Skurrilum – Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death [Review]

“This is a lovely room of death.” – Ace Ventura

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €99 per group for teams of 3 to €156 per group for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death did tons of unique things. We hadn’t played a game set in a zoo. This setting, in combination with Skurrilum’s ghost-hunting staging, gave Zoo of Death an unusual jumping off point.

Zoo of Death had some amazing moments and interactions contained within its beautiful set. It also had a fantastic door puzzle. (It’s well documented how much we love a great door.)

In-game: Overhead shot of a cage in a rundown zoo at night.
Image via Skurrilum

There was plenty to love in this game, but does it live up to the hype of Wailing Woman or the 9th best escape room in the world? That’s more debatable.

One critical prop that could turn dangerous didn’t feel sturdy enough and the story lost its way in the last act by taking itself way too seriously and not paying off that intensity.

Zoo of Death was an incredibly strong escape room. Critiquing a game like this can get dicey because we’re talking about missed opportunities in the finer points of execution, which can sometimes look like condemnation of the entire experience. That’s not our intent.

Skurrilum built an impressive and unique game in Zoo of Death. If you’re in Hamburg, you ought to check it out. But once again, as with Wailing Woman, leave your hype in their lockers.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Memorable interactions
  • Story-driven gameplay

Story

Ghost-hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson had given us a second case! This time he’d sent us to investigate grim and scary events at a nearby zoo.

In-game: A sign reads, "Do not make eye contact with the gorilla."
Image via Skurrilum

Setting

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death opened as Wailing Woman did: in darkness, with a voiceover establishing the story and setting the stage.

Once the game began, we found ourselves on the grounds of a rundown zoo. It looked old, creepy, and forgotten.

In-game: A tire swing hanging in a sad, dark cage.
Image via Skurrilum

Gameplay

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a brain cooked up to some strange device.
Image via Skurrilum

Analysis

➕ Skurrilum built two games in the world of ghost-hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson. In this second game, we had a strong sense of Ernie as a character and his world. It’s a world with infinite possibilities. We were excited to be back in it, in an unusual escape room setting, solving another case.

➖ The opening sequence of Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death bottlenecked severely. There was no way for most teammates to participate at all.

➕ Skurrilum used space brilliantly in Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death. The changes were unexpected and tons of fun.

➖ While impressive, we questioned the safety of one large set piece, its corresponding action, and its sturdiness.

➕ The best puzzles asked us to solve real-world problems in the zoo setting. If we wanted something from one set piece, how could we logically get it? This was an incredibly satisfying sequence of linked solves.

In-game: A decaying rodent in a cage.
Image via Skurrilum

➕ There was a beast of a puzzle. It was fun.

➖ The gameflow was choppy.

❓ The choppiness of the gameflow was exacerbated by a bad reset and the gamemaster failing to intervene even though we were repeatedly saying how we thought the puzzle was supposed to work and that something seemed wrong. We spun in circles for a solid 10 minutes until we finally received confirmation from the gamemaster that something was amiss and the issue corrected.

➕ We love a good door mechanism. Skurrilum transformed a classic puzzle type into an amazing doorway.

➖ While the narration was fun, in this instance, it felt like the story was told rather than experienced. Wailing Woman did a better job on this front.

➖ While Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death took us on an adventure, we wanted more from the culminating interaction. Narratively, the conclusion disappointed us by steering straight into the obvious cliche. We thought that Skurrilum was going to do something more interesting with the ending. It felt like it built-up drama only to fizzle out at the end.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 14 years old
  • You must be able to climb stairs and crawl to play this game.

Book your hour with Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Skurrilum provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Big Break Hamburg – Time Travel [Review]

Climb and crawl through time

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 10, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 75 € per Group for teams of 2 to 154 € per Group for teams of 7

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As with Insomnia, Big Break Hamburg picked another brilliant theme in Time Travel. By having us traverse a broken space-time continuum, each new space was a completely different place, any of which could have been the setting for an entire escape room. (In fact, each setting in Time Travel was a theme for an escape room that we’ve played elsewhere).

Time Travel’s sets were solid. Its puzzles were strong. It played well from start to finish. This was a truly enjoyable escape room that just needed a memorable moment to pull the plot together and deliver something impactful.

In-game: The interior of a heavy metal vault door. Large gears and a locking bolt in view.

