Cabin Fever was a ski adventure gone wrong. When a blizzard hit our ski area, we took shelter in a cabin that would soon collapse under the weight of the snow. In order to escape, we needed to determine our own location, find the “tractor key,” and unlock the door to our crumbling shelter.
Having grown up skiing, the story felt to me a little like a Texan’s interpretation of a snowmageddon.
Austin Panic Room went to great length creating the wooden aesthetic for this cabin. It was spacious and well lit. It felt like “Texas meets Vermont.”
The puzzles were relatively basic, using common escape room props and puzzle designs. They flowed logically. The puzzle design was solid, if not challenging.
Austin Panic Room incorporated a few tech-driven interactions into the cabin experience.
Cabin Fever relied on many locks, but it was always clear where to input any given puzzle solution. The room escape had good connective tissue.
There were some very cute puzzles.
While the story didn’t ring true to us Northerners, we did appreciate the originality and aesthetic.
The final puzzle lacked an elegant solution. Whereas everything had come together so smoothly up until that point, there was no graceful way to derive that last bit of information. This made the conclusion less satisfying than the rest of the game.
Cabin Fever felt light on content.
The win conditions didn’t make a ton of sense, even once we’d won.
Should I play Austin Panic Room’s Cabin Fever?
Cabin Fever was game for new players. The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging and it was easy to find the thread of gameplay and follow it to the escape. The set was adorable, even if the story was not believable.
Cabin Fever would be a fun introduction to room escapes.
While there wasn’t enough game within Cabin Fever to truly satisfy a team of experienced players, this might be a good choice for an experienced player to play solo or an experienced team to speedrun.
An advanced artificial intelligence went rogue. We needed to gain access to it and change its programming to eliminate the threat.
It looked and felt a lot like Portal 2… which was pretty cool.
Aesthetically, Rogue A.I. was all over the place. Some portions of the game looked fantastically futuristic. “Server room chic” is my best description for it.
Other portions of the game looked drab and uninspiring, especially in comparison to the parts that were otherworldly.
Rogue A.I. was a challenging, puzzle-heavy game. We were the 7th team to escape in its 3-month existence.
Perplexium created a number of largely tech-driven spacial and reasoning puzzles to occupy the hour. They also adapted a few famous puzzles into Rogue A.I.’s gameplay.
Some of Rogue A.I. looked amazing. These parts were fun to explore.
Some of the puzzles were fun, challenging, and fostered teamwork.
The A.I. was a character in the game. It was superbly executed.
Rogue A.I. had a problem with gating, or lack thereof. We frequently received pieces of puzzles and access to puzzle interactions far earlier than we should have. This made the game artificially more difficult than it should have been. It created odd situations where we had solved a puzzle and triggered something to happen in a portion of the game that we did not have access to.
There were a number of construction issues as well, specifically gaps in set pieces where it was easy to lose small items and instructional material.
There was a lack of working surface, which added to the likelihood of placing small objects in precarious places.
While some of the game looked awesome, a fair amount of it did not. These parts stood in painfully stark contrast to the more exceptionally designed areas.
There was a lot to read and far too much of the reading material was useless or unimportant.
We were surprised when the game ended. The final puzzle left us feeling so unsatisfied that it was bizarrely hard for our team to accept that we had achieved the win condition. It’s worth noting that we had (talented) strangers on our team and they clearly also experienced the bafflement that we were feeling.
Should I play Perplexium’s Rogue A.I.?
One of the more interesting aspects of Rogue A.I. was where the difficulty came from. There were challenging puzzles to solve, but they weren’t so hard that Rogue A.I. should have such an incredibly low escape rate.
The main challenge stemmed from little flaws that reverberated off of one another to create frustration and friction. We lost pieces twice, one to a gap in a set piece and another when the tech triggered a door to fling open and launch a piece. We wasted time with puzzles that we had access to, but didn’t have all of the pieces or information. The crazy part was that we solved them that way. We had people spending the entire game trying to make sense of large written passages when it turned out that we barely needed any of the reading material.
