Escape Factor – The Timekeeper’s Trap [Review]

“You get a clock! And you get a clock! EVERYBODY GETS A CLOCK!”

Location: Oak Park, IL (metro Chicago)

Date played: August 11, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

We fell through a grandfather clock and became stuck in the trap of a crazy clockmaker… or something like that. There were a ton of clocks.

A bland wall with a number of differnt clocks hanging on it.

The story didn’t make a lot of sense, but it didn’t take itself too seriously, so it worked well enough as the setup for a room escape.

There were clocks everywhere. All shapes, sizes, and types of clocks. In fact, the game consisted entirely of clocks, except for the furniture and various containment objects.

Escape Factor turned an escape room cliche into the entire game, which made it not feel cliche in the slightest.

Puzzles

Not surprisingly, The Timekeeper’s Trap relied heavily on clock-based puzzles.

A wall mounted clock as art with large gears, a globe and other steam-punkish adornments.

Base 60 calculations can prove surprisingly challenging, especially to those of us who aren’t of the math-y persuasion.

This was a puzzle-heavy game.

Standouts

Escape Factor managed to fill the game entirely with clocks and avoid the standard cliche clock puzzle: “The clock is stopped on 9:15. Try ‘915’ on all of the three digit locks.”

They created impressive variety with the clock concept. This game was a lesson in creativity: The Timekeeper’s Trap was designed around something we see constantly and repetitively, but Escape Factor pulled new puzzle experiences out of it.

Shortcomings

The volume of clock math became tedious.

The room had plenty of clocks, but the scenery was weak. In fact, it was a bit of a clusterfuck to look at and sift through. There was a lot of stuff in this game… and the reset for our gamemasters seemed pretty hellish.

Should I play Escape Factor’s The Timekeeper’s Trap?

This room escape consisted of solid nuts and bolts. It was puzzle-focused and challenging.

In their first game, Escape Factor zeroed in on a concept that lent itself to puzzles. They worked it creatively into a complete, thematic game that sidestepped cliche clock usage. It’s rare to see a company keep to a theme and vision as closely as they did, especially on their first attempt.

The Timekeeper’s Trap wasn’t outstanding, but it was successful. We anticipate good things in their future.

This would be a challenging game for new players, but a good introduction to escape rooms. More experienced players will have fun tackling this theme. Bring a few people who love math.

If you’re visiting The Timekeepers Trap, stick around for the 20-minute game The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor where you can let go of clock math.

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

Full disclosure: Escape Factor provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Challenge Accepted – The Office [Review]

Poach me some drama!

Location: Bloomingdale, IL (metro Chicago)

Date played: August 11, 2016

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

We were investigating embezzlement in the office of a poacher. The Office was loosely safari-themed, but only as a backdrop. The setting didn’t matter. It was an embezzlement investigation in an office that looked like an office.

A cheetah statue on a red clothed pedastal.

Puzzles

The puzzles were standard introductory escape room puzzle types. The Office relied on searching and locks. The puzzles drew on a variety of skill sets, but weren’t particularly challenging.

Standouts

The Office was centered around an incredible wooden desk. (It just so happens that David’s great aunt owned an identical one, so he knew its dark secrets.) Challenge Accepted built puzzles into this beautiful set piece. One particular mechanical puzzle was especially fun.

Our gamemaster gave a thorough and hilarious introduction. It was very well done. The folks who run this place are some of the sweetest owners we’ve met.

The ending of this game was adorable and we celebrated the win in front of their elaborate photo booth.

A collage of victory photos.

Shortcomings

The Office was an unremarkable game. There wasn’t any excitement in playing it.

It was a basic puzzle game in an uninteresting setting. There wasn’t any scenery and the back story didn’t contribute to the experience. The back story was unique, but it barely factored in. This felt like a missed opportunity.

In-game: A globe, a wooden chest, and an image of African animals.

Should I play Challenge Accepted’s The Office?

This was a basic game from a company that was targeting a non-escape-room-educated mall audience.

If you’re a new player and you’re in the mall, this would be a great choice of activity. It won’t offer much to experienced players.

I’d love to see Challenge Accepted push their ideas farther. There was a brilliant mechanical puzzle in this game. There was unique story setup. However, they need more of these crafty puzzles and they need to work their themes into the game at every opportunity.

This shouldn’t have been a mundane office. It should have been the workspace of eccentric international criminals. Challenge Accepted, please accept our challenge of injecting more drama into your games.

Full disclosure: Challenge Accepted provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Fox in a Box – The Prison [Review]

The puzzle prison with a sadistic warden.

Location: Chicago, IL

Date played: August 11, 2016

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $99 for 2-3 players, $132 for 4 players, $165 for 5 players

Story & setting

This escape room took place in a standard prison setting. It was as gray, sparse, and unwelcoming as one would expect.

