Mass Escape – The Eckstein Experiment [Review]

Steampunk Experimentation

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Thinking back on The Eckstein Experiment, I’m kind of amazed that it was only 1 hour long. The set was large, packed with detailed and unique spaces. There were a lot of fantastic team-based challenges. The character with whom we interacted was brilliant.

In-game: A brain and eye in a jar.

We have a weak spot for steampunk sets over at Room Escape Artist, and this was one of our favorites. It was tactile and beautiful.

We loved this game… except for the beginning. The initial moments of the experience were great, but the first few minutes of gameplay felt stale, like they belonged in a different world… one we’ve seen many times before. Once we were past the early gameplay, this game soared.

If you’re near Boston with a car, go play The Eckstein Experiment at Mass Escape. While you’re there, play Ice Station Zero as well, if not all 3 of their games. This is a really cool company that is designing creatively.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Tons of content
  • Strong team-based gameplay
  • A cool steampunk set
  • A great hint system

Story

Strange lights had flashed and even stranger noises had come from the medical office of Dr. Eckstein. One day, curiosity got the better of us and we decided to investigate.

In-game: a steam-punk-ish laboratory with glowing beakers and flasks of liquid.

Setting

The Eckstein Experiment opened up in typical-looking escape room jail cells. Once we were free of the bars, things changed quickly. Mass Escape pulled from steampunk and laboratory aesthetics to create something unique.

The opening was fine; it looked good. The mid- and late-game sets were something considerably more special.

In-game: a large electrical contraption made of mostly wound copper wire.

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s The Eckstein Experiment was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large electrical contraption made of mostly wound copper wire.

Analysis

➕ Although the opening set was nothing special, The Eckstein Experiment transitioned into a beautiful steampunk laboratory. We loved the aesthetic and the dynamic of the interconnected spaces. There was also a surprising set piece that might creep up on you.

➕ Mass Escape crafts charming characters into their games. Our gamemaster set the tone for the experience, acting as a character in our story. His sincere delivery added to the fun. Mass Escape was able to lean into this antagonistic character because they had a different method of hint delivery. We didn’t need to trust this guy.

In-game: a severed thumb on a surgical tray.

➕ The hint system added a playfulness to The Eckstein Experiment. Mass Escape seamlessly integrated the hints, such that it would have been a lesser game without taking them.

➕ Mass Escape made great use of space.

➖ The first act of The Eckstein Experiment was unbalanced. It was a split-team start where some people had a lot more they could do than others. It also felt too generic in comparison to what came immediately after.

The Eckstein Experiment fostered engaging team dynamics.

➕ Mass Escape combined both escape room-y puzzles with more situational-based solves.

➖ Mass Escapes really needed to dial up the size, lighting, and precision of one key interaction.

➖ Additional gating in one section would prevent teams from blindly burning substantial time on inactive puzzles.

❓ The bonus quests in The Eckstein Experiment weren’t integrated as cleanly as were those in their other games.

➕ Mass Escape devoted a whole section of this game to one gimmick, and transformed it into a communication puzzle. Then they repurposed a space that we didn’t expect to reuse, which was impressive.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • At least 2 people have to crawl.
  • The game has a split beginning. Players will start in different spaces.
  • 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 The Eckstein Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mass Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Red Fox Escapes – The Heist [Review]

Artfully Puzzley

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

We loved Red Fox’s The Heist. It was quirky, unique, and loaded with great puzzles. To make things even better for an experienced escape room team, there was no searching; the puzzles were confidently on display.

In-game: Wide view of the gallery, many pieces are on display, the two most prominent is a painting of the Queen of England with her eyes closed.

This was a challenging game, in a fair way. While we loved it, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people preferred Red Fox’s U-Boat (also a lovely game – review coming soon). On its surface, this game feels more normal, but if you really look at the details, that’s where this game shines.

