Houdini’s Room Escape – Game Room [Review]

Puzzles from games.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played:  December 28, 2018

Team size: 2-14; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Game Room was a solid puzzle room with a lot of content.

It felt like a game from an earlier era of escape rooms – and it was – where the puzzle content was affixed to the setting rather than integrated within it.

That said, it was approachable and generally flowed well.

If you’re new to escape rooms, Game Room would be great introduction to the concept. For the more experienced players, it won’t be a novel experience, but it was still a fun playthrough.

In-game: An old parlor with large antique furniture, deep red walls, and large framed paintings.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  Accessible puzzle game with a lot of content
  • Cozy environment

Story

The great Harry Houdini was seeking an apprentice, but only the cleverest of applicants could earn the position.

We entered Houdini’s test and had to solve our way to finding his favorite props in order to earn his approval.

In-game: closeup of a cigar humidor.

Setting

Game Room was staged in a red living room and office with antique-style furnishings. There were some large and elegant set pieces.

The space felt regal. There were, however, gaps in the design, such as a fireplace that lacked detail and felt unfinished.

In-game: A large couch in the parlor.

Gameplay

Houdini’s Room Escape’s Game Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Game Room offered a lot of puzzle content in an approachable way. Game Room flowed well. It pleasantly rolled along, from puzzle to puzzle, with plenty for everyone to work on.

➖ Some of the puzzles could have benefited from additional cluing. One in particular felt like a throwaway that players will see immediately or never see, dropped in entirely without clue structure. Another puzzle required outside knowledge, without which this puzzle could only be solved with substantial hinting.

➕ The period-esque parlor with heavy wooden furniture and a deep red hue was a comfortable setting. It added ambiance to the puzzle game. We especially enjoyed the thematic embellishment to the TV monitor hinting.

➖ The gameplay felt bolted on amidst the old furniture and solid set pieces. Houdini’s Room Escape filled the room with locked boxes, paper clues, and paper puzzles. Much of this paper was affixed with tape to the boxes or other set pieces. There was room to integrate the puzzle game more seamlessly into the set.

➖ Game Room included multiple locks with similar digit structure, all in play simultaneously. Whenever we derived a code, we needed to try it everywhere, which diminished the momentum of the solve.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape had at least one nifty trick hidden up its sleeve. It worked beautifully.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend La Grassa for nearby Gelato.

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

Disclosure: Houdini’s Room Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Cincinnati Escape Room – The Upside Down [Review]

Home of Will the Wise.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played:  December 30, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

The Upside Down was an unapologetic and loving homage to Stranger Things. With a bit of set dressing and a strong emphasis on puzzles, this played as a well-executed traditional escape room.

It had some tech. It had some set embellishments. This was, however, primarily a puzzle game and we enjoyed it.

Regardless of experience level, if you find yourself in Cincinnati, and you’re looking for a traditional puzzle-driven escape room, this is a game to play, especially if you’re a fan of Stranger Things.

In-game: Christmas lights strung with the numbers 2 & 6 hanging from them. Below it, a door with wood panels that have the words, "Home of Will The Wise" and "Castle Byers," painted on them.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Fans of Stranger Things
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Faithful theming
  • Fun puzzles

Story

The Seven Forces was an organization dedicated to capturing powerful artifacts hidden throughout time and space.

We had to visit a small town in Indiana during the 1980s and contend with a mystical evil in possession of an artifact.

In-game: The letters A-Z painted on the wall, each has a single Christmas light lit above it.

Setting

Within the wood-paneled walls of a 1980s basement, we found lots of puzzles and Stranger Things references.

While the set had charming details and sufficiently conveyed where we were, it wasn’t the focus of the game. Cincinnati Escape Room emphasized the puzzles.

In-game: Closeup of an Atari and it's joysticks.

Gameplay

Cincinnati Escape Room’s The Upside Down was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The word "Start" above the beginning of some sort of maze.

Analysis

➕ The Upside Down was well themed. It felt true to its inspiration without being frightening.

➕/➖ Although the theming was clear, and generally on point, a few puzzles seemed strangely unrelated.

➕ We enjoyed the puzzles in The Upside Down. There was a lot of solve. We liked that keen observation, rather than sustained searching, yielded a large volume of puzzles.

➕ Many of the puzzles required teamwork. We appreciated this facet of Cincinnati Escape Room’s design.

➖ We entered the space with headlamp flashlights, supposedly as a thematic choice to embellish the experience. As we played the opening moments, however, these felt more like an afterthought. One didn’t work; another was weak. This sequence made it hard to pick up momentum at the onset of the experience.

In-game: A small makeshift bed in a sheet tent with a box of eggo waffles sitting on it.

