Trap Door – The Greatest Freakshow [Review]

“Better than Award Winning Musical CATS!” -David Spira

Location:  Morristown, New Jersey

Date Played: December 17, 2019

Team size: up to 16; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

What do you do when you’re an escape room creator with a small child who watches Disney movies on endless loops? You make an escape room musical; that’s what you do.

In-game: Trailers and tents lit with strings of lights.

When I heard the concept I didn’t know what I was getting into. Were there going to be actors? Was this a show? Was this an escape room?

The answer: It was an escape room through and through. While it had actors artfully projected and displayed, and included recorded performances, it was a 2-hour escape room in a large space, as Trap Door is known to build.

This was very much a Trap Door production. By that, I mean it was innovative, big, thoughtful, and in need of much stronger puzzle content.

This escape game was lovable in so many ways, but the one that mattered most to me personally was the emotional message and a moment that tied into it. It was honestly innovative. The level of commitment and investment in this game was undeniable; just the square footage alone is costly. It just needed much stronger gameplay.

If you’re in the area, I recommend The Greatest Freakshow because it does a lot of truly interesting and unusual things… and I love that… even though it’s frustrating how regularly this escape room undercuts brilliant moments that are unlike anything that I’ve seen from any other escape room company.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • It’s quite large and contains many different scenes
  • The escape room as a musical concept was clever
  • There were some compelling moments

Story

Xunder’s Freakshow was ensorcelled by the song of the evil siren Atina. We had to free the minds of the freaks and team up with them to put a stop to her sinister serenade.

In-game: The ringmaster standing center stage.

Setting

Dating back to their first game, Trap Door has always created big escape games (in terms of square footage). A small Trap Door game is still big… and The Greatest Freakshow was big compared with their other big games. I think it might be smaller than Cure Z: Quarantine, but they are both at a size where it just doesn’t matter which is larger.

The Greatest Freakshow’s world included a stage, fair grounds, carnival games, and dressing rooms or trailers for nearly all of the main characters. There was no shortage places to visit. Throughout, Trap Door minded plenty of details. They covered the ground in convincing rubber wood chips. They used a large television and projections selectively to add life to the space. As a timer, they had the various scheduled stage performances by the Freakshow’s characters. It was a novel and cool space to explore.

A few of the spaces felt too empty or underdeveloped, but on the whole, Trap Door filled the large space.

In-game: The mermaid's tent adorned with a compass and ship's wheel.

Gameplay

Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow was a standard escape room with a large set and musical interludes. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The mermaid's tank, she is laying in it sleeping.

Analysis

➕ Trap Door’s commitment to large scale is admirable. It is undeniably fun to traverse a sprawling gamespace.

➕ On a conceptual level, I absolutely loved the escape room musical as a genre. I also truly respect the way that Trap Door brought this concept to life in an affordable, repeatable way through video and projection.

➕/➖ The use of the performance schedule and musical numbers as the game timer was a great idea. This was undercut by the lack of audio in the space where we spent all of the second act. This is a fixable problem.

➕/➖ The emotional climax of The Greatest Freakshow was brilliant and the cinematic execution was smart. From a gameplay standpoint, this interaction suffered because most of our team was struggling to see the information that we were supposed to work with. Again, this is fixable.

❓ The opening interaction left our whole team baffled, but we tried to play along. We weren’t sure what the game wanted of us, or if there was a point to the performance… or why it ended when it eventually did.

❓ While I’m no theater critic, and I am certainly no singer, to me, the performances felt more like spirited community theater than a professional production. Most of the performances were charming, not wowing.

In-game: A picnic table in the fairgrounds.

➖ The funhouse was undercut by either unclued challenges or janky tech.

➖ The puzzles were painfully lacking. For the most part, they involved identifying information in one place and more or less transcribing it into a corresponding input mechanism.

➖ A key setpiece in the concluding sequence was visibly unfinished and bludgeoned an otherwise great moment to death.

➕ The Greatest Freakshow contained a great sequence that carved itself into my memory.

In-game: A cage decorated with knives and lit with a string of lights.

Tips For Visiting

  • EPILEPSY WARNING: There are flashing lights used during this game to simulate circus stage lighting.
  • This is at Trap Door’s Morristown location.
  • There street parking and a parking garage nearby on Cattano Ave.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Trophy Room [Review]

“What a lovely room of death.”