All-in-all, Big Break Hamburg is a company worth visiting if you’re in the region. I suggest playing both Time Travel and Insomnia. If you only have time for one, Time Travel played more cleanly, but Insomnia was a bit more memorable.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Diverse settings
  • Solid puzzling

Story

Many had attempted time travel, but no one had succeeded until Professor Emmerson did. Initially there were celebrations of the incredible accomplishment, until things started changing.

Emmerson had accidentally made minor changes to the timeline that reverberated throughout history. At first the timeline alterations were small. Then as the chaos spread, the changes to the timeline became catastrophic.

We had to repair the timeline before we all disappeared.

In-game: A wall of newspaper clippings, the NY Times piece about Apollo 11 in focus.

Setting

Time Travel opened up in a steampunk-esque time machine, which we used to travel through space and time. Each subsequent set took us to a different locale. Each location could have been its own escape room.

In-game: A strange metal device made from an assortment of objects.

Gameplay

Big Break Hamburg’s Time Travel was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A wall of clocks.

Analysis

➕ The steampunk aesthetic of the first set was a strong opening location. There was a lot going on, but the set never felt red herring-y. Rather, it delivered the appropriate time-travel vibes.

➕ The sets each looked and felt distinct. For the most part, they were detailed and polished. Each was an unexpected and welcome next hop through time.

➖ The final set felt sparse. It was too large for the amount of interaction and not quite refined enough to pull off that look.

➕ We enjoyed a few key props, each in a different scene.

➕ Big Break used the layout of the gamespace to facilitate adventurous movement through space and time.

➕ Big Break Hamburg crafted substantial layered puzzles. These were well clued and fun to solve.

➖ While most of the puzzles worked well, there were a couple where the cluing could have used a touch of refinement.

Time Travel didn’t take itself too seriously. In the last scene, we got a laugh out of the goofy and political pop culture jokes.

➖ The “save the world” premise felt bolted onto a set-hopping puzzle game. Time Travel had a story, but it wasn’t a narrative-driven adventure. Although this worked from a gameplay standpoint, we felt it didn’t quite deliver on its ambitions.

➕ Big Break Hamburg hid Easter eggs in the escape room. Ask about these at the end of your play-through!

Tips For Visiting

  • This game involves some crawling and a little climbing.

Book your hour with Big Break Hamburg’s Time Travel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Big Break Hamburg comped our tickets for this game.

EscapeDiem – JigSaw [Review]

An unpretentious yet quality SAW-inspired experience

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 12, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 71 € per group for teams of 2 to 135 € per team for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a solid SAW-inspired escape game in a sea of generally mediocre SAW-themed games.

In-game: Jigsaw behind chickenwire.

JigSaw was intense with some scary moments, but never overwhelming. It was far more puzzley than we typically expect from a game playing with horror tropes. It did a great job of throttling back the fear when we really needed to think.

JigSaw wasn’t a gamechanger, but it did a good job casting us into a freaky and eerie murder room and making us fight through puzzles while overcoming our nerves. If you’re in Hamburg and this sounds like your kind of fun, then you should absolutely book EscapeDiem’s JigSaw.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Compelling SAW-inspired gameplay
  • Some creative puzzle design

Story

We’d woken up blindfolded in an old bathroom and under the supervision of a serial killer. We had to play his game… or he would skip to the end.

In-game: "I want to play a game" painted in blood on a white tiled wall.

Setting

JigSaw was exactly what we expected from a SAW-inspired game. It began in a rundown, tiled bathroom-like environment with heavy weathering and a foreboding feel.

The escape game moved on to other dark and intimidating settings, continuing a sense of fear that was occasionally stoked by the gamemaster.

This was all tied together by an in-character hint system that was especially well-performed by our gamemaster.

In-game: An iron clawed bathtub in a rundown bathroom.

Gameplay

EscapeDiem’s JigSaw was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Numbers scrawled in blood all over a white wall.

Analysis

❓ EscapeDiem’s take on a serial killer game was standard. This played out exactly as we would have expected.

➕ EscapeDiem used space well. Jigsaw felt bigger than it was.

➕ There was a standout lighting effect in JigSaw.

❓ The set and puzzle design felt a bit messy. Although the gameplay worked, the look at feel of the space, props, and puzzles was unrefined. That said, this was justified by the theme and set up.

