The Minnehaha Diamond went missing and everyone at Calhoun Manor was pointing fingers in different directions. As Minneapolis’ most distinguished reporters, we went to the estate in search of a scoop.
The set of Diamond Dilemma was optimized around presenting the puzzles, not aesthetics. It had a bit of an estate vibe going on, but the set never really struck an immersive chord.
The puzzles leaned on observation, dexterity, and deduction. Diamond Dilemma also required more involved logical and layered solving.
Diamond Dilemma was primarily a collection of fun and varied puzzles. They were challenging and enjoyable solves.
Missing Pieces Escape Games created clear puzzle flow. Designed as an entry level escape room, it provided newer players with a fair challenge. The difficulty was in the puzzles, not in the game mechanisms.
Diamond Dilemma included a few unusual custom props.
There came a dilemma… where choice had consequences.
Missing Pieces Escape Games focused on the puzzling in Diamond Dilemma, but not the larger story or setting. Some of the puzzles seemed loosely rooted in the theme; others could have appeared in just about any escape room.
The office setting didn’t create a lot of intrigue, in and of itself.
The narrative was told – through recordings and readings – rather than discovered within the interactions. Neither the set nor the puzzles enhanced the story.
Should I play Missing Pieces Escape Games’ Diamond Dilemma?
As an entry into escape rooms, Diamond Dilemma had a lot to offer.
Missing Pieces Escape Games crafted challenging and fair puzzles, which are the heart of escape room entertainment.
Diamond Dilemma primarily included common escape room puzzle types and interactions. They were well implemented, but will hold more intrigue for newer players. Experienced players should turn their attention to Missing Pieces’ other game, Ruin Raiders, as they will likely move through Diamond Dilemma pretty quickly… unless they get hung up on the dilemma.
It was the closing days of the World War II’s European Campaign and we were given one last mission: break into Adolph Hitler’s bunker and escape with his plans.
The WW2 Bunker’s set looked 1940s bunker-esque with a decisively Nazi flair. There was a historically accurate world map along with a portrait of Hitler and a red Nazi flag. There was a fair amount of attention to detail, but it was clear to us that this escape room was absolutely NOT celebrating Hitler or Nazi Germany. (I feel like it’s important to definitively state this.)
IRL committed to producing a room escape that explored history through puzzling and they largely achieved that. The puzzles were challenging and deeply tied to both the environment and historical facts.
In The WW2 Bunker, IRL Escape paid close attention to the historical accuracy of many of their props and puzzles. This included maps from the era as well as reasonably accurate means of communication and cryptography for the time.
I kind of respect IRL Escape’s boldness in designing a game around Hitler’s bunker and not visually sugarcoating it. Literally the first thing that I saw upon entering was a swastika. It wasn’t welcoming, but in a strange way, I greatly preferred this to being in a generic and sterilized “dictator’s bunker.”
This section is long. It isn’t because The WW2 Bunker was horrible so much as because its flaws were interesting.
Parts of the set needed more upkeep and maintenance. A hot maglock that was attached with an adhesive literally ejected from its housing when a door popped.
Minor Spoiler Warning
This is also revealed by imagery on IRL Escape’s website: The WW2 Bunker used a functionally accurate recreation of the German Enigma machine. This beautiful piece was one of Mark Tessier’s Enigma replicas. He let me borrow one for an evening last year at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago and I saw firsthand how incredible they are. This device was not ideal for an escape room environment. It was complicated. While I think that IRL Escape implemented it almost as simply as they possibly could have, it still came with a lot of written instructions which we misinterpreted… probably because I knew how the thing worked going in. The other issue here was that in simplifying it down so much, the device also lost what made it special in the first place. If you didn’t know how it worked going in, it was just a cool-looking and finicky keyboard cypher tool.