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 27, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

13th Hour Escape Rooms has become northern New Jersey’s most consistently high quality escape room company. We’ve played and enjoyed 7 games from this company and awarded them with 2 Golden Lock-In Awards (2017 & 2018).

It’s going to come as no surprise that The Trophy Room was a fun game. This was 13th Hour’s 6th escape room set in the Hayden Family’s farm of torture, murder, and cannibalism. The facility itself was fully themed against this backdrop.

As usual, this was a challenging, puzzley game in a grimly beautiful environment.

In-game: A skeleton mounted from the ceiling, a light above its head.

We played during October, so we had the Hayden Family haunt actors doing their Tim Burton-esque, whimsically creepy antics to distract, entertain, and hint us.

The Trophy Room lacked a truly arresting moment like some of their other games have had. It’s an all-around great game. We just wanted to see something that really blew our minds.

If you’re in New Jersey, 13th Hour Escape Rooms is a must-visit company. We’d easily put The Trophy Room in the top 3 games that they have on the premises. So long as you can handle a bit of creepiness, I highly recommend taking a gander at The Trophy Room.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • Amusing interactions
  • A great creepy set

Story

John Hayden has a special room on his farm where he keeps trophies of his victims. The old murder farmer continues his search for the ultimate trophy. Would he find that individual in our group?

In-game: A plant that includes the shrunken head of a clown.

Setting

All of 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games were part of a unified setting. The Trophy Room extended the aesthetic of the Hayden farm into new areas of the “house.”

The Trophy Room was visually striking from the opening moments, as we took in the space, surrounded by tastefully mounted human skeletons. It looked great; 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ craftsmanship always does.

In-game: Two skeletons mounted to beams on the wall.

13th Hour Escape Rooms struck a creepy and intense vibe without turning full horror. Additionally, while their games all look dirty and gritty, they are kept quite clean. (This isn’t always the case in escape rooms.)

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The gritty, furniture of The Trophy Room.

Analysis

➕ The scenery looked outstanding. 13th Hour Escape Rooms built a large, rugged, weathered set. It established the mood of the experience and was fun to explore.

➕ Although we started among John Hayden’s trophies, as we played The Trophy Room we explored other areas of the Hayden farm. These unexpected sets added charm to the Hayden mystique. We enjoyed the variety within the experience.

❓ 13th Hour generally builds more around escape room logic than narrative. That is part of their charm. They’ve successfully merged thematic with escape room norms, crafting their own style in both aesthetics and gameplay. They make it work. If you’re looking for serious storytelling, however, that’s not present in their games.

➖ Although The Trophy Room had a reveal – and this was enhanced by the actors who roamed the games in October – it wasn’t on the same scale that we’ve seen from this company in the past.

➕ 13th Hour reskinned a traditional escape room puzzle for the theme of The Trophy Room. It worked well.

➖ 13th Hour Escape Rooms steered clear of a laundry list of tropes, but one that they did use should be hung up and retired.

➕/➖ The Trophy Room had many strong tech-driven reveals, but a few of them made odd use of keypads. It was difficult to map individual puzzles to their inputs.

The Trophy Room was a more intimate game than those we’ve seen most recently from 13th Hour Escape Rooms. That isn’t to say it was small, but rather that the gameplay was more accessible for a smaller group size. That said, it lacked the grandeur that impressed us in The Grand Parlor and The Great Room.

➕ Many of the puzzles in the The Trophy Room worked best with teamwork. They made use of the space and the details within it.

➕ The ending might be the final nail in the coffin for some scaredy cats. (Although 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games aren’t scary, they are creepy enough to put some folks on edge.) We loved this conclusion. In our October playthrough, the ending was personal and playful.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • If you visit during a weekend in October, the actors roam the Hayden Family Farm, the set for all the 13th Hour Escape Rooms. They are more creepy and playful then scary. They are a fun addition to the games, if that’s your thing.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape NJ – The Garage [Review]

Escape & BBQ

Location:  Wharton, New Jersey

Date Played: January 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

Update December 8, 2019 – This location is closed. This game was sold to another escape room company in NJ. 13th Hour Escape Rooms is still running games at their location.