If you’re an experienced puzzler near Boston, we highly recommend The Heist. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more of an adventure, try out U-Boat first. Either way, Red Fox is a company that we’re looking forward to visiting many more times in the future. They’re off to a stellar start.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Unusual and challenging puzzles
  • There was essentially no searching
  • Beautiful art

Story

A private gallery in the Back Bay was exhibiting the world’s largest diamond, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Naturally, we’d assembled our team of master thieves in our hideout to plan our heist.

In-game: A portrait of Marilyn Monroe made out of pennies beside a geometic sculputre.

Setting

The Heist began inside of our secret hideout [not depicted because it’s a secret]. Once our plan was sorted out, we broke into the gallery… and it really looked like a gallery.

Aside from nailing the art gallery aesthetic, the thing that really set this one apart was that the art looked unique, and like art. It was great to see pieces that weren’t obvious knockoffs of famous art that is housed in specific museums.

In-game: A sculpture of a tree and root system without leaves.

Gameplay

Red Fox Escapes’ The Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: an image of a woman made out of wire mounted to a board.

Analysis

➕ The secret hideout was classic. It looked good and provided a solid on-ramp that warmed us up for the main event.

➕ The artwork was high quality. It was beautiful. Some of the pieces were truly impressive creations.

➖ As beautiful as the set was, a couple of the props we handled felt worn out. They weren’t on the same level as the rest of the space.

➕ The Heist was a challenging, puzzley escape room with fair, well-clued puzzles. Red Fox wove the puzzles through the art unlike any art heist we’ve played to date. The game was challenging for all the right reasons… and there wasn’t any searching.

➕ Red Fox drew on classic heist tropes, but made these their own. We couldn’t maneuver through them in the normal way. This was smart.

➖/➕ Red Fox introduced one concept too early. It had to work this way for the story, but this design decision could easily come back to bite them – or more likely – one of their props.

➕ The juxtaposed sets were incredibly different, but part of one world. The transition scene enabled this really well. A lot of love went into a space that we spent next to no time in. Respect.

➖ The first act couldn’t support as large a team as the second act could, which makes it hard to recommend a group size for The Heist. Strong puzzlers can go with a smaller group. If you bring a larger group, you’ll be crowded early on before the space opens up.

➕ Red Fox can adapt The Heist during the reset to make it easier by swapping in additional cluing for some puzzles. They can do this so seamlessly that players would never know.

Tips For Visiting

  • Red Fox Escapes is easily accessible by T. Take the Red Line to Central.
  • At least 1 person needs to be able to crawl.

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

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

Upside Down Escape Games – The Gingerbread Cottage [Review]

Solve, solve as fast as you can

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 1- a small family group

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $18 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Gingerbread Cottage was an adorable, family- and newbie-friendly seasonal game. It was one of the nicer temporary games that we’ve encountered.

The story was cute, the hint system was clever, the puzzles were fair, the props were well-selected, and there was a tiny bit more tech than we’re accustomed to finding in a limited run escape game.

In-game: gingerbread house wall covered in gumdrops.

This game was meant for families and small groups of new players. The recipe included short and sweet puzzles and it was iced with a touch of humor.

If you’re a seasoned escape room player, this one isn’t really made for our kind, but we still enjoyed nibbling on it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Christmas aficionados
  • Great for families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Adorable premise
  • Solid puzzle game
  • Christmas cheer

Story

Peeled from a baking sheet, we had gained sentience as we were placed in our gingerbread home. From beyond the walls of our candy cottage we’d heard that Darryl was coming home in 45 minutes… and he was going to be hungry.

In-game: A fireplace decorated with stockings, a rocking chair, and a giant - partially decorated gingerbread cookie on the wall.

Setting

The Gingerbread Cottage was a small, humble, and adorable little popup Christmas game. Most of the props were artfully selected Christmas decorations meant to build the fiction of the inside of a gingerbread house.

The game itself was constructed around the decoy gingerbread man, a simple, but effective piece of tech.

In-game: A white christmas tree shelf covered in gingerbread cookie ornaments beside a fireplace decorated with stockings.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Gingerbread Cottage was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

6 homemade gingerbread owls.

Analysis

➕ The Gingerbread Cottage had an adorable, playful premise.