➕ The gamemastering was phenomenal. Our gamemaster justified her existence in our experience. This was well-acted over a walky-talky. This wasn’t her only role.

➕ The puzzles were varied and flowed well, shifting from search-heavy in an uncomfortable environment to more substantial and challenging puzzles.

➕ EscapeDiem did a fantastic job of tuning the fear level of the room to the complexity of the challenges.

➖ The gameplay arc didn’t quite conclude. Because of the choice of final puzzle, our playthrough (and energy level) fizzled rather than rushing to a dramatic conclusion.

❓ We’ve played a number of serial killer-themed escape rooms. This one made no attempt to hide its inspiration. It was conceptually unambitious, but well executed.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 16 years old
  • At least one person will have to crawl.

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

Disclosure: EscapeDiem comped our tickets for this game.

Adventure Team – Countdown to Meltdown [Review]

Send in the drones!

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price:  from € 99.00 for teams of 3 to € 154.00 for teams of 7

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Countdown to Meltdown was a frenzied game with a Portal-esque vibe brought on by a talkative AI.

Atmospherically, Adventure Team did a great job in Countdown to Meltdown (one space that was too dark notwithstanding). The game space struck the right feel. There was a narrative arc and it all came together.

In-game: A white walled sci-fi laboratory.
Image via Adventure Team

From a gameplay standpoint, there were lots of great puzzles. For our team, Countdown to Meltdown evoked a chaotic feeling that made us feel stressed and at times as if we weren’t really contributing… even though in retrospect we each contributed quite a lot.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Frenzied gameplay
  • Interesting puzzles
  • Creative repurposing of tech

Story

It was our first day on the job at the most high-tech nuclear power plant in the country. We were greeted by a workflow and security artificial intelligence named AMEE (Artificial Mission Emergency Entity)…

The entry to the game, a steel door labeled 42 with a red wheel.

Setting

Adventure Team’s Countdown to Meltdown had a futuristic, sci-fi aesthetic with an AI voice-over. It was clearly paying homage to Portal and generally did a good job of it.

The thing that really set Countdown to Meltdown apart was its use of sound and light effects to create a frenzied environment.

In-game: a black circular door labeled, "Nucleus Industries"
Image via Adventure Team

Gameplay

Adventure Team’s Countdown to Meltdown was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a padlock on a piece of worn machinery labeled "Emergency Shut Down" in a dark room.
Image via Adventure Team

Analysis

Countdown to Meltdown was a solid puzzle game in a futuristic staging. It played well and looked cool.

➖ While the sets looked good, the final set was unnecessarily dim, which hampered both the gameplay and our appreciation of the space.

➕ There were some great layered puzzles. Adventure Team did some clever things with building mastery.

➕ Adventure Team made use of some adorable tech. We enjoyed discovering and working with each one, each more complex than the last.

In-game: A computer console labeled "A.M.E.E."
Image via Adventure Team

Countdown to Meltdown relied on a runbook. It wasn’t necessary for every puzzle, but stayed relevant throughout the entire experience. It had small transparent pages, which made it especially challenging to read, even more so under dim lighting.

➕/❓The escape room’s soundtrack felt frantic. This helped foster a chaotic vibe in Countdown to Meltdown. On one hand, it really did a great job of setting tone. On the other hand, it was agitating and remained so for the duration of the game.

➖ The gameplay felt non-linear, but in retrospect, it was largely linear. This led to substantial downtime for individual players. We each left feeling that we were non-essential to the escape, but upon further reflection determined that we’d each solved quite a bit.

➕ /➖ Countdown to Meltdown had a lengthy introduction. Through it we met the AI character overseeing our experience. While it did built character and set the playful tone for the escape room, we found it overstayed its welcome.

➖ Although adorable, the AI fell short of the charm and wit of GLaDOS, but spoke in the same voice.

Countdown to Meltdown didn’t take itself too seriously. It was refreshing to play lighthearted sci-fi in the face of nuclear disaster.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 16
  • Available in German or English
  • Knowledge of a German keyboard layout will be helpful.

Book your hour with Adventure Team’s Countdown to Meltdown, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Adventure Team comped our tickets for this game.

