The Crux Escape Rooms – Saboteur [Review]

I spy.

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 4 or 6

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Crux Escape Rooms in Niagara Falls understands puzzle-focused gameplay.

Saboteur nailed split-team escape room design. When the group was split, it asked us to observe, solve, and communicate. Then the group game together to solve new challenges without stepping all over each other and the gamespace. Aesthetically speaking, however, Saboteur left a lot to be desired.

We recommend all the games at The Crux Escape Rooms. While Dead Air is still our favorite, and we also loved The Clinic, if you’re looking for additional fun puzzle games in the Niagara Falls area, definitely check out Saboteur. We’re thrilled that we did.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Team players
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Successful split-team game design
  • Strong and creative puzzles

Story

We had reached our final test as special agents when we learned that our group of budding agents had been infiltrated. We needed to pass the test and stop the saboteur.

Setting

Our group of special agents was split between 2 symmetrical, adjacent rooms. These were unthemed spaces with white walls – one with red trim, the other blue – adorned with puzzle components.

Gameplay

The Crux Escape Rooms’ Saboteur was a split-team escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

The group spent the first act of the escape room in separate rooms before coming together for the second act. We needed to work together from different gamespaces.

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

Analysis

+ Each puzzle gave us a sense of accomplishment upon completion. Saboteur didn’t use gimme puzzles as filler.

+ We especially enjoyed one puzzle that REDACTED.

– We found that one puzzle seemed to rely on some obscure knowledge or finding a needle in a haystack. While it was absolutely solvable without that knowledge, in the moment it felt unfair.

+ The puzzles flowed clearly from one to the next. The locks were well labeled and mapped to their corresponding puzzles. The challenge was always in the puzzles rather than in popping the lock or following the thread of gameplay.

+ The Crux Escape Rooms in Niagara Falls has been one of our go-to examples of how to design an elegant escape game on a tight budget. From a gameplay standpoint, they succeeded again with Saboteur.

– The set, however, didn’t offer much of anything besides a room in which to build the gameplay. It looked and felt bland.

+ The Crux Escape Rooms built solid, tidy clue structure for every puzzle. This didn’t mean the puzzles were easy. They were challenging solves clued in fair and sometimes unusually clever ways.

– We would have liked to see more from the infiltration mechanic. It seemed underused.

– The conclusion was begging for a little more drama.

Saboteur worked well as a split team game. We needed to communicate and work together from the different spaces. Our actions affected one another. When the groups joined, it was clear where and how to focus our energy on new tasks.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • The Crux Escape Rooms is also a board game cafe.
  • If you play with fewer than 6 players, there is one puzzle where someone will have to move quickly.

Book your hour with The Crux Escape Rooms’ Saboteur, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Crux Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape City Buffalo – Over the Falls [Review]

“You’re aboot to die, eh. Soorry.”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Over the Falls took us on a trip down the Niagara River on an old cargo ship beset by nefarious Canadian pirates.

The ship setting was expansive, varied, and beautiful in a worn and weathered way. Over the Falls was brimming with fantastic effects and memorable events.

While the challenges varied, and leaned a bit too heavily on search, Escape City Buffalo crafted an incredible environment to house an adventure. Above all else, adventuring aboard this vessel felt grand.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo, this is a must play.

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Tourists to Niagara Falls
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The phenomenal set
  • The water feature
  • Tactile solves

Story

We had been traveling across the Niagara River when those infamous Canadian pirates seized our cargo ship, stole the goods, and abandoned the ship, leaving us on course to go right over Niagara Falls. We needed to avoid this impending disaster.

In-game: steaming furnaces.

Setting

We began Over the Falls handcuffed to railings in the furnace compartment of an old cargo ship and worked our way to the bridge. The set was sprawling, magnificently detailed, and weathered. The bowels of this vessel felt lived in. It looked and smelled like a cargo ship.

Escape City Buffalo built some elaborate and impressive features into the later sets of Over the Falls.