Some benefactor started a riot in another cell block to provide us time and opportunity for a daring escape.

A line of gray lockers beside a prison cage. A pinup girl hangs on the wall.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Prison were generally standard room escape interactions.

The early puzzles were stronger and relied on manipulating the environment of the prison.

Later in the game, the quality fell when unexciting interactions that were detached from the environment became the norm.

Standouts

The game started with the team split between two prison cells. This forced teamwork and communication.

The first half of this game included some nifty interactions.

I adore the name Fox in a Box. It’s memorable and clever.

Shortcomings

The Prison was brutally uneven. At one juncture in the game, half of our divided team had far more game play opportunity than the other. There was no game mechanism to ensure that both groups would continually participate throughout that portion of the experience.

At one point we stopped making progress and received a series of truly useless hints that actually led us further from the solution. Thus we spent a large portion of our game doing nothing. The fact that our gamemaster couldn’t read how miserable we were from our not-at-all concealed body language was a massive miss.

The second half of the game wasn’t up to the standard set by the first half.

Additionally, this game didn’t live up to Fox in a Box’s own standard. We had played Zombie Lab and Cold War Bunker at this company’s Los Angeles location, under the less creative name Room Escape Los Angeles. Those two games set higher expectations.

Should I play Fox in a Box’s The Prison?

The standard room escape puzzles weren’t particularly challenging or exciting, but the early game utilized the stark environment in some fun ways.

For players to truly enjoy this game, Fox in a Box needs to dramatically improve their gamemastering: the gamemaster should work to maximize the team’s fun. In our experience, the gamemastering was at best incompetent and at worst antagonistic.

If you visit The Prison, we recommend a team size of four, since you will be split into two groups, in an uneven setting that puts pressure on any player working alone. Choose a team of players who will ensure that everyone has a good time.

That said, regardless of your skill level, we recommend Cold War Bunker and Zombie Lab over The Prison.

Book your hour with Fox in a Box’s The Prison, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Fox in a Box comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Factor – The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor [Review]

!EPACSE

Location: Oak Park, IL (metro Chicago)

Date played: August 11, 2016

Team size: 2-3, we recommend 2

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $15 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a doctor’s waiting room, we had 20 minutes to complete our intake paperwork in order to see the doctor before he left for vacation.

The gamemaster played the receptionist in an adorable parody of a doctor’s office.

Escape Factor added an additional layer of theming: in this waiting room, everything was backwards. This added to the fun of the environment. Note the name of the doctor.

A small rocking hourse resting atop a magazine rack containing the

Puzzles

Although The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor was short, the puzzles were challenging.

The puzzles focused on word-based challenge, and relied heavily on word skill, which wasn’t surprising, given the theme of this particular doctor’s office. However, Escape Factor also integrated a variety of other puzzling skills, continuing to play with the idea of inversion.

Standouts

The gamemaster’s character and game introduction were adorable and designed so as not to break the fiction. Our gamemaster truly delivered his script.

The overarching concept of The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor was fresh, unusual, and clever. It gave an additional level of theming to the escape room.

The glibness and humor were an added bonus.

Notes ho the wall read:

Shortcomings

We played the game while it was still in late beta testing and some of the puzzles needed additional refinement.

One was particularly tedious to solve even once we had figured out how to do it.

In another instance, we were foiled by a sight puzzle that Escape Factor had not yet figured out how to clue for players like us who couldn’t see it. (We consistently struggle with sight puzzles.)

Should I play Escape Factor’s The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor?

This was an adorable 20 minutes for two people. It was light and fun, but still presented a challenge.

Word lovers will be particularly at home in this game.

This was Escape Factor’s second creation and we are excited to see what they bring to their next full length game.

Book your session with Escape Factor’s The Waiting Room of Dr. Awk C. Abmoor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Factor provided complementary tickets for this game.

D.O.A. Room Escape – The Basement [Review]

Murdered expectations.

Location: Addison, IL (metro Chicago)

Date played: August 12, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.50 per ticket

Story & setting

H.H. Holmes, one of history’s most notorious serial killers, conducted his gruesome work in Chicago in the latter years of the 19th century. Holmes was a physician, entrepreneur, and brutally efficient murderer. To facilitate all of his work, he created “The Castle,” which Wikipedia efficiently describes:

“It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.”

All of this and much more was brilliantly told in Erik Larson’s historical novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. It’s one of my favorite books; I highly recommend reading it.

Book cover for Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.

The Basement was set in the basement of Holmes’ Murder Castle. We had to escape before he killed us and sold our skeletons to local medical schools. (The dude seriously did that shit… I wasn’t kidding when I said he was a killer and entrepreneur.)