Skurrilum – Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman [Review]

Haunted

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price:  from €120 per group for teams of 4 to €176 per group from teams of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We did it. We went to Hamburg to play the number one escape room in the world as voted by TERPECA 2018: Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman. In doing so, we completed all of the top 10 games on the TERPECA 2018 list.

In-game: an old dusty organ in a study, the walls are adorned with trophy skulls and taxidermy birds.

We did our best to control our hype and go in with the right mindset to maximize our enjoyment of the game. It was a fantastic escape room filled with many dramatic and unusual moments… but it fell short of our expectations.

Wailing Woman was showing too much wear. It seemed like there may have been some missing puzzles and story beats. We struggled with lighting issues. One moment should have been amazing, but collapsed under the weight of a translation error that sent us wildly off course.

The TERPECA 2018 voters played Wailing Woman in German, with a gamemaster essentially subtitling it. This has me wondering if the game felt fundamentally different under those circumstances. Additionally, I truly think that Wailing Woman suffered from the hype because part of the experience then became trying to understand why so many incredibly experienced players, designers, and owners were so wowed by this game.

The bottom line is that Wailing Woman was an incredible escape room… but it was made and maintained by humans. I highly recommend playing it, but go in expecting to play a great and inventive escape room, not “the world’s greatest escape room.”

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Many unusual and fantastical moments
  • Story-driven gameplay

Story

Ghost hunting celebrity Ernie Hudson was too busy to take on the case of the Wailing Woman so he’d sent us, his students, to investigate the case.

Were there real ghosts or were the disturbances caused by something more pedestrian? It was up to us to discern the truth.

In-game: the inside of Ernie Hudson's mobile home filled with his gadgets, degrees, and ugly print patterns on his couch.

Setting

Wailing Woman opened in a dark room, with a voice-over sequence setting the stage and establishing the story.

Once the lights turned up, Skurrilum sent us into Ernie’s mobile home to gather what we needed to begin investigating the reported paranormal disturbance.

In-game: The exterior of a beautiful old home that shows signs of disrepair.

Gameplay

Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A view from the entrance of Ernie Hudson's mobile home. His gear is visible on all sides.

Analysis

➕ Skurrilum told the story of our escape room through voice-over narration. As we played, we listened to a narrator explain our progress. This was an unusual and captivating storytelling style. Ernie was funny and engaging.

➕ Skurrilum built interesting sets for Wailing Woman. They were diverse, well designed, and well constructed.

➖ While the sets looked good, key props were showing too much wear.

➖ We encountered some frustrating puzzle design. In some cases we struggled to read in low light. In other instances, we struggled to internalize the story while solving the puzzle. More often then not, the puzzle content didn’t support the team size.

➕ In Wailing Woman, we conversed with the spirits, as any aspiring ghost hunters would. This lead to a fiery dialog.

➖ While we loved the effect of communicating with a ghost, in practice this didn’t work quite as well as it should have. We think that we ran into a minor English/ German mistranslation that had reverberating effects.

➕ There’s this nifty trick that we’ve only seen a few times in our escape room travels… and Skurrilum swapped it in. It’s always cool when this happens and it worked well with the story of this game.

➖ Despite the ghostly interactions, we felt more connected to Ernie Hudson than to the mission. We didn’t feel invested in the characters we were trying to help. We wished Ernie Hudson had made an audio appearance at the end because he was the most compelling character.

➖ The final act fell flat for us. Some of this was the translation error, but it also felt like something may have been missing. The conclusion felt abrupt.

➕ The ghosts were the stars of this escape room. They delivered the most impressive and entertaining moments in the experience.

Tips For Visiting

  • Minimum age is 14 years old
  • You must be able to climb up and down a few stairs.

Book your hour with Skurrilum’s Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Skurrilum provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Big Break Hamburg – Insomnia [Review]

High stakes therapy

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 10, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 75 € per Group for teams of 2 to 144 € per Group for teams of 6

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Big Break Hamburg had us drift off into a dream world for Insomnia. Conceptually dreams are one of our favorite escape room settings because they allow the designers to justify a lot more than a setting in normal reality… and Big Break Hamburg took advantage of this freedom.

Insomnia had a number of otherworldly sights and moments that really stuck with us.

While there were a few interactions that could have used a little more grounding or better cluing, this was a great game. If you’re in Hamburg, you should confront Insomnia.