REA Reaction

Created as a side project from the people behind the 2-time Golden Lock-In Award-winning company 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was a themed puzzle game in a fun setting. We were in a garage trying to get the garage door to open.

The Garage exemplified how escape rooms don’t require a complex, epic story to be entertaining and compelling. The substance of The Garage existed in the thematic props and their associated puzzles. It was lovely, challenging, and fair.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, a car door rests on a workbench in the background.

If you’re in the region and enjoy puzzle-driven games in a unique environment, we strongly recommend driving through The Great Escape NJ. The Garagewould be approachable and fun regardless of experience level.

Additionally, The Garage is for sale along with its lease (and, I believe, space for another game). Feel free to contact The Great Escape NJ for details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Fans of 13th Hour escape games

Why play?

  • Great puzzles & flow
  • An elegant set with an unusual theme
  • Attached to a BBQ restaurant

Story

We had 60 minutes to reopen the old Hot Rods Garage.

In-game: the heavily weathered garage door with a digital keypad beside it.

Setting

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage looked as the name advertised. The entire room was built around tools and cars. The puzzles, props, and interactions were rooted within the theme.

Created as a side project by 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was imbued with their aesthetic and level of detail… without the creepiness of their other rooms.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, and a work bench and large set of cabinets sit in the background.

Gameplay

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of an unusual weathered electronic component.

Analysis

➕ The garage setting was an unusual and welcome theme. The Great Escape NJ’s execution was solid. It felt right.

➕ We had an objective. We didn’t miss the presence of a deliberate story.

➕ The Great Escape NJ made excellent use of automotive props in general, incorporating them into clever, layered puzzles.

➕ The hint system was triggered by beeping the horn on a steering wheel. It was a great detail.

In-game: closeup of a steering wheel.
“Beep” for a clue. We forgot to do it.

➕ The Garage contained a searching puzzle that was legitimately fun. We took turns doing it. When we had reached a point where we could have brute-forced the last digit, we elected not to. We wanted to complete the puzzle naturally.

➕ The Great Escape NJ turned 1-person interactions into full-full team moments.

In-game: Closeup of a large electrical safety switch locked up a directional lock.

➖ While The Garage made good use of traditional locks, we had access to a few too many 4-digit locks at once, creating situations where we had to try solutions in too many places.

The Garage included non-traditional inputs, in addition to 4-digit locks. These added a lot to the puzzle solving.

The exterior entrance/ exit for The Garage. A weathered door and garage door surrounded by car parts.

➕ The Garage gave feedback whenever we solved a puzzle. We always knew whether we were on the right track, or needed to u-turn.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with The Great Escape NJ’s Garage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Escape NJ comped our tickets for this game.

Last Minute Escape – Jewel Heist [Review]

Wait… wait… wait… Go! Wait… wait… wait… Go! Wait…

Location:  Morristown, NJ

Date Played: October 29, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.50 per player on weekends, $100 for teams of up to 4 (plus $20.50 for each additional person) on weekdays

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

In Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist, the heist was far from the focus of the experience. The escape room was staged around travel to and from the heist location.

This staging added a new dynamic to the escape room: a layer of timing and communication challenge that substantially increased the difficulty of this puzzle-focused game. Unfortunately, it also added down time, disbelief, and a nagging feeling of missing out. Although Last Minute Escape introduced a fantastic concept, the execution could use a little more refinement. A tough, creative challenge is good, but not at the expense of fun and flow.

If you’re in northern New Jersey, play escape rooms for the puzzles, and are interested in another layer of challenge, we recommend Jewel Heist.

In-game: The Last Minute Express train.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking challenge from different types of game mechanics
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Inventive game mechanic
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

As jewel thieves blackmailed into one last job, we had traveled to Antwerp, Belgium to steal a world-renowned diamond from its appraiser. We needed to get to the jewelry store, break in, steal the diamond, and make our exit.

In-game: a jewlery case featuring a large diamond labeled, "Family Diamond - Not for sale -'

Setting

We began our heist in a train station. It had a platform, lockers, a ticket machine, and a phone booth. From there, we traveled by train to a simple, small-town jewelry shop with bright lighting, a security system, and jewels in a glass case.

