Puzzah! – KAZAM! [Review]

Automagical

Location:  Denver, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

KAZAM! was a puzzle-driven escape game with a collection of generally high-quality challenges.

Additionally, Puzzah! had an interesting approach to automation that seamlessly injected bonus content into the experience, based on team performance.

In-game: another view of Kazam's study, the wall is covered in clocks and a strange mechanism is mounted to the wall.

That said, we felt the limitations of hint automation rear their head from time to time. Also, a recurring visibility obstacle was cool at first, but grew way too old by the end of the game.

As puzzlers we really enjoyed KAZAM! and absolutely recommend it to puzzle- and tech-minded players.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technophiles
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting automated puzzles
  • Strong team-based gameplay
  • Adaptive difficulty

Story

We entered the attic of famed and missing stage magician Kellar Kazam. The question at hand: where did his final disappearing act take him?

In-game: A computer with a white screen on a desk in a strange old study.

Setting

KAZAM! was built as a quirky space. It was an office. It was decorated and themed against the golden age of stage magic… and there was a modern computer. I have no idea what year it was supposed to be in the game world.

Now all of that might sound negative, but it wasn’t; it worked. I attribute this to the fact that Puzzah! clearly put a lot of effort into the space. That was evident from the unusual ceiling as well as the integrated tech.

As with all of the Puzzah! games we played on this trip, Kazam! had tech-driven adaptive difficulty piloting the game.

In-game: a bird cage with a glasses wearing skull.

Gameplay

Puzzah!’s KAZAM! was a linear escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It was unusual in that a computer interface gated all the puzzles.

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

In-game: wide view the Kazam's study, clocks, and other items hang on the walls.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles were the star of KAZAM! Puzzah! took familiar concepts and added clever twists.

➕ KAZAM! had one of our favorite searching puzzles of all time. Puzzah! used riddles and puns to clue a finite amount of searching.

➕ While ciphers can drag on in escape rooms, Puzzah! dodged this in KAZAM! by integrating an entertaining mechanism into an alternating cipher.

➖ As much as we enjoyed the puzzles, at times we felt that Puzzah! could have added cleaner cluing.

➕ KAZAM! had an enticing magical study vibe to it. It was a fun place to explore.

➖ For a game set in the golden age of magic, it relied heavily on a computer. This seemed out of place. (I’m not sure what year it was supposed to be.) It also slowed the pace of gameplay.

➕/➖ KAZAM! opened with a gimmick that added intrigue to the opening moments of the game. We expect this will be novel for most players. We appreciated how this forced teamwork. We felt, however, that as the game progressed, this mechanic overstayed its welcome and became annoying.

➕ Puzzah!’s games are automated. KAZAM! will present more puzzles to players who move through the game quickly. We appreciated the “bonus” content. It seemed integrated well enough that players who aren’t presented with it won’t miss it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is nearby street parking and public parking lots.

Book your hour with Puzzah!’s KAZAM!, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Puzzah! comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Locked In Escapes – The Infected [Review]

Steampunk Zombie Apocalypse

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Infected was a traditional escape room with a couple of theatrical twists and a clever theme: the steampunk zombie apocalypse.

In-game: A broken steampunk clock.

Locked In Escapes did a lovely job on this game and it felt strong for Colorado Springs. If you’re in the area, check it out.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Steampunks
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A clever twist on the zombie apocalypse escape game
  • Solid puzzles
  • Some really fun effects
  • A strong introduction and conclusion

Story

Within a steampunk London, an outbreak had been driving the population mad. The roaming hoards of infected had transformed the city into a violent wasteland.

An urgent letter from a family member and colleague had begged us to visit her lab and complete her work; it might be the only way to control the disease.

In-game: steampunk bookshelves.

Setting

The Infected was a good-looking traditional escape room with a strong steampunk vibe.

Locked In Escapes paid special attention to the ceiling and it really paid off.

In-game: ornate copper ceiling.

Additionally, the gamemastering made the opening and closing moments of this game special.

Gameplay

Locked In Escapes’ The Infected was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: A faux rotary phone encased in glass and chained shut.

Analysis

➕ We loved the steampunk twist on a zombie apocalypse theme. It was unusual, and it came together well. We enjoyed the set and prop details that supported this world as well.

➕ Locked In Escapes delivered an entertaining introduction. It was theatrical and ridiculous, and they sold it. It added intrigue and energy to the escape room.

➕ The puzzles were solid. There was adequate cluing at potentially frustrating junctures. The game flowed well.

➖ A few puzzles solved less than cleanly. In one case, subtle imagery blew us off course. In another, we encountered multiple solutions that seemed equally correct. A third instance had faint cluing.

