Upside Down Escape Games – The Theater [Review]

Master of Puppets

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Upside Down Escape Games caught us off guard with The Theater because it packed some technology that you don’t expect to see in a small-town escape room.

In-game: a boxoffice stand with an owl dressed in fancy clothes sitting within.

When we played, The Theater it felt like it was brimming with potential… but also unfinished. This was confirmed for us after we played. Nevertheless, there was a lot to enjoy here. The things that worked well worked really well and looked great.

The aspects that felt like they needed more work came in 2 varieties: those in need of fairly minor tweaks, and tech that just needs more time and iteration.

The Theater has the potential to put on a hell of a show, and we have a lot of confidence in Upside Down Escape Games’ ability to get it there. Either way, we think this one is well worth seeing, and we’re glad that we did. We hope to revisit this game down the line.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Surprising technology that you really wouldn’t expect from a small-town escape room company
  • The puppet theater did some really unexpected stuff

Story

Once more, our friend Darryl had dragged us to a strange place for his birthday – and disappeared. This time we entered a horrifying puppet theater with a countdown clock. What was with this guy?

In-game: ominous masks of comedy and tragedy painted in red on a box office.

Setting

Upside Down Escape Games split us into 2 groups. 1 person was brought into the theater; the rest were let in through the box office.

The small theater had all of the right components (but not quite enough seating to feel completely right).

The box office was small, and again, had most of the right components, but this space felt a little unfinished.

The coolest parts of this game weren’t immediately evident. I’ll leave it at that.

In-game: a theater conscession stand.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Theater was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It has a split-team start, with 1 person separated from the rest of the group.

You can choose to play this game on scary mode, which adds jump scares. (They are worth it.)

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

In-game: an "Admit One Ticket" sign flanked by freaky baby doll parts pained black and red.

Analysis

➕ Upside Down Escape Games leaned in to the creepy puppet vibe with this unusual escape room concept and it worked.

➕ We played on scary mode. The jump scares were well timed and delivered great moments. Play it on scary mode. You know you want to.

➕/➖ The construction of this game was uneven. It was a case of extremes, and it was kind of understandable. Some aspects of this game received an incredible amount of creative attention… and other parts were painted black. Upside Down Escape Games made good choices about where to focus their resources, but the disparity was noticeable.

➕Upside Down Escape Games dealt with a malfunction so well that we weren’t confident that something was ever wrong.

➕/➖ We loved an unusual and silly puzzle, with clean execution, but the sticking point was a lack of cluing that yes, we should interact in a way that felt unnatural.

➖ The Theater included some incredibly delicate props that seemed out of place and will surely break. They were more eye-catching than they were relevant.

➖ In one instance, The Theater suffered from a common upside down trap: when a clue is reversed or flipped, do you also reverse the solution?

➕ The hint system was more than a hint system. It was a part of this creepy theater.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games built an extraordinary set piece that eyed the game space from the opening moments, building up dramatic intensity. Then it delivered.

➖ The end fizzled. The show needed a finale.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games truly surprised us with the unique tech that they built into The Theater.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

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

Disclosure: Upside Down Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Mass Escape – 44 Winterwood Lane [Review]

A broken seal

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

44 Winterwood Lane had strong worldbuilding. A great introduction, a beautiful candle-lit representation of the game clock, and a brilliant scene helped pull it all together.

In-game:

Mass Escape packed quite a few challenging puzzles into this bewitching experience. 44 Winterwood Lane could be improved by pulling those late-game challenges deeper into the story, and using them to tie off the narrative as thoroughly as the beginning opened it up.

Overall, Mass Escape is a fantastic company making unique and flavorful escape games. They have a style unlike anything else we’ve encountered and it’s a style that we truly enjoyed. 44 Winterwood Lane was our least favorite of the 3 games that we played at Mass Escape… and we still liked it a lot.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A few great set pieces
  • An illuminating game timer
  • Memorable, haunting moments

Story

Our estranged aunt had recently passed away. We didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that her daughter had mysteriously died many years ago. Nevertheless, we had an appointment with her estate’s caretaker to claim our inheritance.

In-game:

Setting

We stepped through the doors of an old rundown estate, a shadow of its former glory. It had a high ceiling and imposing antique furniture. An assortment of candles lined the ceiling; every few minutes one would extinguish.