It’s time to address the Reich in the room. I’ve written previously on the subject of politically sensitive topics in general and concluded that if an escape room creator was committed to conveying history, I think that it would be possible to create something special with the escape room medium. The WW2 Bunker got halfway there. IRL Escape built a lot of accurate history into this escape room’s story, but they fixated on incredibly strange minutia about people like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s bunker itself. All of those factoids about their personality quirks were strangely humanizing, but I am 99% certain that this was an accident. All of these nitpicked details were carefully conveyed at the expense of the larger historical context. We were spies seeking to learn Hitler’s plans, which in the game were of global domination… but by the time he was battening down the hatches of the bunker in which he eventually killed himself, he had no global plans. He had already lost war, was under the influence of heavy narcotics, and was giving orders to armed forces that no longer existed.
This is all to say that IRL Escape had and still does have an opportunity to use The WW2 Bunker to show the scale of the damage that the Third Reich did to their own people as well as enemy forces in the final death throes of the war.
Additionally, a number of the puzzles for The WW2 Bunker were buried deep in historical minutia. There were many times where we absolutely could not tell whether we were looking at facts for facts’ sake or in-game puzzles.
Should I play IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker?
Neither Lisa nor I found The WW2 Bunker offensive. It was clear to us that IRL Escape created this escape room with devotion to conveying history. There was nothing malicious about it whatsoever and it has potential. It needs a ton of editing and a little rethinking about the larger historical context of Hitler’s bunker at the end of the War. I believe that IRL could get there. There is value in using gameplay to explore dark periods in history.
In its current state, The WW2 Bunker is an interesting game for experienced players who are not turned off by the subject matter. This was an escape room loaded with unique design decisions, some of which worked and some of which could use some work.
The puzzle flow, subject matter, and quirks of the game are a little too rough to recommend that new players visit The WW2 Bunker.
Choose your team carefully, as there are people in our lives that we know for certain would not be thrilled to play a game in the shadow of Hitler and a swastika.
Book your hour with IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: IRL Escape comped our tickets for this game.
If you are a wealthy eccentric who wants to hide your fortune in an escape room… please call us. Seriously.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date played: August 20, 2017
Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $26 per ticket
Story & setting
Wealthy Mr. Abernathy hated his lazy children, so he willed his fortune to the first people smart enough to solve the mystery he had left in his home.
Inheritance looked like an elegant but stuffy Victorian home. The dark wood surroundings felt compelling and matched the condescension that oozed from Mr. Abernathy in his video will.
The puzzling in Inheritance required keen observation and attention to detail. We needed to closely examine everything within the set and determine how to draw meaningful connections between objects.
The set of Inheritance felt like a mansion in which some distinguished old guy could have hidden his fortune. The space had a presence.
We especially liked the more layered puzzling later in this escape room.
Throughout Inheritance, we were surrounded by multiple locks of similar digit structure. Especially early on, as we worked to determine which details might be relevant, this led to a lot of time spent inputting possible solutions around the room, rather than forward progress.
In some instances, a little more cluing would have been helpful to avoid the search and re-search that can become frustrating. Inheritance would be a more engaging room escape with an extra puzzle or two and less scavenging.
Should I play Mission Manor’s Inheritance?
For Inheritance, we stepped into the Mission Manor’s manor. We enjoyed the gamespace and the gameplay as we puzzled our way to a hidden fortune.
Inheritance relied on many common escape room tropes and game mechanics. We observed, searched, connected, and unlocked our way through.
We recommend Inheritance primarily to newer players who will likely find a few delightful surprises. It will be challenging, but approachable.
Mission Manor scores each team, win or lose, so you can see how well you did at different aspects of the escape room gameplay.
Considering the more traditional escape room structure and the scoring opportunity, more seasoned players might enjoy attempting an Inheritancespeedrun.
He’s a famous archeologist, but not *that* famous archeologist.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date played: August 21, 2017
Team size: 6-8; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $25 per ticket
Emergency Exit: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
Story & setting
Professor Jones had gone missing and we went on a treasure hunt of our own in his artifact- and puzzle-laden office.
Professor Jones’ Office was a study/ trophy collection. The set was filled with many familiar and unfamiliar relics from the past work of Professor Jones. Parts of the set were detailed while others were fairly bland or bare.
The puzzles were both big and small, some used more robust set pieces while others relied on finding minute details. In either case, the puzzles worked though the objects at hand.
We enjoyed multiple exciting actions and reveals. This included one cinematic callback and continued throughout the game in unexpected ways. We particularly enjoyed the final act.