All of this was compounded by having too many people. Rogue A.I. was far too intimate a game to sustain a large team. The physical space had plenty of room, but the space around the puzzles was usually tight.
Rogue A.I. didn’t feel like a finished product; we felt like beta testers.
If Perplexium were to reduce the reading material, fill physical gaps in fixtures, limit puzzle interface access until it was relevant, provide solid workspace, and add a finale worthy of their creation, they would have an exceptional game on their hands.
Beginners ought to skip Rogue A.I. in its current form. It will eat them alive.
Experienced players could find the space and concept entertaining, and the challenge a worthy undertaking, so long as they can secure a private booking and bring a smaller team of strong puzzlers (we got very lucky with our random teammates).
Rogue A.I. has a ton of potential and I hope that it is realized soon.
Previously on Breaking Bad: We were enslaved by a drug lord and forced to produce blue meth in his lab.
The meth lab felt more like the dingy, hacked together RV from season one, not the pristine lab of Gus’ creation in later seasons.
Some puzzles in Blue Meth Breakout required light chemistry. I have no idea what chemicals we handled, but I’m 99% sure they were innocuous. Interestingly, more than with most puzzles, our teammates either really wanted to mix chemicals, or wanted absolutely nothing to do with the interaction.
Beyond the chemistry, there were plenty of things to find and puzzles to reason through. Our whole team kept busy. This was made more impressive by the fact that many of the puzzles carried bits of story.
The in-character game mastering was shockingly compelling… and memorable.
The storytelling captured our collective imagination. We were caught up in it enough that we didn’t trust the voice giving us hints until pretty deep in the game.
There were a few brilliantly constructed props with great interactions cooked into them.
The puzzling and task-based interactions were a lot of fun.
The hint system was hard to understand and hard to trust. This was an accidental byproduct of the character building.
So much of Blue Meth Breakout flowed smoothly and fit into the narrative that the moments that didn’t quite work really stood out.
Should I play Lockout Austin’s Blue Meth Breakout?
Blue Meth Breakout was fun, funny, and a little intense.
Given the drug cooking theme, it was surprisingly approachable, as long as you won’t be bothered by Lockout Austin’s decidedly non-PC handling of the subject matter.
Beginners can absolutely enjoy this game, but I expect that they’d enjoy it more with even one other game under their belts prior to playing.
Experienced players should absolutely get locked up in Blue Meth Breakout.
We were the subjects of a psychological study; solving puzzles would lead to our escape. While the final challenge alluded to rats trapped in a maze, there wasn’t any pretense of story. The excitement was in solving unusual challenges to earn our freedom.
Composed of three rooms, each in a different primary color, Lab Rats used big color blocks and toy-like interactions to create a children’s tube and ball pit aesthetic (without the tubes or the ball pit). These rooms were laid out such that players in any given room could interact with players in any other room. Most of the puzzles were constructed around the perimeter of a room, or at a station in the center, leaving plenty of space for maneuvering.
Lab Rats unfolded in three rounds of puzzling. While we remained divided throughout the hour, we weren’t necessarily trapped with the same few individuals or puzzles. 15 Locks included a mechanism for the transfer of players between rooms upon the completion of each stage (should they choose to transfer).
The puzzles in Lab Rats were largely themeless. They were simply fun challenges to conquer. This was a puzzler’s escape room.
Much of the puzzling was hands-on, constructed into the rooms. In this way, many of the challenges involved spatial reasoning. However, that was by no means the only type of puzzling available.
Lab Rats forced collaboration and teamwork both within and between the rooms. In fact, some of the puzzles were rendered difficult mostly by the need to properly communicate.
Many of the puzzles, as well as the game mechanics, were tech-driven. There was no shortage of ways to interact with this room escape.
We loved the concept for Lab Rats: a puzzle-focused, collaborative experience for a large group in an abstract environment.