In-game: A closeup of a rusty and weathered porthole.
Look at that detail.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: engine controls.

Analysis

+ The set was incredible. Escape City Buffalo’s attention to detail created a gamespace that instilled a sense of adventure in us. It was a wonderfully fun environment to explore. It was gorgeous.

In-game: heavily weathered and rusting ceiling.
This was from the ceiling.

Over the Falls was well player-proofed. Escape City Buffalo’s epoxy game was solid. In this way they build detailed environments without leaving red herrings in their wake.

In-game: a workshop and a set of gauges and valves.

+ The initial furnace room set was especially fun to explore. We enjoyed the effects. A discovery felt like treasure.

– Over the Falls started with the team split between two different sides of the furnace room. This start felt uneven. One group had a lot more that they could accomplish than the other did.

+ There were a lot of captivating effects and memorable events.

In-game: The entrance door.

– Over the Falls relied heavily on search challenge. We lost a lot of time retracing our steps, scouring for minute details. The most exciting gamespace asked us to search for small details with weak light.

+ Our favorite challenges required us to manipulate objects in the gamespace to achieve our goals. These were satisfying, tactile solves.

– It was difficult to understand the captain of our vessel when he spoke to us over the speakers. We pretty much never heard a word he said.

– Over the Falls lacked a finale. In the end, a door opened as we escaped the cargo ship. It didn’t make a ton of sense (Did we set the ship back on course? Did we find treasure?) and it didn’t punctuate the victory with any of the grand effects we’d seen earlier in the game.

+ The water feature. Wow.

Tips for Visiting

  • Wear clothing and shoes that can get a little damp.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Over the Falls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

The Crux Escape Rooms – The Clinic [Review]

The puzzle clinic.

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario

Date Played: September 2, 2018

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

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

With The Clinic, The Crux Escape Rooms has delivered another amusing, puzzle-focused escape room. The Clinic put their own spin on “medical lab” and it was a light-hearted take that invigorated the theme.

The Crux Escape Rooms built The Clinic on a low budget, but it didn’t show. They stayed true to their aesthetic vision, hiding the puzzles, refining the flow, and writing in little winks and nods to their other games (and escape rooms in general). Although the conclusion could have been more dramatic, The Clinic was an impressively entertaining puzzle-centric escape room.

If you only have time for one escape room at The Crux Escape Rooms, we have a deep love of Dead Air. That said, if you’re in the area, we highly recommend making time to play their full complement of games, especially the Clinic. It’s fantastic.

The "Herring Clinic" logo, it's a red pill with an "H" on it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Escape room players*

Why play?

  • Interesting puzzles
  • Amusing tidbits

Story

We had volunteered as test subjects at The Clinic. We needed to solve our way out of this experiment.

In-game: The door for the Herring Clinc's office of Katrina Herring.

Setting

This medical waiting room had a large receptionist’s desk on one side and a semicircle of waiting room chairs on the other. There were plants, wall hangings, and pharmaceutical advertisements.

It was a convincing clinical environment. As the game progressed, we experienced other equally convincing medical environments.

In-game: the clinic's waiting room. It looks like a convincing medical waiting room.

Gameplay

The Crux Escape Rooms’ The Clinic was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

*While the gameplay would be approachable and entertaining for players of any experience level, players with experience in escape rooms will appreciate additional nuance in The Clinic.

In-game: A poster that reads, "4 out of 5 doctors recommend you exercise your brain daily."

Analysis

+ Behind The Clinic’s bland facade, it was incredibly amusing. When we looked closely, we found lots of puns and jokes. The background music also set a playful tone. These details enlivened an otherwise easily stale theme.

+ The Crux Escape Rooms locked a lot of drawers in this escape room with standard combination locks. They did this, however, without defacing their aesthetic with an abundance of locks. It was a small detail that added a lot to the look and feel of the space.

+ The opening act flowed really well. The puzzles worked so well with the gamespace.

– The momentum waned in the second act. With different puzzle paths crossing in a small space, the flow wasn’t as clean.

