Vampire.Pizza – Chapter 1 [Review]

Hold the garlic.

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 1, 2020

Team size: unlimited; we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable; about an hour for the puzzles

Price: $32.99 per person (party of 2) or $27.99 per person (party of 4)

REA Reaction

Vampire.Pizza is an immersive game where pizza and puzzles are delivered directly to your door. Through online videos and paper game materials, Chapter 1 spun a story of vampire revolution that felt bigger than the average play-at-home escape game.

The puzzles weren’t diabolical, which made Vampire.Pizza family-friendly, aside from some allusions to the bloody business of vampirism. The gameplay supplemented a larger evening of dinner, light crafting, and creating our vampire personas. Hardcore puzzlers might crave more of a challenge, but there’s plenty for casual players to sink their teeth into.

A dossier reading "Vampires Only" with some game pieces shaped like pizza slices.

Vampire.Pizza’s creative mashup of story, puzzles, and takeout food was innovative. Acquiring puzzles via takeout/delivery added a personal touch, especially during a time when many of us are staying inside. 

Vampire.Pizza started in Los Angeles and expanded to Las Vegas and Philadelphia, with the possibility of other cities on the horizon. After playing Chapter 1, we’re eager to see how the story will unfold in future installments.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Pizza lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Themed puzzles
  • Feel like part of a movement
  • Pizza is included, for once
An envelope reading "Start Here" accompanied by a Fang Force Special Agent Profile sheet.

Story

By ordering a meal from Belle’s Family Kitchen in Los Angeles, we were part of a vampire revolution—spread via pizza delivery. Solving Belle’s puzzles could earn us a spot in the Fang Force.

Setup

Vampire.Pizza was a puzzle game delivered (or picked up) along with pizza, salad, and dessert. The game materials were well designed and evoked a somewhat gothic vibe.

Gameplay

Vampire.Pizza included a play-at-home puzzle game with a low-to-medium level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around pattern recognition, logic, and word puzzles (with optional role-playing and crafting).

The story unfurled via online videos, bookending the puzzles with narrative bites. The pizza, though related to the story, was separate from the gameplay. 

The puzzles were paper based, but more complex, colorful, and tactile than typical newspaper puzzles. We did encounter some tricky moments, but Vampire.Pizza included a handy hint/answer sheet in case we got stuck. There was no time limit; the puzzles seemed meant to be solved casually as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Some paper game materials, including a Hints & Answers booklet.

Analysis

➕ The IRL delivery method made Vampire.Pizza feel more immersive than the typical play-at-home game. The videos helped the story feel bigger. We appreciated those references to the outside world, especially during the current lockdown.

➕/➖ We enjoyed reimagining ourselves as members of the Fang Force by filling out the included profile sheets. However, we wished the sheets had been provided before the game arrived, to set the stage and help us get in character.

➕ At a couple points, we encountered a bunch of game elements at once. The nonlinear structure allowed multiple people to puzzle concurrently if desired. We considered sorting out these elements to be part of the challenge.

❓ With all the instructions at various steps, we sometimes wanted less hand-holding. However, players looking for less of a challenge may appreciate the guidance.

➕ The game flowed smoothly. We never got stalled while solving. All the puzzles felt fair and stuck to the theme.

❓At one point, we got tricked. Different players may have different feelings about this, but it made us chuckle.

➕ Puzzles aside, we enjoyed our meal. Pickup was fast and contactless. We appreciated that there were multiple menu options, including vegan pizza.

➕We never would have imagined a vampire-and-pizza-themed immersive puzzle game, but the unlikely combination worked. Everything pulled together into a unique, fun package that didn’t take itself too seriously.

A tag reading "Vampire Pizza" tied to a black box with red twine.

Tips For Players

Dim the lights and throw on a Castlevania soundtrack to get into the vampire vibe.

The party size you choose determines the amount of food and certain game materials included in the box. The key puzzle components are playable by groups of any size.

A portion of the Los Angeles proceeds go to the League of Experiential and Immersive Artists emergency fund, which provides relief to artists in the immersive community.

To be notified if Vampire.Pizza starts delivering to your area, you can fill out a form on their website.

The Curious Case of the Hatch Escapes Kickstarter

We’re big fans of Hatch Escapes in Los Angeles, California. Their first game Lab Rat won a 2018 Golden Lock-In award.

Hatch Escapes recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of their largely built next game, The Ladder.

I’ll open by saying that I backed this campaign… and I’m watching it closely because nearly 3 years ago we declared the crowdfunding of escape rooms (more or less) dead.

kickstarter logo

2017 Escape Room Crowdfunding Study

At the beginning of 2017 we pulled data on all of the escape room-related Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns that we could dredge up and analyzed it year over year.

