, we unearthed quite a bit to puzzle through. We always understood what to puzzle with, and while a lot was happening, it was also clear which puzzle components connected.

Much of the puzzling was interactive, incorporating the ship-esque set components.

Standouts

The Cursed Ship included a few particularly fun puzzles.

Lockout Austin designed this room escape to force teamwork. Before we’d solved any given puzzle, multiple people had interacted with the components. This all felt natural and deeply satisfying as a group experience.

In-game: The ship's wheel and control console.

Despite the team-oriented design, individuals still experienced their own starring moments.

While the curse-lifting was a tad hokey, Lockout Austin pulled it off through the playful design of the set and story, and the energetic vibe of their overall customer experience.

Shortcomings

While fun, the story and set design were not as compelling as the puzzles.

Many of the puzzles also didn’t jibe with the narrative. We opened a few too many boxes of puzzley things. All of these containers of stuff, so to speak, felt like a shortcut in design and construction. More integration would have greatly benefitted the overall experience.

Should I play Lockout Austin’s The Cursed Ship?

The Cursed Ship was about the puzzles rather than the narrative or the set. Throughout the game we continued to uncover puzzles as we pieced others together. Despite the volume, they flowed logically, and perhaps because of it, the puzzling naturally produced teamwork.

This would be a challenging escape room for newer players, but it would still be approachable.

The Cursed Ship was a playful nod to Lost. It wasn’t scary or particularly realistic, and we were all smiling throughout the game.

This was the spirit of Lockout Austin. Under an adorable happy birthday sign in the lobby, the staff greeted us with a riddle. Everyone we met was engaged and clearly having a good time with their clientele. It was a joy to play their games.

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

Full disclosure: Lockout Austin provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Austin Panic Room – Phase III: Human Trials [Review]

Why don’t mad scientists maintain clean labs?

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 9, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

We had been kidnapped by an evil surgeon doing evil things in his research lab / murder basement. After being injected with something evil, we had to find the cure and the way out in order to survive.

The grimy set looked relatively compelling, and at the very least, unwelcoming. It was less convincing as a lab where we might make the antidote we needed. Still, it looked pretty much in character as a place for murder.

In-game: Corrugated aluminum wall, a brick floor, and a rusty bed with medical equipment on a table beside it.

Puzzles

The puzzles relied primarily on basic decipherment and determining what was relevant when.

Many of the puzzles were buried under a fair bit of text.

Standouts

Phase III looked thematically appropriate; the ambiance worked.

In a few instances, Austin Panic Room incorporated interesting ciphers.

We appreciated the warnings on the website that Phase III has low ceilings and includes a short segment of flashing lights. We wish more companies included similar cautions.

In-game: A coffin with a transparent top. Inside are bloodied bones.

Shortcomings

At times there was a lot of accessible information that wasn’t actually in play. In fact, because of this, halfway through we worried that we may have somehow bypassed some of the puzzling. It turned out that we hadn’t.

One larger prop was breaking in such a way that it required the use of excessive force. We weren’t sure how to interact with this item and, under our gamemaster’s direction, I’m pretty sure we made the damage worse even as we tried not to.

The tech in Phase III didn’t elevate the experience. This included a beeping noise that persisted throughout the entire game, long after we’d interacted with it. Also, in one instance, poor interface design misdirected us for quite some time.

Finally, there was an exposed fan blade in this room escape. This was an unnecessary safety hazard.

Should I play Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials?

Phase III wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t particularly fun or satisfying either. It had too many elements meant to confound or annoy. The difficulty came more from these factors than from the puzzles.

If you’ve played a room or two and are excited by the evil murder dungeon concept, I recommend visiting at night when you won’t have any light coming in from outside and you can enjoy the unpleasant setting of the experience.

In terms of puzzle design and logical flow Cabin Fever, while not challenging, was the more enjoyable escape room of the two we played at Austin Panic Room.

Book your hour with Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Austin Panic Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.