The set design was uneven. Portions of the space – like the train – looked compelling; other sections required more… imagination. 

In-game: a ticket booth with a mannequin wearing a conductor's uniform.

Gameplay

Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

The high level of difficulty came from navigating the game’s train travel mechanic, which time-gated travel between the two main areas of the game. Moving from one end of the game to the other required waiting for a few minutes. This profoundly changed the gameplay experience. 

In-game: A beautiful old telephone booth.

Analysis

➕ Last Minute Escape introduced a novel timing and communication challenge in Jewel Heist. We commend the concept, which forced split-team gameplay and added new a dynamic to a timed puzzle game. This was a clever concept.

➖ In practice, this game mechanic created a ton of downtime in an hour-long timed-game. We spent far too much time waiting to play.

➕ Jewel Heist started us well before we were in position to steal the gem. This staging added intrigue, adventure, and some brilliant and unexpected moments. We especially enjoyed the train-station-inspired interactions.

➖ Last Minute Escape didn’t build any onramp to Jewel Heist. It presented a challenging puzzle series in the opening moments. It was a good puzzle, but a harsh opener. We expect that this puzzle flow will add frustration for many teams before they even get to the main event.

➕ We enjoyed the heist-inspired moments of breaking in and the interactions necessary to facilitate this.

➖While it had its moments, for the majority of the hour, Jewel Heist didn’t feel like a heist. It felt like an escape room. Last Minute Escape went out of their way to set up a scenario that included getting to the heist, but as the game played out, it became impossible to suspend our disbelief… which isn’t terrible… but this Last Minute Escape was clearly striving for more. 

Jewel Heist was studded with clever puzzles that incorporated interactive props and sucked up our attention, in a good way.

➖ The execution was messy and at times misleading. Imprecise execution created unnecessary frustration for otherwise fun and inventive concepts.

➖ Throughout Jewel Heist, I always felt like I was missing out. I was waiting while my teammates experienced something fun without me. Sometimes this was true, and sometimes it wasn’t, but regardless, the feeling nagged at me for the entire hour.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend The Morristown Diner for a bite to eat, even late on weeknights.

Book your hour with Last Minute Escape’s Jewel Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Last Minute Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Grand Parlor [Review]

Earn the urn. 

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 28, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The “grand” in Grand Parlor was not an overstatement. 

13th Hour Escape Rooms delivered a creepy interactive adventure, for a larger team, on a large scale. 

The Grand Parlor felt epic and delightful. 

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

While not every puzzle made sense in the experience, or was on the same level, the vast majority of the gameplay elevated the impressive gamespace… and the majority of our critique is about details that wouldn’t even get mentioned in our reviews of more average games. 

The big brother of the Hayden family with murder in his eyes.

We visited 13th Hour in October to experience the effect of actors on The Grand Parlor. We loved this augmentation, but your mileage will vary depending on your gameplay preferences (see below for a full explanation of the actors and how to get or avoid them).

If you are anywhere near northwestern New Jersey, and can enjoy an eerie and sinister vibe, we highly recommend an excursion to 13th Hour Escape Rooms. We’ve loved many of their escape rooms and The Grand Parlor was no exception. It rivaled The Great Room.

The big brother of the Hayden family choking David.
(Atypical customer service, David had this coming.)

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the creepy
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Expansive and immersive set
  • Large-scale interactive puzzles
  • Epic and joyous moments

Story

The ashes of Bishop, a notorious killer and beloved member of the Hayden family, had gone missing. If we could help the Haydens find Bishop’s urn, then they would let us leave their parlor unharmed.

In-game: View over the balcony to a wooden box with a faint red glow emanating from it.

Setting

The Grand Parlor was set in the most spacious area of the creepy Hayden family farmhouse. From the dark and foreboding entryway, it opened up into a massive space with height, depth, and hiding places. The props ranged from parlor staples to farmhouse essentials.

In-game: A view atop the balcony, the railing is casting an intricate shadow.

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

While the puzzles were not especially difficult on their own, the large gamespace and large-team dynamic raised the level of difficulty of the overall experience.

The older sister of the Hayden family with blood spattered across her face and dress.

