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.

 

Escape Room NJ – Awaken [Review]

Puzzception!

Location: Pompton Lakes, NJ

Date Played: April 30, 2018

Team size: 1-18; we recommend 4-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket for public bookings, scaled rates based on team size for private bookings

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Awaken grabbed our attention with a captivating grayscale set and a large quantity of interesting puzzles. It was hard to connect with the narrative, however, and the concluding sequence didn’t quite stick the landing. With just a bit more tweaking to the later half, Escape Room NJ could transform this strong escape room into something truly brilliant.

If you’re anywhere near Pompton Lakes, NJ, this one is worth checking out.

In-game: The front of a greyscale home with a clothes line running towards it.

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?

  • Creative gray scale set
  • Strong puzzle game
  • A lot of content

Story

In the year 2059, professor Paul Carpentier, the creator of a psychic surgical technique, required his own treatment. As his students, we were given the responsibility of saving his life by administering that treatment: diving into his dream state to find and preserve his pillar memories.

Our mentor’s life was in our hands.

In-game: The front of a greyscale home with a telescope on the porch and a light on in the window.

Setting

The entirety of Awaken existed in the dreams and memories of our mentor. In keeping with the fiction, Awaken was presented entirely in grayscale. The few colored items corresponded to the pillar memories needed to restore Carpentier’s mind.

The setting itself carried us through key memories, all centered on his home. The exterior looked especially phenomenal.

In-game: A glowing street lamp with an apple hanging in front of it by a fishing line.

Gameplay

Escape Room NJ’s Awaken was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ I loved the grayscale aesthetic of the set. It effectively communicated that we were in a dream.

– The story didn’t come through very strongly. We knew that we were mucking about in a man’s memories, but we never became emotionally invested in him as a human being.

+/- The additional concept of colored items representing pillar memories was brilliant. However, the colored items lacked vibrancy, diminishing the effect of this smart design choice.

Awaken had a good mix of lock- and technology-based gameplay that allowed for the unexpected to occur.

– A critical interaction was entirely too worn. In being gentle with it, we failed to use it properly.

+ There were a lot of puzzles to chew on and they were generally quality challenges. There was a lot of content; we were always puzzling.

– 18 people in this game? lol

+ There came a point where we accidentally broke the sequence of puzzles by solving a puzzle with partial information and concluding that this was part of the puzzle’s design. Our gamemaster was brilliantly attentive and intervened to prevent confusion.

– Much of the content in this escape room could be intentionally or accidentally bypassed.

+ The endgame had some nifty things going on.

– The final puzzle involved guesswork. It was missing a metapuzzle to pull the experience together.

+ The home’s exterior was a wonderful place to start the game and puzzle. There were moments that I found myself returning to it simply because I found it an enjoyable place.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot behind Escape Room NJ.
  • We recommend Thatcher McGhees for a convenient post-game meal.

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

Disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Empire Rooms – Ravenwood Grove [Review]

A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Geek References.

Location: Fairfield, NJ

Date Played: April 9, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Ravenwood Grove justified this heist escape room. It was fun, puzzle-focused game in a pretty standard setting. It was even more fun for those of us who caught all the nerdy references.

If you’re in the area, check this one out, and don’t get too distracted by the Easter eggs.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Pop culture nerds
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Geeky references
  • Strong puzzle game
  • Solidly written and justified narrative that didn’t get in the way

Story

Our team of thieves had been planning this heist for months. Our tech guy would disable the security system and we would sneak in and steal a rare piece of art from a collector. The plan was perfect. What could go wrong?

In-game: A study covered in art.

Setting

We were in a home gallery setting. Our mark was a collector of rare and nerdy artifacts. The set had an office/ gallery vibe that wasn’t inherently exciting. The fun of the set came from all of the hidden and not-so-hidden nerdery laced throughout the environment. There were many entertaining details to appreciate.

In-game: a small book case with symbols on the books.

Gameplay

Empire Rooms’ Ravenwood Grove was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ Empire Rooms did a great job of setting up the story, justifying our presence in the game, and establishing the role of the gamemaster. It’s details like this that cost an escape room company absolutely nothing, but go a long way towards building a strong fiction.