15 Locks steered into their color-block aesthetic. While Lab Rats didn’t look like something specific, or transport us to a fictional world, it did immerse us in a world unlike our own.
The combination of the almost child-like set design, continual puzzling, and collaboration across environmental barriers created this frenetic energy that lasted throughout the experience. We were excited and amped up.
Lab Rats relied on technology-driven puzzles and game mechanics. We were “locked” in our rooms by an invisible barrier that sounded an alarm should anything pass through it incorrectly. Players could check in and out of the various rooms at specific times using an RFID bracelet. The game knew how many players were in each gamespace.
With players separated and so much action taking place all at once, our gamemaster had plenty to do. 15 Locks designed both audio and visual feeds, such that we could communicate with her from any of the three rooms and understand when she was preoccupied with our teammates. Gamemastering Lab Rats was a tall order, but the communication and hint system worked well.
Given the three-room structure, if a player chose to spend their entire game in only one room, they could pretty much replay Lab Rats 3 times and only have to hold back on a few puzzles.
We didn’t fully understand the game mechanics at the onset of the game. This was particularly true of the room transfer check in/out mechanic.
The game was structured in 3 phases, but we didn’t realize this at first. Each room had to complete phase 1 before the game would move to phase 2. However, we couldn’t always understand when we had completed everything available to us at a given time, and kept checking back in with the gamemaster for clarification. There was a light system meant to alleviate this confusion, but since colored lights could mean multiple things, we weren’t all able to follow these indicators.
The three-phase structure provided order to what might otherwise have been chaotic puzzling and player transfer. However, when one room struggled and fell behind during a phase, the rest of us could only look on from behind a barrier as our teammates flailed. This occasionally became frustrating.
Similarly, the final challenge was exciting for those involved, but wasn’t inclusive enough for a game of this size that had generally succeeded at keeping everyone thoroughly involved throughout.
The technology seemed occasionally buggy. In one instance a broken light made a puzzle vastly more difficult than it ever should have been.
Regular alarm buzzing became irritating.
Additional thoughts about perception of color
In designing these large, color-blocked rooms, 15 Locks used shades of color – light blue, medium blue, and dark blue, for example – to keep it from feeling flat. While this worked well aesthetically, in a few instances, this actually confused our team.
A few of our teammates couldn’t understand what pink meant. We owe our confusion about pink to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ perception of the world. Because we say “pink” rather than “light red” we perceive pink and red to have a different relationship than that of light blue and dark blue, even though both pink and light blue are composed of a primary color plus white. Our knowledge of the word “pink” caused us to continually ask “what does pink mean?!” 15 Locks isn’t to blame for the English language, but they might want to head off this confusion in their introduction to the use of color.
Additionally, the choice of lighting made orange particularly hard to differentiate from certain shades or red, yellow, and pink.
While the primary colors signaled the rooms, the use of purple, orange, and green signaled interaction between the rooms. This was clever, but sometimes confusing. It wasn’t necessarily clear whether a secondary color meant that we would be receiving or giving information. This became part of the puzzling.
In some tech-driven puzzles, a green light could indicate “correct” but players wondered whether that indicated a forthcoming inter-room interaction instead.
Lab Rats relied on our perceptions of colors for everything from aesthetic, to puzzle design, to game mechanics. In some ways, perception of color was an additional layer to puzzle through. It certainly made us think, long after we’d escaped the room.
Should I play 15 Locks’ Lab Rats?
You need at least 7 puzzle-lovers to play Lab Rats. Because of the game’s reliance on communication and collaboration across barriers, ideally, in order to succeed, you should collect a team of puzzle-lovers that are collaborative and cooperative.
That said, we haven’t seen many games that can entertain and excite a large team as well as Lab Rats did.Whether or not you escape, you will enjoy the fun set, tech-driven game design, and intense puzzling.
This would be an incredibly challenging game for newer players. We recommend that at least the majority of the team be versed in escape room puzzling so that they can help with the communication that is vital to a team’s success.
