Level99 (July 2021) [Review]

This one goes up to 99

Location:  Natick, MA

Date Played: July 10, 2021

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

Duration: as long as you want

Price: $29.99 per player for 2 hours, $39.99 per player for 4 hours, or $49.99 per player for all day

Ticketing: Public

Accessibility Consideration: not everything will be accessible to everyone, mostly due to physical elements

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

If Level99 had existed in the Natick Mall when I was a teenager, I would have asked my parents to take me there every week. If it had existed when I was home on college break, I would have taken myself there far too often. I grew up outside of Boston. I embodied that (not so rare, it seems) combination of athlete and nerd. Level99 would have been my paradise.

Level99

That said, Level99 wasn’t perfect. My initial reaction was one of confusion and disorientation. I didn’t understand the currencies, or most of what was going on on the room check-in panels. Without a mental map of the space or a clear way to reference the rooms, I would point vaguely in a direction (that might be a bit off) and say something like “the one where we pushed buttons” to explain where I thought our group should go next. We’d been exploring for more than 2 hours before we could start making intentional decisions. Level99 had a steep learning curve.

However, even as we pieced together what felt a bit like a mystery box, we were having a ton of fun.

My take on much of our confusion is that Level99 is still figuring out exactly what Level99 is, and how to communicate that to their players. I expect them to improve as they get a better handle on what the beast that they have built even is. This is natural when innovating new structures and ways to play.

3 players hanging from monkey bars in a radiation themed game.
Reactor Sludge

We spent a full day at Level99. We tried every room that was open, competed on every arena stage, completed almost every scavenger hunt, and enjoyed the food and beer. We loved the discovery, and so many of the challenges. I learned that my body isn’t as talented with monkey bars as it was 15 years ago, but also, that that’s totally ok, because Level99 had a lot to offer even after we’d reached our physical limits. In this way, it was more inclusive than I’d ever expected.

If you enjoy puzzles, physical challenges, art, food, beer, or discovery, give Level99 at least half a day (4-hour ticket) and surrender to this weird world where time disappears and fun remains.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Athletes (for some challenges)
  • Any experience level (but experience certainly helps)

Why play?

  • Impressive volume and variety of play, with intellectual and physical challenges
  • A beautiful and fun environment
  • Replayability
  • The food and drink were fantastic
Continue reading “Level99 (July 2021) [Review]”

Room Escape Boston – The Boom Room [Review]

More room than boom.

Location:  Chelsea, Massachusetts

Date Played:  January 19, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Room Escape Boston was an archery tag facility with a couple of escape rooms.

The Boom Room was an old-school escape room. While offered more depth than expected based on the first few minutes of gameplay, it was still a generic escape room experience.

We enjoyed this escape room a lot more than we thought we would, but ultimately it was a forgettable experience. If you’re nearby and you’d like to play a room, go for it.

Personally, I found myself looking at the archery tag and wishing that we had booked that instead; it seemed like it had more going on.

In-game: closeup of a directional lock on an old desk drawer.

Who is this for?

  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Traditional escape room puzzle play
  • A surprising amount of content
  • One cinematic moment

Story

An anonymous tip brought us to the hidden bunker of a suspected serial bomber. Could we defuse his plans for mass destruction?

In-game: A desk with a locked box and an old typewriter atop it.

Setting

The Boom Room had an old school, reading-heavy, lock-centric bunker escape room aesthetic:

  • Old Typewriter ✔️
  • Camouflaging Materials ✔️
  • Ammo Cases ✔️
  • Maps ✔️

There were 2 things that made this space stand out: there was a lot more of it than we had initially expected. It included one well-designed cinematic moment.

In-game: A concrete wall with strange flags drawn on them surrounded by camouflaging material.

Gameplay

Room Escape Boston’s The Boom Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of the map room door.

Analysis

➖ Our gamemaster led us into The Boom Room with our eyes closed. There was no grand reveal or payoff in the opening moments of this escape room. The set was standard. (At least we didn’t need to wear blindfolds.)

➕ Room Escape Boston dedicated a large amount of space to The Boom Room. As we solved, we entered new areas of the game, but continued to use game elements from the previous spaces. This added depth to the gameplay.

➖/➕ Room Escape Boston hid tech behind tubing. This made it stand out more, but it did protect it from prying hands. It was an inelegant solution, but the tech was armored.

➕ The gameplay worked. We were able to move logically from one solve into the next puzzle.

The Boom Room included entirely too much inconsequential reading material.

➕ When The Boom Room – a dim but not dark game – required additional light to solve a puzzle, Room Escape Boston made sure a light source was available to the players.