➕ The gameplay was approachable and entirely non-linear. It was easy to dive in and clear how to play. The gameplay was smooth.

➖ Maybe we were seeing it in the wrong light, but one puzzle felt a little off to us.

➕ Although Upside Down Escape Games had a small footprint and low budget for this holiday popup escape game, they created a lot of cheer. It didn’t feel cheap or temporary.

➖ There was an opportunity to more evenly use the space. The majority of the puzzle elements were a bit on top of each other.

➖ The Gingerbread Cottage lacked a finale. With a final puzzle or some fanfare, the win would have felt like more of an event.

➕ The hint system was thematic and cute.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

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

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

Outside the Box – Darklight Disco Fight [Review]

Puzzle Dome

Location:  Webster, MA

Date Played: November 10, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6 (played as 3 vs 3) or 8 (played as 4 vs 4)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

At its core, Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive puzzle battle.

Outside the Box’s game design was deeper and far more nuanced than any other competitive escape game we’ve encountered to date. There were multiple ways to interact with and sabotage the opposition, and a great many opportunities for a team to approach the game strategically instead of just solving puzzles faster than the other folks.

This was a super fun, hilarious, high-energy game.

In-game: a flourscent glowing square with a dice and a big question mark besdie it.

The tragedy of Darklight Disco Fight, however, was that we had to play it to truly understand how to play it well, or with any type of strategy. Now that we’ve solved the puzzles, we can’t play it again the way we would have wanted to play it.

Outside the Box did so many smart things in this low-budget production. The struggle with producing something novel and new like Darklight Disco Fight is that it’s essentially a public beta for all manner of new concepts. Some work; some don’t. In this case, a lot of them could benefit from refinement.

I absolutely recommend Darklight Disco Fight to a group of evenly matched puzzlers who are in the area. To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The massive volume of puzzles
  • Competitive play
  • Opportunity to interact with and affect your opponents

Story

Two teams entered a head-to-head puzzle battle at the blacklight disco.

In-game: wide shot of Darklight Disco. There are an assortment of costumes hanging from the wall, and a glowing square on the floor.

Setting

The Darklight Disco Fight set was split into two identical and mirrored spaces. Each team entered their own space to compete against the team on the other side of the wall.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Darklight Disco Fight had a bare-bones, old-school escape room look. The focus was on the gameplay. The room was basically filled with puzzle components and locked compartments, all bathed in blacklight.

The gamemaster was a key part of the world as we regularly had to show solutions on camera or announce them audibly to earn points. This interaction added to the experience as our gamemaster brought a lot of personality to Darklight Disco Fight.

In-game: closeup of puzzle solution compartment, each is numbered and has a lock hanging from it.

Gameplay

Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving quickly. It was also imperative to understand the structure of the game and helpful to strategize an approach. Pay close attention to the rules video and ask questions.

In-game: closeup of a fishtank with a yellow submarine inside of it.

Analysis

➕ Darklight Disco Fight had an infectious energy. It was dark, but fluorescent, with an energetic soundtrack. It pitted us against our friends in competitive play. This upped the stakes and our exuberance.

➕ Our gamemaster added great energy. He interacted with us, verifying our solves, calling out when we triggered new challenges, and DJ-ing the game.

Darklight Disco Fight didn’t look like much. It was all about the puzzles. However, it had a gameshow aesthetic and it didn’t need anything else.

➕ Darklight Disco Fight was jam-packed with puzzles. These varied enormously in type of challenge and difficulty of solve. The puzzles also varied as to how they affected the gameplay, which added a level of complexity. There was something for everyone and every goal.

❓ The puzzles required more outside knowledge than typical escape room puzzles. We had to solve serious math equations, among other things. This worked fine because no team needed to – or would have time to – solve all the puzzles within the 60-minute game clock. If we didn’t know a reference, or couldn’t remember an operation, we could just skip the puzzle. This might irk some players, however, because it is different from typical escape room gameplay.

In-game: A strange puzzle that seems to take inspiration from Super Mario Brothers.

➕ We were equipped with the tools we needed to solve, including cipher charts and whiteboards.