Note that given Lab Rats’ reliance on color for communication and collaboration, this game would be particularly challenging for colorblind individuals.
I’ve expounded upon many concepts in the shortcomings above, much of that is because Lab Rats explored so much exciting and new territory. While it wasn’t perfect and at times felt a little like a highly functional prototype, it managed to deliver an incredibly fun experience for all 10 of our teammates, new and more experienced alike. It was truly a joy to escape this room.
Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Lab Rats, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: 15 Locks provided media discounted tickets for this game.
Truth in advertising: It was honestly out of the box.
Location: Austin, TX
Date played: January 8, 2017
Team size: up to 8 for online booking; we recommend 2 – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $29 per ticket
There’s no shortage of escape room companies that claim that they are different. Usually, “we’re different, you’ve never seen anything like this,” means that it’s a standard escape room with a small twist.
Out of the Box was legitimately different.
On their website they claim, “The Seventh Room is the most unique escape room concept in Austin.” I’ll endorse that claim, and add that The Seventh Room as unique an escape room concept as I have encountered to date.
But was it fun?
Story & setting
Here’s how Out of the Box describes their own game:
“The Seventh Room mixes room escape games, choose-your-own-adventure stories and interactive theater to create a real-life puzzle solving experience for attendees. To make the experience even more memorable, a cast of improv-trained actors are armed with riddles, back-stories and cryptic clues to help guide participants through the puzzles. During the challenge, participants explore several theatrically-designed rooms to look for clues where they will encounter lock boxes, riddles, hidden compartments and colorful characters.”
I would describe it as an eclectic house of puzzles, curiosities, and intrigue.
The game began with a self-administered puzzle in the lobby. Upon completion, we were led into the first space where an actor in the character of a librarian explained the rules and structure for us.
Essentially, we experienced 4 quarter-hour segments in different rooms within Out of the Box’s facility. The librarian ushered us around, chose the rooms in which we would play, and provided a curated experience.
Whimsically designed, yet detailed, the various rooms were created to identify our comfort zones and then give us a gentle shove out of them.
If there was a story embedded in The Seventh Room, we never caught so much as a whiff of it, which was fine.
We saw a lot of the facility but played in only about half of the spaces. Each individual space had a distinctive look and feel. While each looked great, some were more compelling and polished than others.
Rather than escape or stop some calamity within 60 minutes, we aimed to maximize our points. In that regard The Seventh Room was like Epic Team Adventures’ Volcano God, but it didn’t take place in a single room or allow individual players to lean on their strengths to maximize the score, because at the end of a 15-minute segment our guide chose the next set of challenges.
The Seventh Room was a points-driven room escape with 5 very different games (counting the lobby), broken out into exceedingly different spaces, all guided by an actor.
Your experience will vary, but we enjoyed many tavern puzzles, riddles, and wordplay, as bit of well as some decipherment and problem solving.
We also had a few non-puzzley interpersonal challenges to tackle.
We succeeded in a big way in The Seventh Room. So much of this game and our success in it depended on collaboration, team dynamic, and a no-ego approach to the game. It was clear in each section which teammates had the right skills to thrive. Once that was established, the rest of the team shifted to support those players.
In our case, we experienced a high puzzle density game because we solved things so rapidly that our dear librarian was at times falling behind our solve rate. Note that we brought an incredibly puzzle-experienced team.
The adaptive experience worked well and kept us busy throughout our hour with Out of the Box.
Our guide/actor was exceptional. She was in character throughout our time in the facility and she was great fun to play with.
Each room had its own set of rules. Those rules were delivered upon entry to the space and without the clock running. It made it easy to take them in and abide by them.
There was continual mystery as we never knew where we were going next, or what would be demanded of us.
This led to some moments that really did force some of our teammates out of the comfort zone.
The Library set was awesome, brilliant, and so impressive.