The set looked good and well weathered. However, some portions of the set looked considerably more lived-in and finished than others.

In-game:

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Mass Escape set the tone of the experience from the opening moments of the escape room. They minded the details, sealing our fate as we tried to claim our inheritance.

➕/➖ Although we’d come for the money, as the story of this place unfolded, that turned out to be a side quest. Predictable as it was, the twist added intrigue to 44 Winterwood Lane. However, the plot got a bit murky.

➕ Mass Escape integrated an unorthodox gameclock into the set. It felt native to the world. This was set dressing, ambiance, and time keeping all in one.

➖ The scale felt off in one room. Some of the set pieces lacked the estate’s majestic allure. Portions of the game felt empty, but at the same time full of potential red herrings.

➖ We encountered extremely well camouflaged, unclued searching in 44 Winterwood Lane. Granted, this was for a bonus puzzle. In a game where searching was generally well clued, however, this seemed challenging for the wrong reasons.

44 Winterwood Lane hid its mysteries well… and revealed them in turn. We especially enjoyed when an object magically appeared.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Red Fox Escapes – The U-Boat [Review]

Crushed it

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Everything about U-Boat makes it abundantly clear that this escape game was made with love.

The set was meticulously designed with props chosen because they fit the environment, or modified so that they would feel like they belonged.

In-game: a view into the captain's quarters through a pill shaped doorway.

The story was carried throughout the game, and driven home with a brilliant effects sequence.

For us, the puzzles were a mixed bag. We loved a few, were fine with most of them, and felt like a couple of them were too sloggy and similar for our tastes.

Overall, this was a strong escape game that we think it will be a crowd-pleaser for a wide variety of players. We preferred Red Fox’s The Heist, but honestly believe that more players will want to dive into U-Boat. If you’re in Boston, you should check it out. This is a new and mighty company.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story 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?

  • A strong set
  • Fantastic and challenging puzzling
  • One killer late-game event

Story

It was 1941, World War II was raging, and a linchpin in the war effort was cracking the German Enigma. British intelligence already had an Enigma Machine, but we needed a codebook… and that’s where we came in.

We had placed a spy on a German U-boat, but the boat was going down, so our spy had hidden the book, and abandoned his post along with the rest of the crew. We needed to sneak aboard the vessel and capture the codebook before it was crushed and consumed by the ocean’s depths.

In-game: a map in the middle of a navigation room.

Setting

Red Fox Escapes built a good-looking submarine. The walls were curved, the doors were ovals, the general aesthetic was steel, and everything felt like it belonged – even if it didn’t actually belong. The prime example of this was the directional lock that Red Fox Escapes had painstakingly modified to make appropriate for the space.

Above all, Red Fox Escapes used their environment to create an iconic and memorable moment in this game.

In-game: A periscope with a red illuminated sign that reads, "enemy vessel detected."

Gameplay

Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large wooden workbench with a light.

Analysis

➕ The set and props looked great. The curvature of the walls really sold the look and feel of the space. Red Fox Escapes went to great lengths to make the hardware and props look like they belonged.

➕ The story of the The U-Boat had depth.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly. One flowed especially well. We also enjoyed the different interactive mechanisms and their solve-state indicators.

➕/➖ The puzzles were a mixed bag. Although we enjoyed many of the puzzles (we adored 2 of them), some of them were not especially exciting. In a couple of instances, they felt a bit repetitive.

In-game: speed controls.

➕ The U-Boat had an unforgettable moment of transformation. Red Fox Escapes choreographed this impeccably so that every team member was able to experience and appreciate this.

Tips For Visiting

  • Red Fox Escapes is easily accessible by T. Take the Red Line to Central.

Book your hour with Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Red Fox Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Mass Escape – Ice Station Zero [Review]

Government jobs are stressful

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-8; 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

Like all of my favorite Cold War anti-nuclear proliferation fiction, Ice Station Zero was funny and grim.

In-game: A very large green computer with many lights, buttons, and switches. It is labeled, "Ice Station Zero."

Focused on a few specific characters and an impending nuclear apocalypse, Mass Escape got really personal. We had to dig into the lives of the people responsible for this base just as much as we had to sort out the operations of an intercontinental ballistic missile… and that’s what made Ice Station Zero shine. Disarming a bomb is normal in an escape room; getting to know the people who made it tick is something special.