➖ One precise puzzle was a bit out of sync. The concept was clever, but it seemed like the tech may need more regular maintenance.

➕ Cincinnati Escape Room implemented a pair of key moments exceptionally well. It wasn’t at all finicky. We’ve knocked a lot of companies in the past for getting this kind of thing wrong.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We enjoyed a post-game stop at Urban Artifact.
  • Cincinnati Escape Room is part of The Seven Forces family. See our review of The Summons to see what else The Seven Forces is up to.

Book your hour with Cincinnati Escape Room’s The Upside Down, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Houdini’s Room Escape – Oval Office [Review]

Hail to the Chief

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played:  December 28, 2018

Team size: 2-16; we recommend 4-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Ever since we played this game, I’ve been pulling my phone out to show photos of the set to friends. It was absolutely amazing. For me, it was worth the price of admission simply to spend an hour in Houdini’s Room Escape’s recreation of the Oval Office. I deeply regret that I didn’t take a picture of myself pensively peering out the window.

In-game: The President's desk, and the seal of the President at Seal of the President.

From a gameplay standpoint, Oval Office was a traditional puzzle room with themed puzzles added into the set. Few puzzles felt deeply ingrained in either the environment or the story. In short, the gameplay felt dated.

Regardless of experience level, if you’re near Cincinnati, Oval Office is a must-play, if only for the novelty and craftsmanship that went into building the space.

That said, if you’re a newbie, I’d recommend playing at least one or two other escape rooms before tackling Oval Office. Afford yourself some comfort with the escape game format so that you can spend more time enjoying the space itself.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Presidential history buffs
  • Anyone who wants a picture of themselves sitting in the Oval Office
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The room is a faithful recreation of the Oval Office.
  • Large volume of puzzles
  • That room. Seriously!

Story

While on a tour of the White House, we had wandered off from the group and found ourselves in the Oval Office. It was really cool until someone accidentally hit the President’s silent alarm and sealed off the office. We had to find our way out before the Secret Service found their way in.

In-game: George Washington's portrait over the Oval Office's mantle.

Setting

Oval Office looked like the Oval Office. This set was gorgeous.

The room was round. The rug, couches, desk, chair, windows… it all looked like the Oval Office.

While the room completely avoided modern political references, Oval Office had a number of iconic references to past presidents, most notably, Ronald Reagan’s jellybean jar and Harry Truman’s “The BUCK STOPS here!” sign.

In-game: President Truman's "The BUCK STOPS here!" sign on the President's desk.

Gameplay

Houdini’s Room Escape’s Oval Office was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a jar of jelly beans on the President's desk.

Analysis

➕ The set was phenomenal. Houdini’s Room Escape had faithfully recreated the Oval Office in their facility. It was oval, first and foremost, and sizable. It looked a lot like the real thing. The staging was impressive.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape took advantage of the room’s unique layout. Oval Office hid its secrets… as one would expect. These reveals were the best moments of the escape room.

In-game: A 60 minute timer screen beside the windows and doors of the Oval Office.

➕ The gameplay was structured such that everyone could get involved early on and become familiar with the gamespace. Oval Office onboarded players well.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape packed a lot of puzzle content into Oval Office.  There was a lot of gameplay in this exquisite room.

➖ Oval Office contained one puzzle that didn’t work well and wasn’t easy to access. Houdini’s Room Escape had attempted to make this one easier, but that change wasn’t clued, and instead left us awkwardly struggling to set this thing correctly… until the gamemaster bypassed it for us, which they do a lot, it seems. (The bypass was truly appreciated.)

In-game: Close up of George Washington's portrait.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape added detail to the props and clue structure – through weathering and choice of materials – that made them feel more natural in the space. The set and props were lovingly crafted and presidentially themed. The hint system fit the space as well.

➖ For the most part, the gameplay felt tacked on to the room. The puzzles were in the props rather than the room itself. Although thematic, they weren’t integrated into our story or any one cohesive reason. It felt like playing a themed escape room on a grand stage rather than experiencing an escape from that stage.

In-game: The President's desk in a surprisingly accurate replica of the Oval Office.

➖ We had a frustrating playthrough with a bad reset that led to at least one fully bypassed puzzle and a lot of other confusion. Given the volume of content in this game, a reset issue was especially detrimental to our experience.

➕ The Oval Office was not non-partisan and not political. The design leaned into history. It was exciting to spend an hour in Oval Office.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend La Grassa for nearby Gelato.

Book your hour with Houdini’s Room Escape’s Oval Office, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Houdini’s Room Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Seven Forces – The Summons [Review]

A wonderful Masonic secret.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played: December 29, 2018

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

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Private booking for your team, but other teams play at the same time

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

This multi-team gala was puzzle-driven, beautifully staged, and wholly interactive. It incorporated group challenges, private team experiences, and an auction.