➖ Outside the Box introduced Darklight Disco Fight with a video. This did not adequately explain the unorthodox gameplay. It covered too much information too quickly. While our gamemaster did give us a chance to ask questions at the conclusion of the video, we didn’t understand well enough to know what we were confused about. We had to figure out how to play as we played.

➕/➖ There could be tons of strategic approaches to this game. As an unusual set up with lots of variables, there could have been plenty of ways to approach gameplay. Unfortunately, our playthrough felt like a free-for-all due to our lack of strategic understanding. This neutered a lot of the depth that Outside the Box built into the game.

 Darklight Disco Fight lacked a clear way to keep track of puzzle progress across both teams. Although we had a scoreboard, it was limited. A bigger, more detailed board could have conveyed the action and taken over some of the organization that was put on the teams.

➖ The game structure enabled the teams to interact – to steal away puzzle components, rendering puzzles impossible for the other team, or to create other forms of sabotage. Not all of these were created equal. We could also trigger something we didn’t want to have happen.

Darklight Disco Fight was a canvas for our own fun. Solving puzzles was gratifying… so was heckling, sabotaging, and otherwise enjoying competitive gameplay with friends.

➖/❓/➕ Darklight Disco Fight needed better onboarding before we entered the gamespace. We spent the first few minutes explaining to each other how to play. There were plenty of key nuances that far too many people missed, but would have made play smoother. At the end, we all wished we could play again with a strategy. But unfortunately, as it was an escape room, we’d already solved far too many of the puzzles for it to be replayable. In its current form, Darklight Disco Fight is trapped in a Catch-22 where players need to play once to learn how to play well, but after playing once, can’t ever play again.

We hope Outside the Box will consider making a “B” version with new puzzles. There is a ton of replayability within this structure, and with new puzzles, we expect many teams would return with a competitive strategy. We certainly would!

Tips For Visiting

  • The entrance is behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot behind the building and street parking out front.
  • We highly recommend you play this one with friends where everyone feels comfortable together and wants to compete in a high energy puzzle showdown.

Book your hour with Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Outside the Box – The Body Shop [Review]

Girls will be girls.

Location:  Webster, MA

Date Played: November 10, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Body Shop was a fantastic example of the kind of greatness that is achievable on a modest budget when an escape room is imbued with skill, passion, and attention to detail.

Outside the Box did a lot of worldbuilding in The Body Shop. Some of it was overt; a lot of the detailing was subtle. Altogether, their game world was as creative as it was grimly hilarious.

In-game: An autoshop of a motorcycle in the middle covered with a tarp.

The set looked great; the puzzles solved cleanly. From our vantage point, the biggest opportunity for Outside the Box to elevate their style would be to integrate the puzzles not only into the set, but also into the story. As it was, the puzzle looked good within the environment, but didn’t usually carry much meaning. If Outside the Box can figure out how to do this, they will be a real force. As it is, The Body Shop was already fantastic.

If you’re in the Boston area Webster, Massachusetts is a bit of a drive… but it really is worth it, especially if you have a dark sense of humor.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Hilarious and nuanced storytelling
  • A strong and unique set
  • Great tangible interactions

Story

It was late at night and someone had placed an order for immediate delivery from internet retail giant Conga. We were the closest delivery people, so off we went, package in hand, to a local body shop.

As we followed the owner’s instructions and delivered the package, the door locked behind us and the alarm triggered. The shop seemed pretty shady, so leaving was our only priority.

In-game: a bay door for the autoshop.

Setting

We arrived at The Body Shop with a package to deliver in hand, and explicit instructions of where to deposit it. As we entered the space, it was clearly an auto shop. It looked fantastic. The tools, the look, and the grit of the place all achieved that recognizable aesthetic.

In-game: A detailed, heavily worn brick, concrete, and steel wall.

The level of detail also exceeded the obvious. It took some time before we realized the lengths to which Outside the Box had gone when constructing The Body Shop.

One key detail that I’ll point out: the story details were embedded in a number of places around the set. Taking a moment here and there to internalize these added a lot to the experience.