In-game: a red heart beating in a sea of blood.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Dreamers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A fantastic concept
  • Some great moments

Story

I’d been suffering from insomnia and it was becoming maddening. One sleepless night, I had found an article about an experimental cure for insomnia.

The strange treatment required gathering my friends and having their consciousness enter my dreams so that we could conquer my inner demons.

This procedure came with a catch… if the group successfully defeated my inner demons, I would be cured. If we failed… all of our minds would be lost in my dream.

In-game: A glowing rotary phone ad the foot of a bed.

Setting

Insomnia was set inside of an eerie (not scary) dream world. Centered around a strange tree growing in a bedroom, the dream justified the presence of just about any imaginable object and Big Break Hamburg took advantage of the opportunity.

In-game: a large tree growing out of the wall with a strange hole in it.

Gameplay

Big Break Hamburg’s Insomnia was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ We entered Insomnia just as one usually enters a dream world. This was an amusing and enjoyable opening.

➕ The dream world scenario afforded Big Break Hamburg the luxury of randomness. It can be challenging to pull together unconnected objects into a cohesive puzzle experience. For the most part, they pulled it off. Because of it, we got the opportunity to engage with a shocking prop or two.

➖ Since anything was possible in a dream, we couldn’t necessarily intuit cause and effect. Sound or light clues would help players follow the dream world connections.

➖ Big Break Hamburg introduced a concept that flipped our assumptions. It was nifty, but not entirely consistent, which became confusing.

➖ A few of the puzzles didn’t flow quite smoothly enough, including some momentum-killing search puzzles. A bit of additional gating could add more energy to the escape.

Insomnia included some of our all-time favorite light switches. Through these, the game blossomed and then hit full swing.

➕ Big Break Hamburg hid Easter eggs in the escape room. Ask about these at the end of your playthrough!

➕ There were a number of memorable moments that really stuck with us. This game was weird in a great way.

Tips For Visiting

  • At least one person needs to crawl.

Book your hour with Big Break Hamburg’s Insomnia, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Big Break Hamburg comped our tickets for this game.

Hidden in Hamburg – Neptune’s Curse [Review]

God of the Sea

Location:  Hamburg, Germany

Date Played: May 11, 2019

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 30€ per player (minimum ticket purchase of 5)

Ticketing: Public Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Neptune’s Curse was the kind of escape room that really highlights what’s fantastic about this whole form of entertainment.

Hidden in Hamburg packed great, tangible puzzles into an incredible, authentic space. Built inside of a ship, this game had a setting that couldn’t be duplicated. It was really cool.

If you’re anywhere near Hamburg and value puzzle quality just as much as the adventure and setting, Neptune’s Curse is a must-play.

In-game: a narrow wooden stairwell the shadow of a trident
Image via Hidden in Hamburg.

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?

  • Incredible use of space
  • An authentic set
  • Fantastic puzzle play

Story

We boarded the Rickmer Rickmers, a retired ship-turned-museum. As we toured the vessel, we entered the captain’s quarters. There, the angry voice of Neptune, god of the sea, demanded that we return his trident, stolen by the long-dead captain of the ship… or suffer the wrath of a god.

In-game: A wooden ship's comaptment with unusual crates and storage containers built into the walls.
Image via Hidden in Hamburg.

Setting

Hidden in Hamburg was built within the Rickmer Rickmers, an actual ship docked in the Elbe River. Once aboard, we made our way to the actual crew’s quarters. That’s where our adventure began.

The set of Neptune’s Curse was as authentic as it could get. Initially, it seemed quite bland. We were within a fairly cramped ship’s quarters. As the game progressed, however, we began to see how Hidden in Hamburg used the idiosyncrasies of the old ship to present a one-of-a-kind experience.

The front of the docked tall ship, the RICK RICKMERS.

Gameplay

Hidden in Hamburg’s Neptune’s Curse was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

The bow of the RICK RICKMERS.

Analysis

Neptune’s Curse was set aboard the ship Rickmer Rickmers. The ship was a phenomenal escape room setting. The gameplay made use of the space. It was a fun place to move through, and move we did. This added to our sense of adventure in Neptune’s Curse.

➕ Hidden in Hamburg fit a lot of puzzle content into these ship compartments. The puzzles flowed well, making use of the space and often requiring teamwork.