The results were pretty grim, showing that most escape room crowdfunding efforts failed. Those that succeeded had low goals.

The study went into a lot more detail; you should read it.

We’ve been meaning to revisit this and likely will in the not-so-distant future.

Why the Hatch Campaign is Interesting

This Hatch Escapes campaign is intriguing for a few reasons:

  • The $25,000 goal is ambitious.
    • The most successful Kickstarter that we had identified in our 2017 study was Oubliette Escape Rooms and Adventure Society out of the United Kingdom. In 2015 it raised $16,674.
  • Hatch Escapes has an amazing reputation and a strong following.
  • The campaign, like Hatch Escapes’ games, is well written.
    • The video and writing in the campaign far exceed what we’ve seen from most other escape room crowdfunding efforts.

Implications

The big question is: can Hatch Escapes buck the trends and raise enough to meet their goal?

I am truly rooting for them.

As top-tier escape room builds become more complicated and expensive, it is important for new funding methods to emerge. I would love to see a future where escape room creators with proven track records are supported in kind by the community of players.

Check out Hatch Escapes’ Kickstarter and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

And on the subject of crowdfunding and supporting creators…

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest 2019 [Reaction]

Press play.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: 1-2

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $95 per time slot

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The 2019 iteration of The Nest retained the poignant beauty of its original run in 2017, and added some new flourishes.

The first version of The Nest offered the unique, haunting experience of rummaging through an abandoned storage space and listening to snippets of a woman’s life on hidden audiotapes. The Nest felt so singular and complete that I hesitated to revisit it for fear of detracting from the original experience.

As returning visitors, knowing the story unavoidably took away some of the surprise and wonder of the original show. However, the changes in design, both large and small, moved us and added to the overall experience.

The original run of The Nest reminded me of playing through a video game like Gone Home (Nintendo Switch) or What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One) (Nintendo Switch), only in real life. Returning to see the updated version felt a bit like replaying an old favorite game rereleased with updated effects and new content.

A View-Master, a globe, and other curios sit on a desk under a lamp.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

What’s Different?

After Scout Expedition Co. crowdfunded this new run of The Nest, they set up shop in a new location, a former storage building reimagined as Los Angeles Storage Co. The new setting brought the story to life. Riding the freight elevator up to our floor and opening our storage unit felt magical.

Besides the location, the most noticeable change was the feeling of the space itself. The set felt dreamlike and abstract, like a symbolic representation of Josie’s life merged with an artful collection of her belongings. Subtle lighting and sound effects directed our focus and helped make our entire visit more cinematic and immersive.

Light shines on a cassette tape dangling from a piece of twine in front of a background of tree roots.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

A couple of new puzzly interactions were swapped in or added, along with some new technical flourishes. We also encountered a new area of Josie’s past. Overall, this iteration of The Nest was a bit less indie and more polished.

In this version’s backstory, rather than being Josie’s distant relatives, we had bought the contents of her storage space at auction. But at its heart, The Nest depicted the same story and the same Josie.

This time around, I walked away with a slightly less melancholy view of her story. But it’s hard to say whether that’s because The Nest changed or because, just like real memories, the experience changes ever so slightly each time you revisit it.

A cassette tape labeled "My 12th Birthday" sits on top of a tape recorder.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

Tips For Visiting

The Nest is currently sold out, but Scout Expedition Co. plans to release more tickets soon. Sign up for their mailing list or follow them on your social network of choice for updates.

  • Street parking is available.
  • The Nest requires at least one person to kneel and/or crawl.
  • The Nest has escape room elements, but it’s fundamentally an immersive experience with no ticking clock. Take your time and let yourself get swept up in the story.
  • Each time slot costs the same amount for one or two people. If you choose not to go solo, go with someone you trust to feel all the feelings with, and to share the flashlight.

When new tickets are available, book your hour with Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Scout Expedition Co. comped our tickets for this game.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Escape the Night Escape Room [Review]

“This is not the afterlife I had envisioned.”

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 14, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $55-85 per player

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape the Night Escape Room was a limited-run experience that provided a memorable hour of adventure for fans of Joey Graceffa’s YouTube Premium series. It didn’t break new ground for escape rooms, but it offered plenty of entertaining interactions and detailed props to play with. Despite a few hiccups with some of the puzzles, we had a fun time and left interested in learning more about the show.

The approachable difficulty level and the in-room gamemaster made the Escape the Night Escape Room accessible to newer players. It wasn’t the best fit for seasoned escapers looking for their next challenge.