Gameplay

Outside the Box’s The Body Shop was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a rack of tires sitting beside a set of red lockers.

Analysis

➕ Outside the Box took risks with their story and interaction design. This paid off. The Body Shop was edgy, but also hilarious.

➕ Outside the Box crafted the world of The Body Shop. From the opening moments of the experience, we were learning about this world, its characters, and our place in it. Outside the Box created a solid base on which their story unfolded.

In-game: a workbench with wrenches hanging from a pegboard.

➕ The detailed set and props made The Body Shop an exciting space to explore. One reveal especially impressed us. Although this wasn’t a high-budget build, it was thoughtfully designed to deliver impactful moments.

➕ Outside the Box used light and sound to enhance the atmosphere and add drama.

➕/➖ The puzzles were thematic, tactile, and interactive. They were fun solves. That said, many of the puzzles were escape room-y, which is to say, they were built within the environment, but they weren’t carrying the story beats.

➖ A few too many puzzles required writing utensils. This became a bit tedious and distracted from the detailed environment.

➖ It wasn’t always apparent whether we had enough information to work on a puzzle. We spun our wheels a few times.

The Body Shop had a lot of content, both in terms of puzzles and story. It generally flowed clearly and logically. This story was also intelligently delivered. It wasn’t arduous to take it in.

In-game: closeup of a motorcycle wheel.

Tips For Visiting

  • The entrance is behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot behind the building and street parking out front.
  • The theme is playful and funny, but might be off-putting to some players. There is a light Halloween-horror feel.

Book your hour with Outside the Box’s The Body Shop, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Amaze Escape – Art of the Heist [Review]

“9-1-1 this better be good.” -Chief Wiggum

Location:  Arlington, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

The Art of the Heist was a competent escape game with solid puzzle flow, good humor, integrated history, and a compelling, authentic setting.

Amaze Escape’s creation was held back by two frustrations: an overabundance of interesting red herrings and a painfully underdeveloped late-game sequence. These were serious momentum-killers, but are quite fixable.

Art of the Heist was a strong game that I wanted to enjoy more than I did. It just needed a bit more polish.

If you’re in the area and looking for a solid escape game in a unique and authentic setting, Art of the Heist would be a good choice.

In-game: The police station, featuring an American & Massachusetts flags, a coat hanger with a uniform and a desk with a computer.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A genuine setting
  • Solid gameflow
  • An interesting final puzzle

Story

We were members of a syndicate of thieves tasked with stealing the world’s most valuable suitcase. Allegedly the suitcase had found its way into police custody in the town of Farlington, Massachusetts.

The syndicate had created a diversion, giving us an hour to break into the police evidence locker and retrieve our prize.

In-game: Close up of the electronic surveillance system box.

Setting

Amaze Escape was located in a building that formerly housed a municipal justice center. Their earlier game made use of the building’s authentic jail cell. Their latest game was set within the police station.

The concrete walls and generally drab setting was livened by a number of Simpsons references and other jokes. The setting was pretty perfect and was one of those instances where the real thing doesn’t necessarily look like TV or the movies, but feels like the genuine artifact.

In-game: the word "Taxachusetts" painted boldly on the wall.

Gameplay

Amaze Escape’s Art of the Heist was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Amaze Escape was located in a former municipal building that housed the court, jail, and police. They stuck to their roots again in their second game, The Art of the Heist, set it in a police station. It was believable.

➕ The puzzles flowed pretty smoothly. The gameplay generally worked well.

➖ We encountered one frustrating section. Ambiguous cluing, lack of necessary light sources, and choice of input mechanism came together aimlessly.

➖ Amaze Escape included substantial red herrings in The Art of the Heist. We kept looking for ways to interact with these significant props, only to find that they were simply ambiance. This was unfortunate because these red herrings were among the most interesting items in the game.

➕ We enjoyed one nifty late-game tech-driven solve. It was an intriguing design and amusingly precise.

➖ While we enjoyed the setup, we didn’t feel the narrative pressure of the heist scenario. The Art of the Heist lacked a moment of intensity and excitement that made our hearts race.