➖/➕ We encountered one instance where Neptune’s Curse lacked necessary gating. We spent too long reaching for one puzzle before it became available. (We loved this puzzle once we were able to properly access it.)

The mast of the RICK RICKMERS.

Neptune’s Curse ramped up the difficulty slowly. The first scene was relatively tame, in both setting and puzzles, giving players a change to find their sea legs before diving into the deep end. The puzzles became substantially more challenging – and the gamespace more challenging to navigate – in subsequent scenes, before tapering off to allow a high-momentum, triumphant conclusion.

➖ With the setting aboard the Rickmer Rickmers, there was opportunity for additional world-building. With a few more details in staging, setup, and storytelling, we would have felt more a part of the world of Neptune’s Curse.

➖ The story lacked an emotional connection. We didn’t feel invested in the characters or their plight.

❓ While the puzzles in Neptune’s Curse were thematic, they didn’t impact the story. Rather than a narrative-driven experience, Hidden in Hamburg built puzzle-driven, adventure-forward gameplay into this vessel.

➕ Neptune’s Curse delivered many theatrical moments. Hidden in Hamburg directed our attention before triggering reveals. While the direction was heavy-handed at times, it enabled everyone to experience the these cinematic, memorable moments together.

A beautiful long wooden table in the middle of the crew's quarters.
Hidden in Hamburg’s lobby.

Tips For Visiting

  • Players must be able to maneuver through tight spaces, down stairs, and over uneven surfaces. This room might not be right for players with balance issues, vertigo, or claustrophobia.
  • Minimum age to play is 12, anyone under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • This game is located on board a ship called Rickmer Rickmers. Note that their other games are located on board a different ship called Cap San Diego.

Book your hour with Hidden in Hamburg’s Neptune’s Curse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Exit Experience – Sherlock [Review]

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” The trouble emerges when you have more to eliminate than an hour will accommodate.

Location: Mainz, Germany

Date played: October 15, 2015

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Price: 33-20 € per ticket depending on team size

Exit Experience Mainz Germany

Theme and Story

It’s supposed to be as if Sherlock Holmes and Watson have disappeared while solving a mystery and the building is surrounded by the not-so-good guys. Only by escaping do you find them and freedom.

The set perfectly embodies the period that one would expect for from a Sherlock Holmes story. A few items feel slightly out of place, but mostly The Sherlock room looks the part.

Exit Experience - Mainz Germany - Sherlock 2

The plot threads are loose and fraying all over the place. Completing the game doesn’t bring much clarity.

The story didn’t unfold throughout the game. Instead, we uncovered events that had previously taken place. Neither the story nor our detective mission came across clearly through the puzzles in the room.

Language

The room relied heavily on written clues. Perhaps the story would have unfolded more clearly through the clues if we had played the game in German. We needed to find and solve these written riddles/ clues to progress through the game.

We were the first team to play in English. Our game master substituted English versions of every written clue. Except for the confusion of the words “shelf” and “drawer” in a specific clue, language did not impede our experience.

This reliance on written language is a particular style that some players will favor more than others. Personally, I like the room to speak for itself, rather than direct me on pieces of paper. This is especially true when the clues don’t reveal a story arc.

German Locks

Combination disks spun the reverse direction. Locks turned the reverse direction. And, most importantly, the door opened in. Americans, take note. Everything is backwards… It’s like we were in another country.

Puzzle Quantity

The game had a lot of puzzles, and with them, a lot of key and combination locks. The game master knew this and warned us to move quickly. The quantity of game elements (combined with the shelf/drawer mishap) bested us by a few minutes.

There was so much to accomplish in one hour that fewer than 5% of teams escape this game.

Puzzle Clarity and Hinting

There was no screen or visible timer in this room. However, the game master could see and hear us, and spoke to us through a speaker. He gave us hints as he saw fit when the game stalled. He expected to speak to us throughout the game. Actually, he felt like the third team member.

This game would benefit from dropping its reliance on both extensive written puzzles/ clues as well as its participatory game master (as much as we liked him).

Two Halves

The first half of the Sherlock game included deliberately tedious puzzles. We ended up conversing with the game master as we plodded through this section of the game solving puzzles that had vague or subjective solutions.

In the second half, the puzzle intrigue and intensity picked up.