➖ The second act was dark and although Locked In Escape provided enough flashlights (and the flashlights were cute), we would have appreciated spotlighting for workspaces.

➕ The climactic moment of The Infected turned into a wonderful reveal. It was exceptional.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Locked In Escapes’ The Infected, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locked In Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Themescape – The Gate [Review]

STARGΛTE-ish

Location:  Broomfield, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

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

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Gate blended sci-fi and ancient Egypt into an escape room environment unlike any we had seen; it was really smart.

In-game: Wide angle view of the tomb's doorway surrounded by contianment tech.

Themescape did a lot of cool stuff with this game, but the experience was hampered by one laughably weak user interface (that we had to return to repeatedly) and some generally clunky tech. If Themescape fixed these elements, this game could be a lot stronger.

In the state that we saw it, The Gate had a lot of personality and charm that made up for some of its more frustrating elements. Additionally, the sci-fi elements fixed some of the inherent struggles with ancient Egyptian escape game design. If you’re in the area, check it out.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs
  • Stargate fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The sci-fi/ ancient Egypt mashup led to fun set design

Story

A team of researchers exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb had found a gateway to another realm. In response, a team of government scientists had built a containment unit around the passageway.

With every passing moment, the containment tech grew weaker. We had to study the tomb and determine how to remedy the situation as it failed.

In-game: A sealed stone doorway to an ancient Egyptian tomb flanked by king cobra statues and asurrounded by strange technology.

Setting

Themescape’s The Gate evoked a Stargate aesthetic, blending technology with an ancient Egyptian tomb. This felt fresh and justified a lot of the tech that we typically find in Egyptian tomb-themed escape rooms, without feeling out of place.

Overall, this was a good-looking set with a flavor all its own.

In-game: Closeup of a king cobra statue surrounded by technology.

Gameplay

Themescape’s The Gate was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of containment technology, there are buttons and knobs.

Analysis

➕ The Gate looked different from most of the Egyptian games we’ve played. It combined futuristic sci-Ffi with ancient Egypt to create a novel gamespace.

➕ The unusual set looked compelling. We were intrigued by the gamespace and its puzzles.

➖ The “central nervous system” of the game made no sense in the experience. It was also only half an interface, with no visual cue or visual prompt.

➖ We tripped up on a red-stickered lock that was actually in play. While this was certainly on us as players – Themescape didn’t tell us to avoid stickered items – it seemed an unnecessary design decision, especially since it conflicted with the norms of escape room design.

➕ The puzzle concepts were solid. Once we found everything we needed, the puzzles were quick as long as the tech worked.

➖ We encountered one extremely clunky puzzle. The clue only sort of made sense. It highlighted something unrelated to the puzzle components, it was extremely hard to read, and the tech was finicky to use. (It had clearly been repaired multiple times, but didn’t really work as intended.) These things, combined with aggressive timeouts, made us think we were solving this thing wrong, when in fact, we were doing it exactly right.

➖ The tolerances on the tech were too tight. We repeatedly solved puzzles correctly, but our timing was just a hair off. We learned not to disregard a solution we thought was correct before fiddling with every prop just a bit, in case we were right and the tech just hadn’t responded to us.

➕ The Gate included one stellar reveal that worked well with the set concept.

➕/➖ The transition was exciting. The visual indicators amped up intensity. That said, triggering the transition went on for far too long.

The Gate ended with a favorite Egyptian tomb trope, but delivered in a different context, and for effect rather than as a puzzle. We liked this atypical take on the concept.

The Gate felt like it was set up to be a narrative-driven escape room, but it played like a traditional puzzle-driven game. 

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

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

Disclosure: Themescape comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services – Mystic Temple [Review]

A god’s treasure.

Location:  Louisville, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 2 players – $40 per person; 3 players – $35 per person; 4 players & up – $30 per person

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple was a beautiful, thrilling, and player-friendly escape game. It’s the kind of game that would get a new player hooked… and spoil them at the exact same time.

This is what a premium escape game looks like in 2019.

In-game: a large stone alter in the middle of a temple. A blue light glows from the center of the alter.

As experienced players, we whipped through Mystic Temple although it contained some meaty, layered solves. We enjoyed the puzzles immensely nonetheless. If I could do it again, I might slow down.

Mystic Temple was one of the Denver area’s must-play escape games. While you’re visiting Rabbit Hole Recreation Services, play Paradox (review coming soon) and when Frost Base Z opens, play that one too. We peeked in while it was under construction and we’re sold already.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Indiana Jones fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A freaking gorgeous set
  • Memorable interactions
  • A few clever layered puzzles
  • A fantastic ending

Story

Our archeological team had discovered an artifact that we believed could lead us to an ancient Mayan treasure. We had to use it and our wits to explore the ruins and navigate their mysteries and traps.