The Seventh Room was honestly replayable, for at least a few playthroughs. When I am next in Austin, I will, without hesitation, return to play again.
Not all rooms within The Seventh Room were created equal. We found ourselves in one space that wasn’t particularly compelling. Once we had solved the puzzle in the room, we found ourselves stuck completing the same task over and over for additional points until the end of the segment.
More than with most escape rooms, I would not want to play The Seventh Room with strangers.
In the optimal presentation of The Seventh Room, each individual room has a different actor who presides over it. We had the librarian lead us through the entire hour on her own. She was superb, but a fraction of what we imagine Out of the Box could deliver under the best of circumstances. I imagine the full experience would be costly, but the website and marketing promised more than it delivered.
Should I play Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room?
If you’re a newbie, the actors can help make the experience more approachable.
If you’re a seasoned puzzler and escaper, Out of the Box is truly different and will fill your hour with puzzles. For those of us who are accustomed to playing through an average game in roughly half of the allotted time, that’s a pretty big deal.
If you’re a serious puzzler, give Out of the Box a heads up before you book and ask them to put together a tougher game for you. The librarian told us that they will accommodate that request.
The only folks who might not be keen on The Seventh Room are those who are seeking a cohesive narrative. If that’s the case, Out of the Box likely won’t be your thing.
Our team size recommendation was: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. This is a first for us, but we’re fairly certain that the game would be adapted to accommodate as few as 2 and many more than 8 without sacrificing the experience in anyway. Out of the Box allows for custom bookings over the phone for parties larger than 8.
Out of the Box’s sets were great, the actor we saw was wonderful, and the puzzles were non-stop.
Book your hour with Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Out of the Box comped our tickets for this game.
Team size: 6-12; we recommend 2-8 (depending upon experience level)
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players
Story & setting
A renowned egyptologist had made a key discovery and was promptly abducted by individuals who wanted to keep his discovery a secret. We had an hour to piece his work back together in order to learn his discovery before those who had captured him reached his office and destroyed his work.
If the Egypt section of a children’s history museum had a baby with a Franklin Mint store, it would be Egyptian Mysteries. Made up of display cases of artifacts, a massive wall mural, and a Sphinx that was larger than the smallest escape room I’ve ever played, Egyptian Mysteries was vibrant, inviting, and academic yet playful.
Egyptian Mysteries was a large game that was designed for player friendliness. There were a ton of straightforward puzzles to solve. None of them were particularly challenging nor did they overstay their welcome.
This was Escape Haus’ style for their large games: Everything was eminently solvable, so long as we observed the room carefully and kept organized.
The mural and sphinx were pretty damn cool.
The puzzling was fun and uncomplicated.
Everything was thoughtfully designed.
The Escape Haus facilities and staff were caring and friendly.
Egyptian Mysteries felt a little heavy on boxes. It would have been great to see more of the game built into the set.
Similarly, a lot of the puzzles felt small and disconnected. A few more puzzle interactions involving the large set pieces would have gone a long way.
The story lacked gravity and had nearly no impact on the game.
Should I play Escape Haus’ Egyptian Mysteries?
Escape Haus was located between Austin and San Antonio, Texas. We had to go out of our way to visit them, 50 minutes in each direction from Austin. Amanda Harris (who played her 400th escape room on this trip to Texas) and I did it twice because we wanted to go back to Escape Haus for more.
Egyptian Mysteries was simple, but we left the game feeling joyful and energized. Everything from the waiting room, to their games, to the staff felt welcoming.
I am legitimately not sure how many people would make an ideal team size for Egyptian Mysteries. Amanda and I plowed through everything in approximately 40 minutes, but this wasn’t a company designed to accommodate seasoned room escapers.
It was, however, an exceptional game for newbies. On the drive back to Austin, I told Amanda, “It wasn’t hard, and I wouldn’t recommend someone fly across the country to play it… but I would be happy if that was everyone’s first game. It would be good for the industry.” New Braunfels, Texas. Who knew?