The story, set, and puzzles were all geared toward viewers of the YouTube series, which made it especially exciting for fans. But you didn’t have to be familiar with Escape the Night to enjoy the real-life version, if you didn’t mind the steep ticket price.

Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Fans of Escape the Night
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exciting interactions
  • Elaborate props
  • To play as characters from Escape the Night

Story

Playing as some of the characters who had previously died in Escape the Night, we had been trapped in purgatory by the Collector. We needed to find nine keys in order to recover the cosmic sphere and make our way back to the world of the living, or risk dying for good.

The premise roughly matched the premiere of Escape the Night’s fourth season, which began in July 2019.

A painting of the Collector collecting a soul.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Setting

The gamespace was decorated to represent different episodes of Escape the Night’s fourth season. We started in ancient Egypt, then the game transitioned to various other themes depicted in the show.

We encountered many of the same items used in Escape the Night, some of which evoked particular moments from the series. The detail of the props and puzzles contributed to the room’s sense of mystery and adventure.

The head of a minotaur under glass.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Escape the Night Escape Room was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation, searching, and basic math.

Escape the Night Escape Room generally emphasized adventure over puzzling, with the tasks split between traditional escape room puzzles and fun large-scale interactions. Though the puzzles tended to be simple, the room was packed with gameplay.

A grid of tiles depicting different hieroglyphics, with several squares lit up.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Analysis

➕ The Escape the Night Escape Room escape room had plenty to offer fans of the YouTube series. The story, props, and pivotal moments in the game related back to the show. The young superfan in our group could hardly contain himself.

➕/➖ The set design didn’t manage to fully disguise that we were in a pop-up space, but the room was filled with ornate props and set pieces that heightened our experience.

➕ Escape the Night Escape Room gave us a lot to do. The active, hands-on interactions felt adventurous. Whereas most escape rooms have one or two big moments, Escape the Night Escape Room had several.

The hilt of a sword in the foreground, with museum pieces including a bust under glass in the background.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ Our in-room gamemaster provided guidance throughout and ensured that the game ran as smoothly as possible. The gamemaster triggered certain events once we had solved the corresponding puzzles, and these moments mostly felt natural and seamless.

➖ At one point, when we tried a less obvious but correct answer to a puzzle, nothing happened until the gamemaster realized our answer also worked. More playtesting might have uncovered this alternate solution. Even better, designing the puzzle with just one solution would have prevented any confusion.

➕/➖ The puzzle flow kept us busy and avoided bottlenecks despite its linear structure. However, we noticed a couple of items left over from ghost puzzles and had to bypass another due to a prop malfunction.

➖ Certain interactions required a good amount of handholding. For example, at one point the gamemaster cleared items off a surface just before it popped open, presumably to avoid flinging treasure all over the room. A more self-piloting design would have preserved the surprise and kept us immersed in the game during these moments.

➕ We enjoyed solving one particular riddle that involved themed items in the room rather than outside knowledge or sudden insight.

➖ In another puzzle, we struggled to figure out the order of certain items, but it turned out the placement didn’t matter. This ambiguity caused us to spin our wheels longer than we needed to.

➕/➖ In a few exciting instances, one player took an action alone to move the game forward. At first we decided together who would participate, but for the last of these decision points, the outcome was decided by random chance. If we’d been given an interesting challenge or choice inspired by the show at the end of the game instead, we would have walked away with more to discuss and reminisce about long after the night was over.

Tips For Visiting

For promotional games like the Escape the Night Escape Room, if you’re not familiar with the brand, including at least one fan in your group will add a lot to the experience. If you are a fan, bring money for the merch table, and don’t forget your cosplay for the photo wall.

Escape the Night Escape Room took place in August 2019 and is not currently running.

Disclosure: Escape the Night Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

The Best Medicine Productions – The Shadow Space [Review]

We will, we will haunt you.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 30, 2019

Team size: 10 tickets per time slot

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $50 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

With a simple setting and an elegant premise, The Shadow Space offered a fun and unique combination of immersive theater, escape room, and murder mystery.

As ghosts on a guided tour of the living, we got to experience the other side of a haunted house. Through observation, deduction, and some light haunting of the actors in the performance, we attempted to determine what had happened in the house and influence the characters towards a favorable ending.

4 hands on a ouiji board.

Playing as ghosts felt novel and invigorating. Being invisible removed the complexity and awkwardness of two-way communication that sometimes comes along with immersive theater, while still providing an entertaining new mechanic.