Actors in October

13th Hour runs a haunted house in additional to their 5 escape rooms. On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentines Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The 6 actors roam the 5 escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters.

The father of the Hayden family looking creepy in a torn up suit.

The set, story, puzzles, and gameplay do not change for October. The escape rooms are open year round.

We visited The Grand Parlor during October to experience the actors in the escape room. Our other reviews of other 13th Hour games do not include this discussion because we did not visit those games when the actors were in rotation.

The younger brother of the Hayden family with a large eye wound.

➕ The actors were impressive. They added character to the experience. They surprised us at well-timed moments. They were a ton of fun. If you’re looking for feels and immersion over focused puzzles, I highly recommend playing these escape rooms with the actors.

➖ At times, the actors were heavy-handed. They were the hint system as well as added character for the space. If you want focused puzzle-play, don’t visit in October. You’ll be frustrated by the interruptions. You’ll also have less control over the hinting.

A visit to 13th Hour in October is an individual decision. The actors don’t make the escape rooms better or worse. They make them different. We loved the creepy, playful horde roaming Hayden’s farm. They improvise and have fun with you. It’s also perfectly reasonable to have zero interest in that added layer. 

Animation of the younger sister of the Hayden watching TV while holding her dolls. She occasionally lunges forward and sticks her tongue out.

Analysis

➕ The set was impressive. It was detailed and designed. The vertical scale and the decor were captivating. It was an incredible environment to explore and puzzle through.

➕ The gamespace opened up over the course of play with exciting, grand reveals as well as more surprising, quiet opens.

➖ It was easy to miss the best moments if they triggered while we were elsewhere in the gamespace, working on something different. The Grand Parlor would have benefited from gameflow that guided all players into position to witness the most exciting moments.

The Grand Parlor was creepy, playful, and joyous. Note for the timid: it was creepy, but not scary.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms produced layered, but approachable puzzles. We had to connect elements across the large gamespace, which forced communication and teamwork. This structure worked really well.

➖ The gamespace echoed a lot. With a large team of players – and the actors as well – the space was full of commotion. Communication became frustrating.

The 13th Hour Hallway
The entire facility is themed. This is their main hallway.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ entire facility is themed. Their lobby and hallways look more aesthetically impressive than most escape rooms. 

➕ For one simple puzzle, 13th Hour designed an original take on a common escape room trope. It was phenomenal.

➖ We spent a lot of time trying to solve one puzzle before we had all the information. We would have appreciated additional gating here, especially because the eventual solution didn’t feel like adequate payoff for the wasted time.

➖ A few interactions seemed to belong in a different game. One in particular didn’t make sense – conceptually or aesthetically – in the Hayden family’s parlor.

➕ One standard parlor prop surprised us with an impromptu, silly, and playful interlude. It was delightful. 

➕ The large-scale interactions supported the grandeur of the set. These contributed to nifty and satisfying puzzle solves that felt great in the gamespace.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • We recommend Hot Rods BBQ.
  • Most of the team needs to be able to climb stairs. While it is possible for a player or two to play The Grand Parlor without climbing any stairs, if you play this way, you’ll miss significant components of the game.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

A special thanks to the Hayden Family for allowing David to photograph them and live.

The Best Horror Escape Rooms to Visit near New York City this Halloween Season

The metro New York City area offers a lot of great escape rooms. If you’re looking for a fright this Halloween season, check out these scary escape rooms.

A man in a hoodie with an scary LED mask.

True Horror

In Manhattan, there is one truly terrifying escape room:

Cursed, Komnata Quest – This journey through an abandoned house haunted by the ghost of a little girl delivered tension, story, and puzzles. The practical effects made it both challenging and exciting.

In-game: A blood-soaked bathroom.

Badass Moment

Take the 7 train to Long Island City for this creepy thriller:

Sanatorium, I Survived the Room – In this game with actors, we were at the mercy of the doctor in this dark, gritty, and creepy asylum setting. If you can puzzle through a nerve-wracking set, intense actors, and a deliberately gross environment, you might just get your hero moment.

A woman inspecting a cabinet of drawers with candles atop it.
Image via I Survived The Room

Actors in October

During October, 13th Hour Escape Rooms lets actors roam through their escape rooms, all of which take place on the premises of the creepy Hayden farmhouse. 13th Hour Escape Rooms is located in Wharton, NJ, about a 45-minute drive from Manhattan.