In-game: A stone doorway with a matrix of symbols mounted to the wall beside it.

Setting

Sculpted from concrete and magnificently painted, Mystic Temple was gorgeous from beginning to end.

The technology was carefully embedded to feel magical. Rabbit Hole Recreation Services maintained the level of detail from the opening moments to the finale.

In-game: An earthy wall of stone and plant life.

Gameplay

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a stone alter before a large maze.

Analysis

➕ Rabbit Hole Recreation Services designed every inch of the set of Mystic Temple. It was detailed and beautiful. They enhanced the staging with light and sound, which really sold the world.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. They varied from quick solves to deeper layered puzzles. Each teammate had a different favorite solve, which says a lot about the puzzle quality.

In-game: A set of stone symbols arranged in a 3 by 4 grid, one symbol glows red.

➖ Although a journal fit into this Indiana Jones-eque world, we spent just a bit too much time focused on its pages instead of the set and props. This wasn’t exactly a runbook, but it still felt like a crutch for cluing that could be more fully incorporated into the set and props.

➕ We liked how Rabbit Hole Recreation Services built upon one early concept with a later puzzle. This lit up our experience.

➕ When we had to make a sacrifice, the mechanism was set up brilliantly to avoid injury (to body or possessions) but still deliver a thrill.

In-game: Closeup of a doorway with a large symbol carved into the stone.

➖ In one instance, we encountered some finicky tech. With the correct solution, we were moving items too quickly (or too slowly?) and we were unable to trigger a response from the set. (We swapped out teammates and eventually got the puzzle to accept our solution.)

➕ Mystic Temple delivered a finale. It was spectacular, surprising, and joyous.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Rabbit Hole Recreation Services comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Epic Escape Game – Wizard’s Academy [Review]

Lumos!

Location:  Denver, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy was an entertaining take on the Harry Potter-esque escape game. It was heavily puzzle-driven with some clever use of set design and props to build a world.

In-game: A castle wall with faux stain glass.

Wizard’s Academy was a satisfying experience and well worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Harry Potter fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Wands!
  • Strong puzzle play
  • House selection was a nice twist

Story

We’d each received invitations to test into the Altum Magicae Academia, the greatest school of magic and wizardry. Today was testing day. Could we earn our place in the school? And if we did, which of the 3 houses would accept us?

In-game: A large rock and tree before an expansive mountain/ forest mural.

Setting

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy opened outside of the school’s walls. Surrounded by forest murals, we puzzled our way inside.

As the adventure progressed, we explored a few different spaces within, and all of them looked solid. Some details were stronger than others, but overall, this was a designed and reasonably expansive experience.

Gameplay

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The puzzles flowed well from start to finish. They were pretty classic escape room puzzle styles, well clued, and satisfying to solve.

➖ Wizard’s Academy had some choke points. It was largely linear, with a narrow space that was crucial to gameplay. At times it was frustrating to maneuver through.

➕ We enjoyed using our magic wands to perform spells. We also appreciate that Epic Escape Game will sell customers a wand. Smart.

➕/ ➖ We loved the designs of some magical lighting moments. That said, the tech was a touch finicky.

➖ There was opportunity to incorporate a more magical hint system into Wizard’s Academy. Even with the on-screen hinting, a different tech set up would create a smoother transition into the game world.

➕ In the end, we got to make a choice, which determined our story. This was an unusual addition to the classic escape room conclusion.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a small parking lot behind the building.
  • Enter through the front of the building even if you park in the back. It’s worth it.

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

Disclosure: Epic Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Conundrum Escape Rooms – Experiment C73 [Review]

💙 & 💊

Location:  Arvada, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $80 per team for teams of 2 to $200 per team for teams of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Experiment C73 was David’s type of game from start to finish. The puzzles were tangible and rewarded communication and spatial awareness. A bit of dexterity went a long way.

To top it all off, Conundrum Escape Rooms took some design risks that paid off profoundly.

In-game: A long black and white hallway with doors on boths sides and a large rorschach image on the far wall.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but even that was deliberate and well executed.

Ultimately, Experiment C73 was way more than the sum of its parts, and many of those individual parts were great in their own right.

As far as we’re concerned, Experiment C73 is a regional must-play escape room.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure 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?

  • Brilliant mechanical puzzles
  • Strong world-building
  • Engaging communication challenges

Story

The year was 1973 and we’d volunteered for a psychiatric experiment; it seemed like a fun way to make a few bucks.

As we entered the experiment we had a bad feeling about the administrators and their intentions. They seemed keen on making us prove our sanity.