Exit Experience - Mainz Germany - Sherlock 1

UV Lights

I’m of two minds when it comes to the use of UV or black lights in Sherlock.

On one hand, there was a ton of stuff to find using a single UV flashlight… That became even more difficult because the flashlight was small, and kept flickering. For the amount of fluorescent clues in this room, the flashlight felt laughably small and under powered.

On the other hand, this room had the two most creative and fun applications of fluorescent paint that we’ve ever encountered. In those two instances, the black light made us feel like it revealed another layer of reality. That’s how fluorescents should feel.

Company

The Sherlock Room, along with The Vault, is one of Exit Experience’s first creations. On our way out, our game master (also the owner/ designer) showed us a few props he is developing for a Wonka themed room… They look great. He is passionate about his craft, eager to learn, and clearly improving with each iteration.

Should I play Exit Experience’s Sherlock?

At this stage, it probably isn’t worth a trip to Mainz specifically to play Sherlock, especially since the game is located a cab ride away from the city center.

However, if you find yourself in the area, this is a solid game.

The setting was well-crafted and it included some exceptionally clever puzzles, as well as unique variations on some more common game elements. For this reason, experienced players will enjoy the challenge.

The Sherlock Room would be a hard game for first time players because of the volume of game elements, but it would be a fun introduction to this genre of play.

We expect that the next creations from this company will be even more worth the cab ride.

Book your hour with Exit Experience’s Sherlock Room and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Exit Experience – The Vault [Review]

Our first foray into the German escape game scene has us solving our way out of a post-apocalyptic vaulted bunker outside of Mainz.

Location: Mainz, Germany

Date played: October 15, 2015

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: 33-20 € per ticket depending on team size

Exit Experience Mainz Germany

Theme & story

You’re locked away deep underground in a post-apocalyptic bunker. The bunker is beginning to fail, and you must escape to the surface and hope that the Earth will sustain you.

The setup is delightfully bleak.

The Vault itself has a gritty, dirty laboratory feel to it that isn’t quite horror, but it’s certainly flirting with horror.

The story unfolds in a historical manner. As you progress throughout the various puzzles, bits and pieces of exposition emerge. The story isn’t bad, but it feels bolted-on.

Exit Experience - The Vault Piping

Translation

Julien, Exit Experience’s proprietor kindly translated his games into English for us. He did a near flawless job, and we’re so thankful that his efforts allowed us to experience an escape game in Germany during our visit to Mainz.

Now he has English versions of his games (and we helped make a few small but significant changes to his translation work).

Puzzles & challenge

This is a challenging room in large part because there’s a lot in it. There are quite a few interesting puzzles to solve, and The Vault really derives its challenge from volume.

Two puzzles stood out to me as especially clever. One was purely spacial. The other had this exceptional mix of spacial perception, pattern recognition, and a touch of arithmetic (order of operations is important, y’all).

We don't have locks like that in the United States.
We don’t have locks like that in the United States.

There was one puzzle involving a laser pointer that had a really cool concept, but was way too difficult to execute. It ultimately burned off a ton of time and wasn’t much fun. We ended up performed a light brute-force on the lock to solve the thing.

And speaking of locks… There were a ton of them. And it turns out that the dials on combination locks in Germany have the numbers in reverse order compared to their American counterparts. Similarly door locks turn the other direction. This threw off the equilibrium off our game a lot more than one would guess.

Transportation

If you have a car, Exit Experience is easy to get to… Taxi hopping tourists beware, it’s approximately 20 euros in each direction by taxi from downtown Mainz.

The folks from Exit Experience were kind enough to call a taxi for us at the end of the game.

Should I play Exit Experience’s The Vault?

When we travel outside of the United States it becomes especially challenging to write a fair review of an escape game. There are regional cultures to these games, and I cannot claim to have a thorough understanding of room escapes in Germany after playing two games produced by one company.

All of that being said, The Vault was fun. The room itself had a lot of personality, and there were a handful of standout puzzles. The story while interesting, felt tacked-on (and reading long passages while racing against a clock isn’t ideal), and a few of the puzzles fell flat, but overall, we had a great experience.

If I find myself in Mainz again, I’d absolutely let Exit Experience lock me up one more time.

Book your hour with Exit Experience’s The Vault, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.