➕ I loved how Amaze Escape worked other bits of Boston heist history into their game, including the infamous Gardner Heist, which I had originally learned about from my favorite podcast, The Futility Closet.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking nearby. Pay the meter.

Book your hour with Amaze Escape’s Art of the Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Amaze Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

The Gate Escape – D.J. Death [Review]

Don’t fear the reaper.

Location:  Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 35-45 minutes depending on play style

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

D.J. Death was The Gate Escape’s introductory Halloween popup game that didn’t die.

With structured puzzle sections, this game was far more directed than your typical escape game. Additionally, it was nonthreatening, even if the theme sounds scary.

Although the set design was a bit uneven – with some puzzle sections looking great and others looking a bit cheesy – it played well and culminated in a delightful conclusion.

D.J. Death would be a wonderful game for newbies. Even as experienced players, we found a lot to enjoy. It wasn’t hard, but it was amusing. If you’re an experienced player, The Gate Escape’s other games are must-plays. D.J. Death is worth adding to your lineup if you’re open to sacrificing some difficulty for a novel game structure.

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

Who is this for?

  • Dance party goers!
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Halloween fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Music
  • Dance party
  • Fun puzzles 

Story

Death DJ would host the most exclusive Halloween party of the year. If we wanted to gain admittance, we would have to pass his test and help him build his playlist one puzzle at a time. If we failed, we’d be cut… from the guest list.

In-game: A wall of massive blocks in the middle of the room.

Setting

D.J. Death was a large, open space with 10 smaller puzzle stations along the periphery. Each station had a unique, spooky theme: vampire, voodoo, mad science, etc. (They ranged broadly.)

The level of detail was a little uneven. Some areas looked great; some felt like party-store Halloween. Generally, the visual focus directed us at the puzzle components.

The coolest parts of the set were the dance floor and DJ booth… which were really what mattered.

In-game: closeup of a voodoo shrine.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death was an unusual escape room with a low level of difficulty.

This large gamespace was divided into sections, each containing one puzzle. We moved through the space solving the puzzles and collecting tunes from the D.J. himself.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

The Gate Escape offered two play modes. If the entire group traveled between puzzles together, the game clock was 45 minutes. If the group split up to tackle the puzzles separately, the game clock was 35 minutes. (Our group of 4 stayed together so that everyone could experience the entire game. That worked well.)

In-game: An open coffin lit red.

Analysis

➕ D.J. Death was cute and joyous. It didn’t take itself seriously.

➕/➖ The set looked a bit party-store. With the Halloween theme, this generally worked just fine. There were, however, opportunities to improve the aesthetics.

➖Despite the name and the Halloween theming, D.J. Death was not a scary escape room. I have to imagine that this marketing is confusing to The Gate Escape’s customers.

➕ D.J. Death provided a gentle on-ramp to a puzzle game. By wrapping the game in a dance party, encouraging teams to work together, and keeping related puzzle components contained, it would be approachable to new players of all ages and abilities. The Gate Escape is willing to turn the lights on for nervous players.

In-game: 4 large, vertical metal tubes with grates over them.

➕ The Gate Escape built a great mix of puzzle styles into D.J. Death. They were largely tangible and interactive.

➖ Our least favorite puzzles were the less interactive of the lot. The puzzles with larger components generally felt more exciting.

➕ The separate puzzles came together with a meta puzzle. It made the escape room feel whole.

➖ There was opportunity for a more engaging meta puzzle in this space.

➕ The finale. D.J. Death had a wonderful ending. It really was the only way this game could have ended.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.
  • D.J. Death is not scary.

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

Disclosure: The Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Trapology – Crush Depth [Review]

Crushed it.

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Crush Depth was a great escape room.

It had an intense, detailed, and imposing aesthetic. The puzzles were meaty and entertaining. The story put an atypical twist on a fairly common concept.

While we encountered a bit of ambiguity with puzzle sequencing, and it was occasionally difficult to find what we were supposed to do among the various set details, it still played really well.

We wholeheartedly recommend it for players who are nearby and have a bit of escape room experience.