The Cookhouse, 13th Hour Escape –  The murderous Hayden family cannibalizes their victims and we were about to be their next meal. This grotesque kitchen made us want to both shy away and interact.

The Dungeon, 13th Hour Escape – We started in individual cells and solved our way into a two-story macabre prison/ shrine to infamous American serial killers.

In-game: a stairwell going up in a dark dungeon.

The Great Room, 13th Hour Escape – Locked in the majestic and creepy Great Room of the Hayden farmhouse, we needed to solve a series of challenging puzzles to survive.

In-game: a collection of skulls.

Jersey Shore

Drive 1 hour south to Red Bank, NJ for this frightening escape room:

Bogeyman, Trap Door – In this hide-and-seek-and-puzzle game, the Bogeyman lurked behind any twist in the maze of rooms. Our investigation into a paranormal-influenced disappearance of children turned into a game of challenge and intrigue in the menacing world of the Bogeyman.

Escape room camera image of a team puzzling and a guy cowering and sitting against a door, blocking it.
Game camera image provided by Trap Door.

Happy Halloween 🎃

13th Hour Escape Rooms – John Hayden’s Room [Review]

I’m never going to remember the name of this room.

Location: Wharton, NJ

Date Played: July 16, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

John Hayden’s Room was 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ first foray into the puzzle entertainment genre. As far as initial outgoings go, this was an impressive opener.

This was a solid old-school escape room with an above average set. Knowing that this was their first made John Hayden’s Room that much more impressive.

If you’re in the area and looking for a traditional puzzle-driven escape room in a creepy (not scary) setting, this will be great. If you’re looking for something more immersive or unusual, try The Great Room or The Dungeon.

In-game: a heavily weathered wall and door.

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?

  • Old-school, puzzle-driven escape room gameplay done well.
  • A detailed set.
  • 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ lobby and overall vibe.

Story

Hayden Farm House had been home to many a gruesome murder. Anyone who had ever found themselves within the home left in pieces. Could we escape with our lives?

In-game: an old rundown and weathered living room with a fireplace and CRT television.

Setting

John Hayden’s Room was the first of 13th Hour’s escape rooms. Aside from being a little smaller with fewer dramatic set pieces, it would be hard to tell from the aesthetics. The environment may have been an office-like setup, but the level of detail was far higher than we’ve come to expect from rookie outings.

John Hayden’s Room was essentially the office and work space of a serial killer. It was strangely banal with the intensity coming from the work that Hayden did in this space. All of this gave it a good dose of character.

In-game: half of a creepy portrait of a woman beside a shelf with jars labeled

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ John Hayden’s Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ The decor was outstanding. It was weathered such that it felt lived in and ominous.

+ This was a puzzle-driven escape room. It had a lot of content and invited parallel (non-linear) puzzling.

– One basic puzzle swapped out the most reasonable solution for another, but it was unclued. We thought this was a mistake, but it was intentional.

– John Hayden’s Room had a lot of locks with identical digit structures. Each time we derived a solution, we’d need to try it in many different locks before anything opened. Varying input digit structure or adding iconography to the locks would improve game flow.

– The triggered opens didn’t provide enough feedback. We were constantly looking around for what we’d triggered. Sound or light cues could improve these moments.

+ As the game progressed, we found the wallpaper especially attractive.

John Hayden’s Room was 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ first foray into escape room design. While it played like it was a few years old, when compared with most older escape rooms, it far surpassed them in aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, it was well maintained. Although we preferred 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ newer designs, we were impressed with this company’s origins and we still had a ton of fun escaping the original nemesis of the Hayden farm.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ John Hayden’s Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Dungeon [Review]

The stairway to hell.

Location: Wharton, NJ

Date Played: July 16, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Dungeons might be a classic theme but 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Dungeon was anything but ordinary.

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ split-team beginning was unusually balanced. The two-story set was spatially interesting and repeatedly incorporated into puzzle craft. While not every puzzle wowed us, there was a lot of intrigue in the design choices in The Dungeon.

Note that The Dungeon was creepy, but not scary.