This is a nifty game with a flavor and play style that is, in our experience, unique. If you’re in or around Boston and have access to a car, I strongly recommend finding your way to Mass Escape for Ice Station Zero as well as their other games.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story 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?

  • The humor and character that underpinned this game
  • Some fantastic setpieces

Story

The world was caught in the grasp of the Cold War and all communication had been lost with the incompetent staff of nuclear missile silo Ice Station Zero. We had been deployed to investigate.

In-game: A metal desk in the middle of an old nuclear bunker.

Setting

Ice Station Zero looked really good – with one small exception – the starting area was pretty weak. Once we had advanced beyond this small dark space, the nuclear silo looked fantastic. Mass Escape struck a balance between Cold War nuclear control room and government bureaucratic hell. We’ve never seen an escape room that looked like this one before.

In-game: a small dim room lit by a red alarm light.

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s Ice Station Zero was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a nuclear launch button.

Analysis

 Ice Station Zero had characters and character. (Mass Escape even armed us with a joke.) The place felt lived in, by actual people, whom we learned about. We liked the mechanism for learning more about the plight of the people at this station. It was clear and concise, with a great interface.

➕ Mass Escape commits to their characters. The gamemaster who introduced us to Ice Station Zero really sold himself as a government bureaucrat. He was entertaining and quippy.

➖/➕ We struggled with some input mechanisms. In one case, the mechanism was barely functional. In another the directions seemed ambiguous. Clean and clear inputting would help with game flow. That said, our in-character gamemaster marched in and handled this in a way that actually improved the experience.

➖ At any given time, we had a lot of papers. We were continually referring back to paper instructions, and some of the puzzles were paper-based as well. Although clipboards made sense thematically, it would have been more fun to be interacting more with the room and less with the paper.

➕ The gameplay flowed well. It was challenging, but we could also figure out how to solve our way forward.

➖ One imposing set piece felt underused, we would have liked to play with this thing a bit more.

➕ Mass Escape turned one wall of an office set into something unexpected that also fit right in. They really dialed this set up a notch.

➕ Mass Escape’s method for adding in bonus content truly shined in Ice Station Zero. They use a similar structure in all of their games, but it felt most relevant and engaging in this one.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s Ice Station Zero, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 [Review]

Echos

Location:  Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-8 depending on the experience you’re looking for

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $49-85 per ticket

Ticketing: Public event

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 was the finale to a 4-part annual saga that was introduced in 2016 (or 1939).

Each December for the past 4 years we’ve traveled to Boston, put on our fancy clothes, and spent an evening puzzling, roleplaying, and swing dancing among friends and characters in Club Drosselmeyer. Each year we’ve been treated to a different reimagining of The Nutcracker as a World War II techno-conspiracy.

It’s kind of sad to say farewell to a show we’ve watched evolve and grow over the years. (I believe that the plan is to loop back to 1939 next year.) The Club and its characters feel like friends that we only get to see at Christmas.

In-game: Two very good looking and brilliant puzzlers standing beside and actress as they all peer off into the distance.

At this year’s Club Drosselmeyer the band was on fire, the stage was gorgeous, the drinks were flowing, and the puzzles were plentiful.

In-game: The band playing on the Drosselmeyer stage.

The most noteworthy change was the stellar quality of the acting and performances. This has improved with each year, but this most recent show felt leaps and bounds better than the previous year. On the negative side, the line for seeing the main characters had reemerged for the first time since year one.

The puzzling was plentiful, and really enjoyable – if you either knew what you were doing or had someone to guide you into the deep end. Club Drosselmeyer has an impossible amount of content, and part of the experience is acknowledging that you’re going to have your own experience, not an all-encompassing experience.

Our night had a funky, entertaining ending that I truly enjoyed as a conclusion for our night… but I didn’t love it as an end to a 4-year journey. Endings are hard, especially variable endings for immersive experiences.

I love Club Drosselmeyer, and if it loops, I’ll probably go back, even if it’s just to dance. At this point it’s a holiday tradition in our family. Viva la Drosselmeyer.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Jazz lovers
  • Swing dancers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who are fine with crowds
  • People who don’t need to be part of every interaction
  • Any experience level … for puzzlers or dancers

Why play?