➖ Room Escape Boston used a door lock that was confusing and momentum-killing. Although our gamemaster had given us instructions for its use in the pregame briefing, it was still confusing to operate, and a mistake led to a short lockout.

➖ Room Escape Boston delivered some story over audio, but we missed these moments because the volume was low and it was over by the time we’d realized something was playing and had stopped talking.

➕ We enjoyed when one puzzle landed in front of us. Room Escape Boston staged this so that we were all in position to appreciate the moment.

The Boom Room lacked a finale, or any fanfare upon escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • Room Escape Boston in located next to a Dollar General. Enter as if you are entering the Dollar General and then turn right. You’ll see Room Escape Boston and Archery Games Boston. You’ll pass the archery tag on your way to the escape room.
The doorway for a Dollar General store.
Note that this is the entrance for Room Escape Boston… and the Dollar General.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • There is a Chili’s in the same strip mall.

Book your hour with Room Escape Boston’s The Boom Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escape Boston provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Red Fox Escapes – The U-Boat [Review]

Crushed it

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Everything about U-Boat makes it abundantly clear that this escape game was made with love.

The set was meticulously designed with props chosen because they fit the environment, or modified so that they would feel like they belonged.

In-game: a view into the captain's quarters through a pill shaped doorway.

The story was carried throughout the game, and driven home with a brilliant effects sequence.

For us, the puzzles were a mixed bag. We loved a few, were fine with most of them, and felt like a couple of them were too sloggy and similar for our tastes.

Overall, this was a strong escape game that we think it will be a crowd-pleaser for a wide variety of players. We preferred Red Fox’s The Heist, but honestly believe that more players will want to dive into U-Boat. If you’re in Boston, you should check it out. This is a new and mighty company.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A strong set
  • Fantastic and challenging puzzling
  • One killer late-game event

Story

It was 1941, World War II was raging, and a linchpin in the war effort was cracking the German Enigma. British intelligence already had an Enigma Machine, but we needed a codebook… and that’s where we came in.

We had placed a spy on a German U-boat, but the boat was going down, so our spy had hidden the book, and abandoned his post along with the rest of the crew. We needed to sneak aboard the vessel and capture the codebook before it was crushed and consumed by the ocean’s depths.

In-game: a map in the middle of a navigation room.

Setting

Red Fox Escapes built a good-looking submarine. The walls were curved, the doors were ovals, the general aesthetic was steel, and everything felt like it belonged – even if it didn’t actually belong. The prime example of this was the directional lock that Red Fox Escapes had painstakingly modified to make appropriate for the space.

Above all, Red Fox Escapes used their environment to create an iconic and memorable moment in this game.

In-game: A periscope with a red illuminated sign that reads, "enemy vessel detected."

Gameplay

Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large wooden workbench with a light.

Analysis

➕ The set and props looked great. The curvature of the walls really sold the look and feel of the space. Red Fox Escapes went to great lengths to make the hardware and props look like they belonged.

➕ The story of the The U-Boat had depth.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly. One flowed especially well. We also enjoyed the different interactive mechanisms and their solve-state indicators.

➕/➖ The puzzles were a mixed bag. Although we enjoyed many of the puzzles (we adored 2 of them), some of them were not especially exciting. In a couple of instances, they felt a bit repetitive.

In-game: speed controls.

➕ The U-Boat had an unforgettable moment of transformation. Red Fox Escapes choreographed this impeccably so that every team member was able to experience and appreciate this.

Tips For Visiting

  • Red Fox Escapes is easily accessible by T. Take the Red Line to Central.

Book your hour with Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Red Fox Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 [Review]

Echos

Location:  Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-8 depending on the experience you’re looking for

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $49-85 per ticket

Ticketing: Public event

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 was the finale to a 4-part annual saga that was introduced in 2016 (or 1939).

Each December for the past 4 years we’ve traveled to Boston, put on our fancy clothes, and spent an evening puzzling, roleplaying, and swing dancing among friends and characters in Club Drosselmeyer. Each year we’ve been treated to a different reimagining of The Nutcracker as a World War II techno-conspiracy.

It’s kind of sad to say farewell to a show we’ve watched evolve and grow over the years. (I believe that the plan is to loop back to 1939 next year.) The Club and its characters feel like friends that we only get to see at Christmas.

In-game: Two very good looking and brilliant puzzlers standing beside and actress as they all peer off into the distance.

At this year’s Club Drosselmeyer the band was on fire, the stage was gorgeous, the drinks were flowing, and the puzzles were plentiful.

In-game: The band playing on the Drosselmeyer stage.

The most noteworthy change was the stellar quality of the acting and performances. This has improved with each year, but this most recent show felt leaps and bounds better than the previous year. On the negative side, the line for seeing the main characters had reemerged for the first time since year one.