Lock and Key Escape Rooms co-opted familiar tropes of the adventure-archeology genre and made these their own. What could easily have been a straight homage was instead a new adventure.
Professor Jones’ Office included a few larger interactive set pieces that gave the space character.
Professor Jones occupied a huge office and with few exceptions, he furnished it with unassuming pieces and a multitude of knickknacks. Because of this, the scale of the experience felt off.
While thematically relevant, Professor Jones’ notebook hampered game flow. It was yet another small object, and in this case one in rough shape, for dedicated individuals to pore over, one person at a time. We would have rather seen a creative nod to the archeologist’s journal and more integrated clueing.
Looks can be deceiving. There’s an interaction that could be dangerous to tall players, especially those focused on the gameplay.
Should I play Lock and Key Escape Rooms’s Professor Jones’ Office?
There was an adventure to uncover in Professor Jones’ Office. We experienced quite a few unusual and exciting moments in and around these artifacts.
We recommend this escape room to both newer players and more experienced players alike. Professor Jones’ Office flows well; newer players will likely find it challenging but approachable. More experienced players may have encountered more remarkable gamespaces of the adventure-archeology variety, but not always the same excitement in interactions.
A “variance in our well-being” had been detected and the Ministry of Public Harmony in our dystopian world had summoned us for a recalibration. We entered a chamber for testing and reeducation.
Riddle Room staged this sci-fi room escape in a dark, bland, and futuristic cell with only a touchscreen in the middle of the room. Upon entering the room and beginning the first puzzle, I immediately worried that we would be stuck solving only touchscreen puzzles for the entire experience. Once we dug below the surface, however, there was so much more to Utopia. The set was smart, deceptive, and attractive.
Utopia had some seriously challenging puzzles. Part digital, part mechanical, Utopia offered a pair of puzzle tracks. These were both integral to success and deeply tied to the narrative of the experience.
Utopia had a smart story from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective. Riddle Room created an alternative dystopian world that was menacing, but never felt intimidating.
The set was fantastic. It brilliantly hid a great deal of complexity under a simple facade.
Both tracks of puzzling within Utopia were well designed and satisfying.
The separate puzzle tracks didn’t lend themselves to tag team puzzling. Because the two tracks were so vastly different from one another, different players experienced different types of puzzles. It would be easy to find oneself wishing to work on the other set of puzzles, but knowing that switching would be detrimental to overall team success.
The gamemaster delivered hints in person. This was problematic for two reasons:
Hints were delivered with substantial delay.
The hint system broke the otherwise well-constructed narrative.
The most challenging puzzle in the entire experience required detecting a specific detail without much in the way of cluing. The puzzle’s concept was great, but it could benefit from a little more in-game clue structure.
Should I play Riddle Room’s Utopia?
Utopia was a deeply satisfying escape room. The puzzles, narrative, and set worked in sync with one another to make us feel a story.
Riddle Room did an impressive thing in Utopia by taking a concept that seemed boring and then pushing it in all sorts of strange directions before subverting it all. I really enjoyed this escape room and expect that most other experienced escape room players will as well.
Utopia would be a difficult first room escape. In fact, the newbies on our team were a bit bewildered by it. I think this is an escape room to work up towards. You can only play it once, so you should get a few others games under your belt before taking on this clever challenge.
Dr. Kevorkianstein planned to infect the world with a virus and get rich selling the cure. As agents of the CDC, we had to infiltrate his lab to steal the cure.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had a standard stark white aesthetic with a wider variety of real life lab equipment than most other laboratory escape rooms. Labs may not be the most exciting environments, but this one looked authentic.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was primarily a game of searching and connection building; there was a lot to find. Late-game it transformed into a puzzling experience.
There were a few significant and compelling setpieces. The escape room’s primary late-game focal point was particularly cool.
Escape MSP did a good job creating the science lab aesthetic.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had an exciting, dramatic ending.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection included a substantial focus on searching. We spent a lot of time finding objects, some of which seemed important, but turned out to be completely irrelevant.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had significant upkeep issues. One important clue had worn off from a puzzle and we lost a lot of time because we didn’t know it was relevant. Some props were broken in ways that made puzzle solving into guesswork.