With The Summons, The Seven Forces introduced a new and exciting format. This large scale escape room-style event was unlike any other we’ve played to date.

In-game: A stage at the front of teh room features an assortment of strange pieces of technology and mystical artifacts.

The environment was energetic. When we weren’t solving puzzles, we were participating in various group activities. The dynamics were intriguing and constantly changing.

If we told you any more, it would spoil the game for everyone.

If you enjoy escape games, we strongly recommend The Summons  to anyone who is anywhere near Cincinnati. You could play The Summons without any experience, but if you feel comfortable with escape room-style gameplay, you’ll probably enjoy it more. There’s a lot to do, and the smarter you play, the more you get to see.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Escape room-inspired gameplay in a new staging
  • Up to 48 people can actively engage at once
  • Group dynamics
  • The Cincinnati Masonic Center

Story

We had been summoned to an underground gathering of criminals for a gala and auction at the Cincinnati Masonic Center.

We knew that there would be other criminal crews, a competition, and an auction. Beyond that, we were told to dress classy.

In-game: A large waiting room in the Masonic Temple. The room is elegant and looks old but very well maintained.

Setting 

Set within a few rooms of the gorgeous and imposing Cincinnati Masonic Center, we gathered with 4 other groups of classy criminals and a few characters to outwit others within this area.

In-game: The ceiling of the ballroom features beautiful woodwork and intricate light fixtures.

We’ve written before about the difference between an immersive set and the genuine artifact. This place was the real deal. The level of detail in its design and layout harkened back to a century ago when ornate detailing and overt displays of craftsmanship were highly valued.

In-game: View of the room from the stage with 8 different tables, and a balcony full of seats above.

The seating along the side gave the game an almost gladiatorial feel (even if there weren’t onlookers in the seats.)

Seven Forces also constructed a number of movable structures within the game, as they could not make any true modifications to the actual building.

Gameplay

Seven Forces’ The Summons was an unusual multi-group escape game that was approachable to play and challenging to win.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and group dynamics.

The introduction of group dynamics was what made this game especially interesting.

In-game: close-up of a game table with large puzzle components resting atop it.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles were approachable, but still challenging. They felt like the right difficulty level for the experience. Hints were readily available.

➖ Many of the puzzles didn’t feel grounded in the mythology. There was opportunity to more intricately link the puzzle play with the worldbuilding.

In-game: A wooden locker with sliding doors and a series combination locks.

➕ We didn’t need to solve every puzzle in The Summons to win the game, or even fully participate in the entire game. Small teams could have an equally fulfilling experience.

➖ At times The Summons bottlenecked. There were limited actors with multiple responsibilities.

➕ The Summons fostered elaborate group dynamics. It really shined in this regard. I have to imagine that based on the individuals playing in that booking, any given game could be wildly different from any other.

In-game: Close-up of a large metal device that displays the word, "Disarmed" beside a mystical artifact.

➖ We found one late-game moment ill-advised. Although The Seven Forces took precautions to ensure this scene went smoothly, the payoff wasn’t worth the risk. It felt hollow and could be reworked into a more powerful and less risky scene.

➕The Cincinnati Masonic Center was the perfect stage for this adventure. Its majestic allure supported the narrative of The Summons. It was a fun environment to explore.

In-game: Close-up of a door handle that looks demonic.

➕The Seven Forces used inexpensive components, but combined them cleverly into puzzles. Together with the beautiful staging, this delivered an experience that felt far more grand than it maybe should have. We were impressed.

➕The Seven Forces built temporary structures into the gameplay. The air of secrecy surrounding these spaces and the experiences within added to the ambiance and excitement of The Summons.

➕/➖ Every team received a private puzzle, which was delivered in an alluring manner. We solved ours quickly, but the puzzle was missing a bit of clue structure.

In-game: two sides of an ornate 7 Forces coin.

➕ In The Summons, solving puzzles had a tangible reward in the form of currency, in addition to more puzzles. The reward funneled back into the overarching gameplay. It worked brilliantly.

➕ We learned how to play The Summons by playing it. The Seven Forces designed earlier interactions to set up later ones. It all came together spectacularly.

➕/➖ The final puzzle was an interesting beast. From a puzzle design standpoint, it was probably the weakest of the night. Conceptually, the interaction was absolutely brilliant.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • Review our tips for playing escape rooms with actors.
  • Come in costume and get into character for The Summons. It’s worth it.

Book your hour with Seven Forces’ The Summons, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Seven Forces provided media discounted tickets for this game.