– The conclusion needed more drama.

+ We had to earn our solves in The Clinic. The puzzles were generally challenging, layered, and interesting.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • The Crux Escape Rooms is also a board game cafe.

Book your hour with The Crux Escape Rooms’ The Clinic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Crux Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape City Buffalo – Body Collectors [Review]

“I choose you…”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

This was very SAW-like.

The folks behind Escape City Buffalo ran a haunt before they opened the escape room. Body Collectors drew on their experience building realistically creepy horror experiences to deliver intense, uncomfortable, and unforgettable moments. Although at times the gameplay suffered from an overreliance on searching in low light, Body Collectors successfully combined gameplay with a haunted house in this horror escape room.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo and you enjoy horror and escape rooms, Body Collectors is a must-play.

In-game: A torture chair behind a cage.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror hounds
  • SAW fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A memorable opening
  • Intense moments
  • Masterful horror set design

Story

Locked up in a murder lair, we needed to prove ourselves worthy of life, or we’d become the next collected bodies.

In-game: Bloodied tools and kitchen knives hanging on a wall.

Setting

This dark, gritty murder lair was unnerving. From the blood and bones to the instruments of torture, the set was unsettling. This was masterful horror set design.

In-game: a bloodied, dismembered arm on a baby scale.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors was a horror escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and in at least one instance, bravery.

A large portion of the difficulty was derived from a combination of low light and fear.

Analysis

+ Body Collectors opened with a visually impactful, intense scene.

+ The set looked great, in a scary way. It was detailed and weathered, creating a grimy, unnerving gamespace.

– Body Collectors required substantial searching in low light. It became frustrating when the escape room bottlenecked around searching. Intensity and momentum diminished quickly at some key moments.

– One prop was too worn to facilitate a puzzle properly, especially in the dim light.

+ Nearly every critical interaction came with a memorable moment.

+ Escape City Buffalo used space well to taunt us. One prop dangled in front of us the entire game.

+ One little detail added a haunting intensity to a late-game sequence.

+ Fans of the SAW movies will really like some of the homage interactions.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least one player must be able to crawl.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Adventures WNY – Escape from The Raven’s Room [Review]

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Location: North Tonawanda, NY

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22.50 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1849 and Edgar Allan Poe had just passed away. We snuck into his home to pay our respects and found ourselves locked in his office. Could we escape his final project and puzzle our way to freedom, or remain trapped forever more?

Staged within Poe’s office, the set was simple yet elegant.

In-game; A writing desk set in front of a fireplace.

Puzzles

The puzzling was a series of ciphers and literary references-turned-puzzles, all of which were more than at home in a Poe-themed room escape.

Standouts

Escape Room Adventures WNY did a beautiful job of translating a number of Poe references into puzzles. One early interaction was exceptionally inventive.

The ending was similarly brilliant.

Shortcomings

There was a run of tedious puzzles in the middle of Escape from The Raven’s Room that did not live up to the excitement and innovation of the early- and late-game interactions.

There were too many locks with similar digit structures. This made it occasionally difficult to tell which answers went where.

Should I play Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from The Raven’s Room?

Escape from The Raven’s Room had some of the most elegant literary references-turned-puzzles that I’ve seen to date. There were some brilliant moments within this escape room that I absolutely loved.

That said, Escape from The Raven’s Room also felt incomplete. It left me wanting more of the magnificent literature-inspired puzzling that I know Escape Room Adventures WNY is capable of creating.

If you like Poe’s work, it’s absolutely worth giving Escape from The Raven’s Room a playthrough, regardless of your skill level.

If you aren’t familiar with Poe, you’ll still be able to appreciate some of Escape Room Adventures WNY’s design decisions, but you will miss things.

If Escape Room WNY were to bring the middle section of Escape from The Raven’s Room up to the level of the opening and closing, it would be a truly magnificent experience. I hope that they do it.

Book your hour with Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from The Raven’s Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Adventures WNY comped our tickets for this game.