There were a lot of red herrings and puzzles with fuzzy answers. All of this served to water down the experience.
The name of the game’s villain,”Dr. Kevorkianstein,” seemed unnecessary. The real-life Dr. Kevorkian was a controversial figure in the debate over physician-assisted suicide. Reasonable people can strongly agree or disagree with Dr. Kevorkian. The suffix notwithstanding, I had a visceral reaction to seeing his name reduced to that of a generic genocidal super-villain… especially since it was a completely unnecessary plot detail, which also wasn’t relevant in the gameplay.
Should I play Escape MSP’s Dr. K’s Lethal Injection?
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was a search-centered, large-team beginner’s escape room. That’s not to say that it was easy; it wasn’t. The set looked good and the tech was fun and responsive. However, Escape MSP constructed the gameplay around finding things. In that way, it will hold far more appeal for newbies. Any player who puts in any effort can greatly contribute by simply finding things; there was a lot to uncover.
Experienced players will likely be frustrated by Dr. K’s Lethal Injection as it usually follows that the more games the players plays, the less keen they become on substantial searching.
Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was not our style of room escape, but we can absolutely see the appeal. Bring a big team and don’t let the stark white walls fool you. There are plenty of places to hide things in a seemingly minimalistic laboratory.
It was a triple dog dare. I legally couldn’t refuse.
Location: Edina, Minnesota
Date played: August 21, 2017
Team size: 1-10; we recommend 3-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $27 per ticket
Story & setting
After a boring round of Ouija, our friends had dared us to enter the local haunted house… the one where 6 consecutive families had died and the most recent occupants recently vanished.
This room escape began with breaking into the haunted house. That’s where things turned dark, but never terrifying. The Haunted House was a lightly horror escape room with Halloween props and a dark, creepy set. It looked good, not great.
The Haunted House’s puzzles were a lot like the set. They were generally solid, but could have benefitted from a just a little more clue structure and precision.
The “break into the room” opening of The Haunted House was fun.
I’ve repeatedly knocked the family-friendly horror genre in escape rooms because I think that it usually projects an image of terror that turns off the fearful, while setting bad expectations for horror lovers. In contrast, Escape Frenzy actually made this work. Their non-threatening escape room description set the right tone, which carried into the escape room’s aesthetics.
Escape Frenzy used tech sparingly, in smart ways.
Cheesy Halloween store props undermined Escape Frenzy’s more impressive custom construction.
The puzzles could have benefitted from additional refinement. I suspect that if Escape Frenzy took their three most commonly delivered hints and transformed those into in-game clues, The Haunted House would flow a lot more smoothly.
During the reset before we played, the gamemaster must have accidentally swapped similar keys for similar padlocks because early on, we opened a thing that we shouldn’t have. Our gamemaster was all over it, which we respect. This could, however, be completely avoided with unique keychains or locks that accept different key shapes. In its current form, it’s easy to confuse the keys and produce a bad reset.
Should I play Escape Frenzy’s The Haunted House?
The Haunted House was creepier than most escape rooms, but not terrifying. If you’re looking for an approachable room escape with low scare factor, this is a great option.
Escape Frenzy created some escape room magic that will add a layer of complexity for newbies who likely won’t recognize the technology in front of them. The Haunted House will also require a few logic leaps (or additional hinting).
If you’ve played at least one or two escape rooms, The Haunted House could be an enjoyable game. Newbies can absolutely find fun in this game, but they’re going to need a lot of help along the way.
The Haunted House doesn’t break new ground, but this old house was built on a solid foundation.
We took a journey to a school of wizardry, but absolutely not the one you’re thinking of. We had to break the rules and sneak into the Headmaster’s study to steal the Elder Wand before it was seized by nefarious forces.
Very Potter Escape was lushly decorated in shades of brown, red, and gold. It had a medieval fantasy vibe. It generally looked great.
As we solved the puzzles in Very Potter Escape, we mastered each school subject. Along the way, we interacted with the more recreational aspects of school such as magical creatures and sporting equipment.