The setting of the game felt more like a cheap haunted house than the Holmes Murder Castle. It was dimly lit with minimal props, most of which we couldn’t interact with. The low lighting was at times dramatic, but mostly just made it difficult to see. If I hadn’t been told that this was a Holmes-themed game, I never would have known.

In-game: A red digital countdown clock illuminates a dead body
This was as good as it got.

Puzzles

The Basement had very few puzzles. These were based on searching, guessing, and parsing relevant items from red herrings.

Literally every puzzle had a muddy answer.

Standouts

The concept. Oh boy do I love the concept. Can you tell that I loved the concept?

I also love that D.O.A. Room Escapes deliberately creates their games based on historical murders. It’s a brilliant source of inspiration that doesn’t run into intellectual property issues.

Shortcomings

The Basement was weak across the board. The execution was weak. The puzzles were weak. The staging was weak. The game never even flirted with being fun. We lost and when our gamemaster insisted on us taking extra time to solve the final puzzle, we didn’t want to (but we did it anyway).

Should I play D.O.A. Room Escape’s The Basement?

My expectations were high. I’ve wanted to play a game set in the monstrously brilliant world of H.H. Holmes for a long time. I imagined all of the different interactions that could be created to tell the story of the Murder Castle… and this just wasn’t it.

Even if I had gone in with normal expectations, The Basement would have failed to meet them. I felt truly sorry for the folks who met us for dinner after the game because our team was mighty crabby, not because we lost, but because we didn’t have fun.

I love the concept that D.O.A Room Escapes played with and I truly believe that there is a wonderful escape room within the world of H.H. Holmes. This game wasn’t it.

Harsh as it sounds, skip the game and read the book. It costs 1/3 the price of a ticket to the game.

Full disclosure: D.O.A. Room Escape comped our tickets for this game.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will get a very small percentage of the sale).

Escape Artistry – The Railcar

The raw, gluten-free, organic room escape.

Location: Chicago, IL

Date played: August 11, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Made entirely out of recycled and reclaimed materials, we had to escape a railcar set in the future after Chicago’s third fire. The world had burned and people had to rebuild with what was around.

The Railcar was built as a proper railcar within their facility. The doors opened like a railcar, it was shaped like a railcar, and it looked like a railcar – inside and out.

External shot of the recycled and recialmed railcar. A silver train car made from wood, corrigated aluminum, license plates, and other found objects.

The catch was that it was completely cobbled together from found objects. It simultaneously looked like junk and a work of art… and all of this fit within the story.

Close up shot of the outside of the railcar. Red, white, and blue lights illuminate a license plate that reads,

Puzzles

Escape Artistry built The Railcar to be a more advanced game and it truly was. This was a puzzle-y game for people who were ready for a bit of a challenge.

It was not the hardest game out there, but it offered far more resistance than your average room.

The puzzles were fun. However, they didn’t fit into the narrative quite as well as we would have wanted.

Standouts

The set was ruggedly cool and it made a statement.

By the nature of its construction, the game clearly articulated a political message. However neither the story nor our gamemaster ever pushed that political agenda. It would have been so easy to talk about the “dystopia caused by some environmental calamity,” but Escape Artistry didn’t go there. They were respectful of us as players and let us interpret the story and message.

Pre-game - human charging station from the game's dystopian future.
For all of your human charging needs.

Speaking of our gamemaster… she was awesome. Her delivery of the story and rules was fast, fun, and hilarious.

Shortcomings

Many puzzles culminated in a puzzle built into one of the biggest set pieces. This set piece was a neat but fragile idea and it malfunctioned on us. Our gamemaster was ready with a cheesy backup “challenge” to replace solving the puzzle. The workaround couldn’t make up for the failure. That game component was too critical to allow for a failure (and I am betting that it doesn’t work all too often).

This wasn’t a game for 10 people. We had a full room and it was too many. The railcar amplified the bottlenecking. It became difficult to traverse the long narrow game when our teammates congregated around a puzzle.

Should I play Escape Artistry’s The Railcar?

Incredibly few room escapes convey a message in an artistic manner. Escape Artistry artfully built a game that had a political bent, but never pushed it into obnoxious territory.

The set was incredibly cool, even if it didn’t offer the level of polish one would typically expect from a futuristic railcar. They managed to brilliantly justify the rough construction with their story.

Their puzzles were challenging and generally fun. One of their climactic puzzles was flawed, but I do think that they could and should improve it.

The Railcar wasn’t perfect but it offered an interesting and unusual experience. That made it absolutely worth playing.

Escape Artistry should not be a first game for those new to escape rooms. Sink your teeth into a few other games before you visit The Railcar. That experience will help you play the game better, and more importantly, will help you appreciate this game’s interesting idiosyncrasies.

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

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