The puzzling was plentiful, and really enjoyable – if you either knew what you were doing or had someone to guide you into the deep end. Club Drosselmeyer has an impossible amount of content, and part of the experience is acknowledging that you’re going to have your own experience, not an all-encompassing experience.

Our night had a funky, entertaining ending that I truly enjoyed as a conclusion for our night… but I didn’t love it as an end to a 4-year journey. Endings are hard, especially variable endings for immersive experiences.

I love Club Drosselmeyer, and if it loops, I’ll probably go back, even if it’s just to dance. At this point it’s a holiday tradition in our family. Viva la Drosselmeyer.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Jazz lovers
  • Swing dancers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who are fine with crowds
  • People who don’t need to be part of every interaction
  • Any experience level … for puzzlers or dancers

Why play?

  • Spectacle
  • Dance, acrobatics, and magical performances
  • Music
  • 1940-themed party
  • Larping (optional)
  • Dancing (optional)
  • Puzzle hunt-style puzzles (optional)

Story

It was 1942 and the American war machine was starting to move forward. Resources were limited and everyone was looking for ways to tighten the proverbial belt and pitch in.

In-game: A table with an illuminated "D", a table number and a Club Drosselmeyer comic.

Industrialist and inventor Herr Drosselmeyer had decided to throw another one of his famous parties. His aim was to sell war bonds and raise money for the nation’s armed forces. As always, Drosselmeyer also intended on using the event to unveil his latest creations from Project Nutcracker.

In-game: David in a suit holding a green glowing object and looking evil.
We wants it; we needs it. Must have the precious.

Setting

We returned for a fourth (and final?) time to Club Drosselmeyer. It was the same night club, the same band, the same bandstands, and many of the characters that we’ve come to know, love, and hate… plus a few new characters.

Club Drosselmeyer was the same decadent party that it has been in past years. Everyone was dressed up and the performative acts were as good or better than ever. The spectacle was in full swing.

In-game: the dance floor is filled with people while the band plays on the Drosselemeyer stage.

Gameplay

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 was immersive game with a high level of difficulty. It required a team effort – with teammates focusing on different types of interactions – to solve the story through to its conclusion.

Core gameplay included solving puzzles, conversing with characters, and watching performances. Individuals could choose to engage in any of these as much or little as they liked.

Club Drosselmeyer goers could also choose to opt out of gameplay, sit back and enjoy the band, or spend an evening on the dance floor.

In-game: A woman sitting at a war bonds stand.

Analysis

➕ Waiting for us at our table, we found a fantastic comic book that got us up to speed on the story. For those jumping in at year 4, this was especially helpful.

Club Drosselmeyer was as beautiful as ever. I don’t think that I’ll ever get tired of that staging. The new additions to the set were lovely.

➕ The performances were noticeably better than in previous years. Back in year one, the acting was cringe-worthy. It has improved each year since. This year the performers were wonderful and entertaining.

In-game: Rhett King shuffling cards at a small table covered in money.
One of our teammates cheated at blackjack against this guy.

➕ The puzzles were varied in approachability. There were some easier game-like puzzles that engaged beginners. There were also challenging solves requiring focused effort from more experienced puzzlers.

➕/➖ Club Drosselmeyer did a lot to onboard first timers and provided some low-skill games, but it was still challenging for true newbies to find their bearings. I don’t think that most of the newbies really understood how hard they had to play if they wanted to complete the main objective.

➖ The puzzles remained paper-based, even in the interactive environment. They leaned heavily into words and logic. There would be opportunity for more dynamic puzzles in Club Drosselmeyer that branched out into more puzzle types and engaged players in the rest of the spectacle as part of the puzzle solving.

➖ The lines for the main characters bottlenecked. Some of these lines were a result of player confusion, rather than something inherent in the game’s script. However, this confusion, combined with Drosselmeyer’s “guard” being a character that players did not trust, resulted in line-management problems, and players focusing their attention on the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was interesting to us how much the character of the “guard” added complexity to this game mechanic.

Club Drosselmeyer has refined its hint system. The waiters were attentive, serving up hints based on the needs of the group and the overall experience.

➖ The cast and players took over the dance floor. It was the easiest place for players to find and approach the characters. This left less room for dancing. Too much of the drama of the show was happening right in the middle of the dance floor.

➕/➖ 1942 was Club Drosselmeyer’s finale. The ending we triggered was fun, but didn’t feel like the conclusion to a 4-year story arc. Because there are multiple ways a performance of Club Drosselmeyer might end, it’s hard to say where the show and characters will be at the end of the final night. That said, when the show wrapped up, we didn’t feel closure to the larger story and these characters.