In-game: overhead shot of a the bunks in the submarine.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Submarine aesthetic
  • Unorthodox story choice
  • Strong puzzles

Story

While we were serving aboard a submarine, the spirit of the boat’s former captain assumed control, and in a final vengeful act, set a course for crush depth. We had to banish the angry spirit and retake control of the submarine before we all received a gruesome physics lesson.

In-game: an axe hanging over a porthole.

Setting

Crush Depth was an aesthetically gorgeous game, among the most beautiful that we’ve seen in the region.

The submarine set was detailed and weathered. It felt right. There was a lot to look at.

Additionally, the layout felt correct. The entire game took place in a narrow series of rooms.

In-game: wide angle of a the bunks in the submarine.

Gameplay

Trapology’s Crush Depth 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 a high voltage electrical box.

Analysis

➕ Trapology turned a few rooms of their downtown Boston office building space into a submarine. The set design looked great.

➖ Although the set looked great, not all of the puzzle components were on the same level. Trapology relied on laminated paper for some clue structure.

➖ The submarine set contained interesting knobs, dials, and gadgets. It wasn’t entirely apparent which were in play and which were decor.

In-game: closeup of a axe-head.

➕ We’ve escaped a lot of submarines, but this was the first one that was haunted by a vengeful ghost captain. Trapology twisted two themes together to create something new and exciting. (Note, Crush Depth is not a horror game.)

In-game: closeup of a small metal step.

➕ Crush Depth was a puzzle-focused escape room with many excellent solves. We always had something interesting to work on.

➖ We encountered one clunky mid-game sequence. Some of the cluing felt a bit out of order.

In-game: A shower-head in a small stall.

➖/➕We couldn’t always tell when we’d triggered an open. Trapology could add lighting or sound cues to make tech-driven opens pop. That said, our attentive gamemaster directed us to anything we’d opened without realizing it.

➕ The final sequence of interactions was massive, tangible, and so satisfying. The conclusion was explosive.

In-game: close-up of a wheel/ door handle.

➕ Trapology had a beautiful lobby. We wish we could have lounged there for longer. We loved the cozy, steampunk-inspired aesthetic.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trapology is easily accessible by T. Take the Green Line to Boylston St.
  • We recommend Explorateur on the corner for a coffee, drinks, a meal… and some really interesting desserts.

Book your hour with Trapology’s Crush Depth, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapology comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Panacea [Review]

In-game: The sign for the Panacea Apothecary in the hallway of Room Escapers.

Pandemic: Alchemy

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing:  Public / Private if you book at least 4 tickets

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Room Escapers is at their best when the build large-team, puzzle-focused, humorous adventures. They checked all those boxes with Panacea… and this may be the finest example of their style thus far.

Panacea was visually striking with an elegant color palette and beautiful faux stained glass windows. While the build quality was occasionally lacking, it was a generally wonderful environment.

From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to puzzle through. Our entire team was occupied from start to finish. Panacea just needed a culminating puzzle that brought all of us back together for a finale.

All in all, this was a seriously satisfying game, and regardless of experience level, we highly recommend playing Panacea if you’re visiting Boston.

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a lectern.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Beautiful alchemy-inspired decor
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

With a disease ravaging the world, humanity’s last hope was hidden in an old Boston apothecary. We entered the preserved establishment-turned-museum with one goal: master the 7 principles of alchemy and produce a mythical cure-all.

In-game: a stain-glass window depicting a fire-breathing dragon.
One of my favorite features of this game.

Setting

We stepped out of Room Escapers’ lobby and into a beautiful old bepuzzled apothecary-turned-museum.

The build quality varied from item to item. Some of the game was beautifully constructed, while other portions were a little more finicky or flimsy.

The most beautiful feature of the room a set of fluorescent office lights that were converted into faux stained glass.

In-game: a large hourglass in the middle of the apothecary.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Panacea was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A chest with the depiction of an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.

Analysis

➕ Panacea was beautifully themed, down to the game clock. It was an inviting space in which to solve puzzles.

➕ The stained glass windows were awesome.