  • Spectacle
  • Dance, acrobatics, and magical performances
  • Music
  • 1940-themed party
  • Larping (optional)
  • Dancing (optional)
  • Puzzle hunt-style puzzles (optional)

Story

It was 1942 and the American war machine was starting to move forward. Resources were limited and everyone was looking for ways to tighten the proverbial belt and pitch in.

In-game: A table with an illuminated "D", a table number and a Club Drosselmeyer comic.

Industrialist and inventor Herr Drosselmeyer had decided to throw another one of his famous parties. His aim was to sell war bonds and raise money for the nation’s armed forces. As always, Drosselmeyer also intended on using the event to unveil his latest creations from Project Nutcracker.

In-game: David in a suit holding a green glowing object and looking evil.
We wants it; we needs it. Must have the precious.

Setting

We returned for a fourth (and final?) time to Club Drosselmeyer. It was the same night club, the same band, the same bandstands, and many of the characters that we’ve come to know, love, and hate… plus a few new characters.

Club Drosselmeyer was the same decadent party that it has been in past years. Everyone was dressed up and the performative acts were as good or better than ever. The spectacle was in full swing.

In-game: the dance floor is filled with people while the band plays on the Drosselemeyer stage.

Gameplay

Club Drosselmeyer 1942 was immersive game with a high level of difficulty. It required a team effort – with teammates focusing on different types of interactions – to solve the story through to its conclusion.

Core gameplay included solving puzzles, conversing with characters, and watching performances. Individuals could choose to engage in any of these as much or little as they liked.

Club Drosselmeyer goers could also choose to opt out of gameplay, sit back and enjoy the band, or spend an evening on the dance floor.

In-game: A woman sitting at a war bonds stand.

Analysis

➕ Waiting for us at our table, we found a fantastic comic book that got us up to speed on the story. For those jumping in at year 4, this was especially helpful.

Club Drosselmeyer was as beautiful as ever. I don’t think that I’ll ever get tired of that staging. The new additions to the set were lovely.

➕ The performances were noticeably better than in previous years. Back in year one, the acting was cringe-worthy. It has improved each year since. This year the performers were wonderful and entertaining.

In-game: Rhett King shuffling cards at a small table covered in money.
One of our teammates cheated at blackjack against this guy.

➕ The puzzles were varied in approachability. There were some easier game-like puzzles that engaged beginners. There were also challenging solves requiring focused effort from more experienced puzzlers.

➕/➖ Club Drosselmeyer did a lot to onboard first timers and provided some low-skill games, but it was still challenging for true newbies to find their bearings. I don’t think that most of the newbies really understood how hard they had to play if they wanted to complete the main objective.

➖ The puzzles remained paper-based, even in the interactive environment. They leaned heavily into words and logic. There would be opportunity for more dynamic puzzles in Club Drosselmeyer that branched out into more puzzle types and engaged players in the rest of the spectacle as part of the puzzle solving.

➖ The lines for the main characters bottlenecked. Some of these lines were a result of player confusion, rather than something inherent in the game’s script. However, this confusion, combined with Drosselmeyer’s “guard” being a character that players did not trust, resulted in line-management problems, and players focusing their attention on the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was interesting to us how much the character of the “guard” added complexity to this game mechanic.

Club Drosselmeyer has refined its hint system. The waiters were attentive, serving up hints based on the needs of the group and the overall experience.

➖ The cast and players took over the dance floor. It was the easiest place for players to find and approach the characters. This left less room for dancing. Too much of the drama of the show was happening right in the middle of the dance floor.

➕/➖ 1942 was Club Drosselmeyer’s finale. The ending we triggered was fun, but didn’t feel like the conclusion to a 4-year story arc. Because there are multiple ways a performance of Club Drosselmeyer might end, it’s hard to say where the show and characters will be at the end of the final night. That said, when the show wrapped up, we didn’t feel closure to the larger story and these characters.

❓ You can’t see or do everything in Club Drosselmeyer. Your experience is largely what you decide it will be.

In-game: Us with oru friends at in front of the Drosselmeyer stage at the end of the show.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: I encourage taking mass transit, taxi, or ride share.
  • Food: There are ample food options in the neighborhood.

If this show returns to Boston next December, or opens in another city, we hope you’ll book your evening at Club Drosselmeyer, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.