If you’re anywhere nearby, The Dungeon is worth checking out.

In-game: a stairwell going up in a dark dungeon.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Serial killer aficionados
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An exciting split-up opening sequence.
  • Two floors of gameplay.
  • A grimly beautiful set.
  • Some well-earned puzzle solves.
  • 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ lobby and overall vibe.

Story

Blindfolded, led into individual cells, and then restrained, we had no idea what we were getting into, but we needed to come together and escape before the Hayden family had their fun with us.

In-game: a fingerprint scanner secured with a padlock.

Setting

Blindfolded and restrained in individual cells, we began in dark, confined, and isolated spaces. Once freed, we were released into a wide-open, two-story macabre prison/ shrine to infamous American serial killers.

In typical 13th Hour Escape Rooms fashion, the entire set was heavily weathered in the creepy murder farm motif that all of their escape rooms, hallway, and lobby follow. It looked great.

In-game: a closeup of a cell door with a rusty grate.

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Dungeon was a standard escape room with an individualized split beginning and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ The split beginning played really well.

– The Dungeon involved substantial searching in low light. While the darkness enhanced the ambiance, we would have preferred stronger flashlights.

The Dungeon was spatially fascinating. 13th Hour Escape Rooms crafted a two-floor experience that delivered memorable spatial aha moments.

+ Many of our favorite moments in The Dungeon made use of its depth.

– One layered puzzle felt a bit boring and burdensome. There was a good puzzle in there, but it felt incomplete.

+ From the split-up beginning, to the multi-level design, The Dungeon fostered teamwork.

+/- 13th Hour Escape Rooms uses the same gimmick to conclude all their games. If you play The Dungeon first, you’ll get a kick out of this entertaining conclusion. That said, The Dungeon begged for a more dramatic ending to punctuate such a dynamic escape room.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • We recommend Hot Rods BBQ.
  • Every player must be comfortable in their own space for a short portion of the experience.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Dungeon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Escapology – Under Pressure [Review]

“Pressure pushing down on me. Pressing down on you.”

Location: Garwood, NJ

Date Played: July 10, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Under Pressure was a good-looking step up from our experience with early games from Escapology in Orlando. It had an appealing set with some charming details and a variety of puzzles. Under Pressure applied pressure, but not for quite the right reasons. A few sloppy puzzles in early and late segments made this escape room much harder and more frustrating than it should have been.

Given how widely Escapology is proliferating, we’re happy to see them on an upward trajectory and hope they continue to iterate in game design.

If you’re in the neighborhood and looking for more of a challenge, dive in.

In-game: a shiny filtered image of the interior of the bunk. Metal walls and pipes.
Image via Escapology

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Puzzley gameplay.
  • A strong set.
  • A lovely lobby.

Story

It was 1944 and we were aboard the Steel Shark, the pride of the US Navy. Our mission to surveil the German battle cruiser Scheer came to an abrupt halt when our engines suddenly failed. With pressure increasing, we had an hour to restore the systems before reaching crush depth.

In-game: a shiny filtered image of of the bunk and nautical flags.
Image via Escapology

Setting

Under Pressure represented a significant aesthetic step up from the early games that we had played at Escapology. We began in a well-detailed bunk and puzzled through to the engine room.

While Escapology built finer sets for Under Pressure and these were fairly consistent, quality still dropped off with each subsequent room that we found. Space became more cramped and props looked a little more homemade. This was less pronounced than in the earlier games we had played with Escapology in Orlando, but it was still noticeable.

In-game: a shiny filtered image of a birthday card with a pinup girl attached to a locked locker.

Gameplay

Escapology’s Under Pressure was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and making some spurious connections.

Analysis

+ We enjoyed a few extra aesthetic touches in the opening set. This included a themed count-down timer as an oxygen gauge.

+ Escapology added effects that enhanced the drama of the experience.

– Under Pressure included a deliberate red herring, meant as a laugh, but no cluing as to how to ascertain the intended approach to the puzzle. It was immensely frustrating.

– Because we encountered this entirely unclued puzzle so early in the experience, everything became suspect. We no longer trusted Under Pressure to supply us with breadcrumbs, leading us to try any and all possible solutions, even if they made no sense, which was a frustrating play style.