➕ The story flowed through the puzzles. It became apparent early on how working through the puzzles would resolve the story. We had a good sense of our progression as we played.

In-game: sign reads, "7 principles of truth: he who knows these will find the Panacea."

Panacea offered many hands-on, challenging puzzles. It kept our entire team busy. There was a lot to do and most of it was pretty great.

➖ We encountered one ghost puzzle that led us far afield. This puzzle needed to be entirely refactored, rather than partially reskinned.

➕/➖ In Panacea we worked through a lot of puzzles in a relatively confined space. On the one hand, puzzle elements were well labeled so that we didn’t struggle to connect this astrology with that… astrology. The challenge was in the puzzle. On the other hand, it felt less organic to rely on labeling. Additionally, larger groups will likely struggle stepping around each other.

➖ Some of the tech-driven interactions were finicky. This added unnecessary frustration after we’d solved the puzzles.

➕ The hint system made sense with the story and the space. It added to the experience. (In fact, we recommend asking for a hint, even if you don’t need one.)

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a phrenology bust.

➖ In Panacea, we spread out, working on different puzzle tracks. Although we enjoyed the finale, we felt it lacked a culminating puzzle that brought the team back together for the conclusion.

➕ There was some really funny wordplay going on in Panacea.

➕ Room Escapers has upped their reveal game. In Panacea, the reveals worked wonderfully.

Tips For Visiting

  • Panacea is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Panacea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

North Shore Escape – The Cursed Caravan [Review]

The Cursed Caravan

This escape room is in tents.

Location:  Woburn, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

North Shore Escape balanced mystical cheesiness with a gritty homemade mystique. The Cursed Caravan came together into far more than the sum of its parts.

The Cursed Caravan was designed as a popup game… that never popped down. While this was evident in its construction, the silly vibe, unusual story, solid puzzles, and fantastic flow made it work.

We really enjoyed this escape room. If you’re looking to experience the stranger, more creative side of the escape room world, and can appreciate that good game design doesn’t require a large budget or fancy props… visit The Cursed Caravan.

In-game: view through the tent entrance.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  A fortune teller’s tent is a fun gamespace
  • Solid puzzles

Story

A strange fortune teller had set up shop and squatted in an escape room business venue. The owner had asked us to investigate her tent and see if we could dig up some dirt that he could use to evict her.

In-game: The poster for "The Cursed Caravan at North Shore Escape."

Setting

We entered a tent just off of North Shore Escape’s lobby. The space was essentially a tent made of bedding. By some force of will and smart theme selection, it worked remarkably well.

The Cursed Caravan had been originally designed as a temporary game, but it had stayed on.

In-game: two seats on either side of a table with a crystal ball.

Gameplay

North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: bookshelf with two locked boxes.

Analysis

➕ The story was interesting. There was a lot to follow, but it paid off.

The Cursed Caravan was well themed as a fortune teller’s tent. The eclectic mix of wall hangings and tchotchkes felt at home in the environment. It was an inspired thematic choice for a low-budget escape room.

➖ Although the tent looked appropriately fortune teller-esque, it also looked less than stable. We worried about accidentally breaking the set, props, or tech. The construction lacked refinement.

➕ The game flowed well. It was a small space, but we were able to move freely around it, rather than linearly through it, which made it feel bigger than it was.

In-game: Tent entrance.

➕ North Shore Escape balanced searching and puzzling to prevent late-game hangups. The puzzle flow was laid out such that we’d find puzzle elements before we needed them. Thus the puzzle solves moved more quickly. It was elegant design.

➕/➖ The tech looked clunky. This kind of worked. We could interpret it as weird fortune teller magic. At the same time, it felt like messy craftsmanship.

➖ Tech opens needed to pop. Especially when we’re being careful with a delicate set (and at one point we even encountered a “do not pull” sign), it would go a long way if “magical” opens were always evident.

➕ The story was available in readings and played as audio recordings. We appreciated that each player could take it in the way that worked for them.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with North Shore Escape’s The Cursed Caravan, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: North Shore Escape comped our tickets for this game.