The puzzling varied from mechanical to observational to logical.
Much of the puzzling felt magical. We maneuvered physical items and the school revealed its hidden secrets.
Very Potter Escape captured the look and feel of an imaginary wizarding school that so many of us have fallen in love with. Without naming the characters, creatures, places, or stories, Trapped Puzzle Rooms recreated a world that adoring fans will recognize and the uninitiated can still enjoy.
The puzzling was varied and largely physical. We picked up props and figured out how to use them to conjure the magic. This could take a little doing.
We loved many of the puzzles in this escape rooms. They were simply a lot of fun.
Very Potter Escape included both padlocks and more tech-driven locking. These were distributed such that they made sense in the setting. When Very Potter Escape responded with tech-driven opens, they felt appropriately magical.
The hint system fit seamlessly into the story.
Magical opens didn’t always give enough feedback. With a small team, it could be difficult to notice what we had triggered.
While Trapped Puzzle Rooms derived magical opens from technology, I would have loved to see more magic derived from manipulation of space. We know these types of schools have a lot of secrets hidden within their walls. There was opportunity for larger scale surprises.
The final few puzzles didn’t feel as exciting as the content offered by the vast majority of the experience.
Should I play Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Very Potter Escape?
If you’ve enjoyed reading about a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, or watching movies about one, you should absolutely visit Very Potter Escape. From the décor to the props to the puzzles, you’ll get to spend an hour making little bits of magic yourself.
Very Potter Escape was a mostly linear escape room. You won’t have to skip any dungeon classes to visit the pitch.
There is, however, still a lot of puzzle content in this escape room.
Note that you don’t need to know anything about magical schools to succeed at Very Potter Escape. You will likely have a lot of fun even if you miss the references.
Similarly, you don’t need any experience with escape rooms to fully enjoy this experience. It will be challenging, but likely still a lot of fun.
Book your hour with Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Very Potter Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Trapped Puzzle Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.
“I am a Prince and I would like to give you my fortune in exchange for your social security number and some puzzles.”
Location: St Paul, Minnesota
Date played: August 20, 2017
Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $28 per ticket, $25.64 per student ticket
Story & setting
The emails were true! The exiled Prince of Yurgmurgistan really did need our help proving his birthright. If we could break into the National Bank of Yurgmurgistan and steal back his most prized possession, he pinky swore that he would shower us in money.
Staged in the National Bank of Yurgmurgistan, The Vault looked incredibly bank-like… which was to say a bit drab except for the large vault door. Beyond the massive metal enclosure, we found things to be far more surprising.
The Vault was a deeply puzzle-focused escape game. Initially the puzzles felt typically escape room-esque. As the The Vault progressed, however, the puzzling became increasingly more tangible, grand, and creative.
The second half of The Vault was exceptional: both the set and the puzzles, as well as their integration, were entertaining and innovative.
As a result of many design decisions, The Vault usually had at least two puzzling opportunities available at any given time. Most of these could engage at least 2 players. The Vault occupied our team of 5 people from start to finish.
This room escape was pretty damn funny.
We didn’t enjoy one early puzzle and we were thrilled to stumble upon the solution.
I know that Minnesota is inhabited by the gigantic descendants of Vikings, but there were a number of key interactions that would be difficult for shorter players to execute.
One of the most brilliant puzzle/ setpieces in The Vault was also difficult to manipulate. This was clearly a tradeoff that resulted from the PuzzleWorks’ creative direction, but it was cumbersome nonetheless.
Should I play PuzzleWorks’ The Vault?
I loved this escape room; I don’t say that often.
The puzzle flow and gameplay were fantastic.
The set started a little drab, but that changed in the later half of the experience.
The level of creativity in The Vault was phenomenal. PuzzleWorks brilliantly and creatively spun the traditional bank heist escape room story… and simultaneously made it funny.
The Vault was a challenging escape room. I don’t recommend that newbies dive in here because if they are focused on basic escape room how-to, they will miss what makes this The Vault special. It’s doable for first-timers, but they will need help.
That being said, The Vault is a must-play for experienced room escapers. It’s smart. It’s strange. It’s fun. It’s funny. Go see for yourself.