+ There was a few larger props that looked and felt great and made sense contextually. We enjoyed how these fit into the puzzling.

Under Pressure offered a few interesting, layered puzzles. These were challenging, satisfying solves.

– One elaborate solve gave us more information than we needed. We were expected to simply use half of it with no explanation of why. We had the right solution, but had no idea it was correct until our gamemaster intervened.

– The final puzzle was infuriatingly incomplete and we burned two hints to bridge the logic leaps necessary to complete the game.

Under Pressure had some brutally frustrating flaws, but they could be easily fixed. We hope the folks from Escapology continue to iterate on this escape room, because from the set details to many of the puzzles, it was a lot of fun.

The Escapology steampunk lobby filled with leather couches and ample seating.
Image via Escapology

+ Escapology has a beautiful and spacious lounge. It’s a comfortable space to hang out for groups of any size. For larger events, the facility is equipped with a party room.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escapology’s Under Pressure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapology comped our tickets for this game.

Adventure Rooms New Jersey – The Hidden Cabin [Review]

Fish’in for Fabergé.

Location: Montclair, NJ

Date Played: June 4, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

A fishing and art collecting themed mashup, The Hidden Cabin was an old-school search-and-puzzle escape room set against an unusual backdrop. Adventure Rooms made some big strides towards the current market expectations, but things didn’t come together quite smoothly enough (but a lot of it is fixable). While we wished the puzzles had been more deliberately integrated into the physical environment, we really did enjoy many of the puzzle solves.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you can catch some fun puzzles here. If you’re not excited about puzzle-focused gameplay, there are other fish in the sea.

In-game: A small desk in a fishing cabin.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Fishermen (This isn’t really a joke.)
  • Art collectors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strange theme
  • The more interactive puzzles

Story

We were looking for a stolen Fabergé egg in our uncle’s fishing cabin.

A collection of pots hanging from a cabinet in the a rustic cabin.

Setting

This dimly-lit, wood-furnished cabin contained assorted fishing paraphernalia. The set was busy, with a number of wall hangings, and shelves holding various odd and ends. It was fairly convincing in a fishing cabin-meets-Bennigan’s sort of way.

In-game: A cabinet ore, and taxidermied fish hanging on the wall of a fishing cabin.

Gameplay

Adventure Rooms New Jersey’s The Hidden Cabin was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: the LL Bean Fly Fishing Handbook.

Analysis

+ It had been almost 3 years since we’d last visited Adventure Rooms New Jersey. We were delighted to find more attention to set design in The Hidden Cabin, as compared to their original escape rooms.

– The lighting was unnecessarily dim. While we did find small handheld flashlights, we found the lighting more burdensome than atmospheric.

– The theming was strangely dichotomous. The story setup was all about art, but The Hidden Cabin was all about fishing… until it was entirely about art. The puzzles were set against this disconnected backdrop rather than integrated into a cohesive story.

+ Aesthetically, The Hidden Cabin was a massive step up for Adventure Rooms.

– There were a lot of locks with identical digit structures. Each time we solved a puzzle, we’d need to try it in many different locks before anything opened. Varying input digit structure or adding iconography to the locks would improve game flow.

– There was a prop screaming for a puzzle… that puzzle never materialized.

– There was one entirely unclued puzzle.

– Most of the puzzles could haven taken place anywhere, including on sheets of paper. In fact, some of the more time-consuming solves were entirely focused on sheets of paper. The puzzle design didn’t capitalize on the physical environment. All but one of the puzzles in this game could have existed completely in a puzzle book.

– One of the process puzzles looped four times. This was tedious.

? Thematic outside knowledge could help you out… It wasn’t required, but it sure would have made a key puzzle flow more smoothly.

The Hidden Cabin was a puzzle-focused escape room. Despite the small space, there was a lot of content to work through.

? There’s a solid escape room here. These critiques are quite fixable. We hope Adventure Rooms continues to iterate and improve.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Ani Ramen and Cuban Pete’s, but be prepared for long waits.
  • Much of this escape room takes place in low lighting with flashlights.

Book your hour with Adventure Rooms New Jersey’s The Hidden Cabin, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Adventure Rooms New Jersey provided media discounted tickets for this game.