❓ You can’t see or do everything in Club Drosselmeyer. Your experience is largely what you decide it will be.

In-game: Us with oru friends at in front of the Drosselmeyer stage at the end of the show.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: I encourage taking mass transit, taxi, or ride share.
  • Food: There are ample food options in the neighborhood.

If this show returns to Boston next December, or opens in another city, we hope you’ll book your evening at Club Drosselmeyer, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Trapology – The Boobie Trap [Review]

Glorious hole in the wall

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 14, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Boobie Trap was funny, a little sexy, and very racy – relative to most other escape rooms.

Trapology was one of the earliest escape room companies in the US, and in our opinion The Boobie Trap was their strongest game yet. This 18+ sexually charged game was a noticeable deviation from the norm.

In-game: a beautiful hipster coffee bar with all of the correct signage and equipment.

The introduction of an actor was fantastic and under the circumstances of this game, done in a classy, safe, and respectful way.

The sexually-themed puzzles were funny… although I would love to see Trapology push themselves farther to develop the quality of their puzzle and game elements.

How sexy is The Boobie Trap? Well, it really depends on what you’re into. I know some people who will find themselves blushing at this game. I know others who will find it adorable. Whether you’re blushing or smirking, I think you’ll find enjoyment.

All in all, this was a strong and unique addition to the Boston escape room scene. I love it when creators push boundaries and cast escape games in a new light to draw in different audiences. If you’re in Boston and looking for a good time, go spring The Boobie Trap.

Who is this for?

  • Adults open to (or eager for) sexual content
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Sex-themed escape rooms are a rarity
  • Amusing (non-sexual) actor interactions
  • Solid execution

Story

We had a dark desire that we were compelled to explore. It had brought us to a cute little coffee shop that hid a secret BDSM club in the rear.

In-game: Closeup of the Big Beans Coffee Shop logo, EST 2019.

Setting

Having not read Trapology’s website prior to playing, we stepped inside their BDSM club-based game… and found a compelling hipster coffee shop?

It was a great looking coffee shop complete with a barista who struck a true-to-life balance between incompetence and condescension. This was among the finest character acting that we’ve seen in an escape room.

Since everyone knows that the BDSM club is there, I’ll add that it evoked the right imagery, and certainly had some evocative setpieces. It was also adorned with photographs taken specifically for this game by a professional, so … authentic.

In-game: Closeup of two large drums filled with coffee beans attached to a grinder.

Gameplay

Trapology’s The Boobie Trap was a standard escape room with an actor in the opening act. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and engaging with the actor.

In-game: Closeup of the cash register with a signal that reads "No Sale"

Analysis

➕ The actor/ gamemaster fostered a hilarious opening scene. He was compelling as an incompetent and patronizing barista. Through this persona he was able to hint our group, keeping the gameplay on track, and the mood light, even when we stalled.

➕ The sets and props looked great. The coffee shop felt appropriately hipster. It had just enough sexual innuendo to tease the next act, without going over the top. The BDSM dungeon had stellar photography.

➖ There was opportunity to refine the gameplay in the first act. The first puzzle didn’t prepare us well for The Boobie Trap. It solved in a different style than the puzzles that would follow it. This style was also particularly challenging to engage with, given the distraction of the impatient barista.

❓ At the onset, we were unsure how to approach the gameplay. We didn’t know whether the barista would be integral to puzzle solving or whether he was more flavor for the experience.

➕ In the second and third acts, the gameplay found its rhythm.

In-game: A sign with the coffee shop's cup sizes. The sign reads, "Size does matter" and the sizes are, "Micro, average, & big."

➕ In general, The Booby Trap had plenty of escape room-y plot holes but Trapology always offered a prop to fill each gap.

➕/➖ Trapology played with BDSM concepts, and didn’t push things too far (personally, I think they could have pushed a bit father in an 18+ game). In a few instances, Trapology’s use of BDSM-themed props felt forced. There wouldn’t be any reason to slap these items together.

➕ We enjoyed a puzzle that turned heads.

➖ The story lacked a speakeasy-esque connection between the first act and the rest of the game.

➕ Trapology delivered with the finale. They set up the moment early with strong in-game cluing to deliver a satisfying climax.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trapology is easily accessible by T. Take the Green Line to Boylston St.
  • We recommend Explorateur on the corner for a coffee, drinks, a meal… and some really interesting desserts.
  • This game contains adult content. It is for players aged 18+ only.
  • There is an actor in this game. Review our tips for playing with actors.

Book your hour with Trapology’s The Boobie Trap, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapology comped our tickets for this game.