The Shadow Space will be back for a second run in October 2019. If you’re near Los Angeles and curious to experience a uniquely haunting hybrid show, The Shadow Space is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • Mystery lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Escalation
  • Collaborative mystery solving
  • The chance to be on the other side of a haunting for once

Story

As recently deceased ghosts, we were on a tour of the living. Our guides had promised us an evening of entertainment as we observed the inhabitants of a home on a day of celebration…and we encountered even more drama than we’d imagined.

The haunted house, a beautiful blue and white house with a yellow door and a porch.

Setting

The Shadow Space took place in a cozy Los Angeles home decorated with items of importance to its inhabitants. We haunted the first floor of the house, which included a kitchen, living room, study, and dining room where the two occupants were hosting another couple for a get-together. As we could not walk through doors, the rest of the space was off limits.

The house felt lived in, and the layout of the rooms allowed us to explore and follow the actors however we chose.

Rules of Haunting: No phones or smoking. The living can't hear you. Don't touch or block the living. Touch only what glows.

Gameplay

The Shadow Space was an immersive theater production with mystery and puzzle elements. Though it started out as a simple evening of ghostly entertainment, we eventually discovered that we needed to solve a mystery by uncovering clues and influencing the actors.

The Shadow Space emphasized the performances and the gameplay roughly equally. Though we encountered a couple of more traditional puzzles, most of the solving took place in the audience’s minds as we pieced together the clues to the central mystery.

As ghosts, we were invisible to the residents, but our hosts warned us not to haunt them too aggressively. Therefore, we could only touch objects that shone with a spiritual energy (i.e., items that lit up under a blacklight), and only when the living were not observing us. We could, however, interact with certain objects to spook the living—as long as they weren’t looking. We also could not pass through doors unless they were opened for us, which presented an interesting challenge.

Though it wasn’t all about winning, the gameplay had a medium to high level of difficulty. Between the puzzles and the central mystery, core gameplay revolved around observation, deduction, and timing.

Analysis

➕ The concept of a ghost tour and the presence of tour guides brought levity to a potentially somber and disturbing story. A pre-show icebreaker where the audience members revealed our (often humorous) causes of death also lifted tension, which helped prepare us for the experience.

➕ The premise of playing as ghosts haunting the living was inventive, and just plain fun. We enjoyed puzzling out how to affect the actors without interacting in the traditional sense.

➕/➖ Between exploring the house and observing the different actors, The Shadow Space provided a lot of possible threads to follow. On one hand, that freedom felt exhilarating. However, with nine audience members and six actors in the space, we struggled to keep track of everything, and communication became an additional challenge.

➖ For the sake of realism, the actors spoke at a normal volume, as if there weren’t a dozen other people in the space with them. This hindered our sleuthing somewhat, as we missed some moments that revealed key information about the characters’ relationships. If the more important conversations had unfolded in such a way that the audience couldn’t miss them, we would have felt more in control.

➕ The moment of transition from ghost tourists to mystery solvers surprised us and ramped up the excitement. The change in our objective felt seamless.

➕/➖ One early haunting opportunity brought the entire group together for a shared experience. That moment was fun and engaging, but it felt disconnected from the rest of the show. It would have felt more rewarding if that moment had paid off later, or otherwise been incorporated into the story.

➖ Our tour guides left us alone at one point, and we weren’t sure whether we still had to follow the rules without supervision. A bit more guidance on how the game worked would have reassured us in that moment.

➕ The actors did an impressive job of performing while both monitoring and ignoring the audience. On top of all that, their dialogue and actions often suggested what we were supposed to do next. This built-in hint delivery was subtle and effective while maintaining immersion.

➖ The clues we needed to solve the mystery were hard to piece together in such a whirlwind environment, and we only had a moment to decide on what we thought had happened. We would have benefited from another couple minutes to discuss our findings as a group before voting on what course of action to take.

➕ “Haunting” the actors felt thrilling and unique. We found ourselves wishing the show had been a bit longer so we could have had some extra time to play around with the ghost mechanics.

Tips For Visiting

The Shadow Space had a limited run in May 2019 and is not currently playing. In future performances, the venue and other details may change. You can sign up for The Shadow Space’s mailing list to be notified about the show’s return from October 8 to November 3, 2019.

Update 10/1/19: The Shadow Space will be running October 8 – November 3, 2019 in Hollywood. Tickets are available and for a limited time people can get a 1/3 off tickets by using the promo code “RIP.” The show has moved to the historic Hartsock House in the heart of Hollywood that was built in 1919 to house missionaries. There is parking. 

This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; this is a low-pressure event for less outgoing audience members.

The Shadow Space was tense and unsettling at times, but never truly scary. However, the October run may change things up in that department.

When the show returns in October, book your hour with The Best Medicine Productions’ The Shadow Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.