In-game: A strange set of black on white wall adoenments.

Setting

Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73 was an interesting beast that began as one game and ended as another.

This escape room opened with an interesting twist on the split team game. Then it became something a bit different.

Conundrum Escape Rooms played with the 1973 aesthetic. They used the function of their game to set the tone for its form. If it sounds like I’m being cagey about the direction of the experience, it’s to avoid spoilers.

In-game: strange white on black writing on a wall.

Gameplay

Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73 was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a split-team beginning.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, dexterity, communication, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Experiment C73 used a small space creatively to make it feel larger than it was.

➕ The set design was smart. This isn’t to say it looked great; it didn’t. It looked exactly as intended, leaning into that 1970’s aesthetic. 

➕ The staging justified the puzzles.

➕ The puzzles rewarded teamwork.

➖ The gameplay in Experiment C73 was uneven. It was easy to end up playing support and not see the best angles. Not all teammates had as interesting or exciting playthroughs as others.

➕ Conundrum turned one classic escape room trope into a completely different one. It was brilliant. They clued this twist so creatively, and even used a crafty psychological hack to increase the odds of it working. It delivered.

➕ The puzzles were unusual, in a good way. What seemed simple was sometimes far more complex, but always fair.

❓ It’s hard to recommend a perfect team size. Although communication and teamwork were essential, the footprint was small and it could be challenging to maneuver around each other. Some of the later puzzles were single-player solves.

➕ Conundrum Escape Rooms added a personal touch that surprised and delighted us.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This game is at the Arvada location.
  • At least one player will need to crouch/crawl.
  • This game has a split beginning. Not all players start in the same space.
  • Conundrum Escape Rooms will soon open a second copy of this game. Larger groups will be able to book both copies and race each other.

Book your hour with Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Conundrum Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The Puzzle Effect – Grim Stacks [Review]

Aberto!

Location:  Northglenn, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Grim Stacks was the kind of Harry Potter-inspired game that we wanted to explore. It stood on its own, but its allusions made fans feel at home.

The bookstore setting was really smart because the Puzzle Effect was able to completely sell it as a real environment.

In-game:

From a gameplay standpoint, this was a solid, well-themed game. We enjoyed it quite a bit.

We would have loved to see a little more drama from the finale. It was a super crafty conclusion that was a sub-woofer away from greatness.

If you’re in Denver and a fan of J.K. Rowling-esque magical fantasy, go visit Grim Stacks.

Who is this for?

  • Harry Potter fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (but it will be hard for true newbies)

Why play?

  • An adorable setting
  • Challenging puzzles
  • A clever ending

Story

The nefarious owner of a magic book shop had captured a powerful creature and locked it away. The magical beast needed rescuing before it was forced to do evil deeds.

In-game:

Setting

Grim Stacks was a charming twist on the Harry Potter-esque escape game. Instead of placing us within a wizarding school, we found ourselves in a magical book shop. That was smart because it was easy to sell us on this world.

The first act of this experience looked great. The second act was a bit of a step down. It absolutely worked, but it didn’t quite feel as thoroughly designed.

In-game:

Gameplay

The Puzzle Effect’s Grim Stacks was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game:

Analysis

➕ Grim Stacks looked great. It was magical, in an adorable, nerdy way. It was a bookshop, after all. It was an approachable and inviting space to puzzle in.

➕ The game flowed well.

➖ Some of the cluing was presented on laminated papers. There was an opportunity to better integrate these components into the game world.

➕ The puzzles had depth. They were layered solves. We appreciated puzzles that we could really sink our teeth into.

➕/ ➖ The ending was clever. It provided a conclusion that made sense in the game world, while leaving the heavy lifting to the players’ imaginations. That said, there was opportunity to go bigger, adding bolder visual cues and auditory effects, without changing the concept or blowing out the budget.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • The Puzzle Effect offers this game in other cities as well including Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Phoenix, and Boise. The opening scene is slightly different in these locations, but the gameplay is the same.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Effect’s Grim Stacks, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Effect comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Denver Escape Room Meetup – September 8

We will be in Denver briefly in early September playing tons of escape rooms. If you’re in the area, we’d love to meet you!

Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

When & Where

Who

We welcome all players, owners, bloggers, gamemasters, podcaster, actors, fans, fabricators… and anyone else involved or interested in escape rooms and other immersive entertainment.

Whether you’re just dabbling or you dove into the deep end, all are welcome.

What

This is a casual meetup. We’ll be taking a break from playing escape rooms just to hangout.

We won’t give a talk. We’re just hoping for interesting conversations.

RSVP

Please contact us to RSVP. This will help us have a sense of how many people to expect.

If you’re anywhere near Denver, please stop by and say hello!