+ There was a ton of content in Ravenwood Grove, in terms of puzzles as well as nerdy references and Easter eggs.

+ The Easter eggs were great. We probably spent 5 minutes pointing them out and explaining them to one another.

– There were a few too many locks with similar digit structures.

– One of the niftiest props in the game did nothing at all. It was the kind of prop that just screams, “PLAY WITH ME!” We wished it had been incorporated into a puzzle.

+/- There was a narrative twist that was simultaneously cool and kind of a let down.

+ Ravenwood Grove flowed well. It mixed old school play with strong, tech-driven moments.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Empire Rooms’ Ravenwood Grove, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Empire Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Garden State – Boardwalk Blast [Review]

Skee ball’s revenge.

Location: Fairfield, NJ

Date Played: March 5, 2018

Team size: 1-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

REA Reaction

Escape Garden State combined the childlike joy of playing in an arcade with escape room gameplay. While Boardwalk Blast had some pacing issues and the story didn’t matter, it caused us to emote in a way that most rooms don’t. We screamed a lot, in a good way.

In-game: The exterior of a boardwalk arcade.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Shore goers
  • Nostalgia nuts
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s joyful.
  • Light physicality
  • To scream like a kid

Story

A bomb threat had been called into an ocean-side boardwalk arcade and our team had been sent into investigate and neutralize the threat.

While the setup may have been a bit dire, this was a delightfully friendly escape room.

In-game: A Cruis' n USA arcade cabinet.

Setting

Boardwalk Blast set us on a bright, family-friendly adventure in a Jersey Shore boardwalk arcade. It was complete with arcade cabinets and vending machines to round out the vibe.

Gameplay

Boardwalk Blast balanced traditional escape room searching and puzzling with more physical interactions, some of which were as challenging as they were time consuming… but they all had us screaming like kids when we managed to succeed.

In-game: Large metal signs for an arcade mounted to a wall.

Standouts

Boardwalk Blast was well-themed, lighthearted, and nostalgic. It was also tangible. These qualities combined to make it a ton of fun to play through.

Family-friendly Boardwalk Blast offered lots of opportunities for kids to be involved in the puzzles and interactions. Many escape rooms are fine for kids, this one was perfect for them.

Escape Garden State merged a familiar arcade game with a popular escape room trope in such a way that it felt new and fun.

Our reactions to the boardwalk games were genuine. We screamed – at triumphs and near misses – just as we did as kids playing arcade games. Our excitement was real. Even when we were frustrated with some of the challenges, there was an element of nostalgic arcade fun to them.

Shortcomings

Boardwalk Blast included a few time sinks. We knew how to accomplish these solves, but it took us a while to manage it. Boardwalk Blast bottlenecked around these puzzles because there wasn’t enough additional gameplay open to us. We would have liked for some teammates to be able to turn their attention elsewhere so that we could feel like we were still making forward progress in the escape room, even while we struggled to accomplish these tasks.

In such a themed environment, a few items didn’t seem to fit.

Boardwalk Blast was an arcade-themed escape room with an evacuation mission tacked on. Escape Garden State could do more with the evacuation staging throughout the experience so that it didn’t feel like an afterthought.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring kids to this one. It’s perfect for the late elementary school crowd.
  • To find Escape Garden State, go toward the back of the plaza. It’s in building 7, all the way at the end. Be sure to check the building numbers.
  • There is ample parking.
  • There are plenty of restaurants in the area.

Book your hour with Escape Garden State’s Boardwalk Blast, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you by using the coupon code ESCAPEROOMARTIST to receive 20% off.

Disclosure: Escape Garden State comped our tickets for this game.

 

Locks and Puzzles – Western Bank Heist [Review]

Tick, tick, boom.

Location: Lakewood, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

REA Reaction

Western Bank Heist was a ton of fun. It was inclusive, but not overly simple. It was unrealistic, but it didn’t try to be more than a game. We road off into the sunset smiling… having played our 500th escape room.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Western fans
  • Any experience level
  • Families
  • Players who can cooperate

Why play?

  • The adorable props
  • Solid puzzles
  • Team experience

Story

Our band of bandits arrived in a small frontier town in search of food, water and supplies. We also found the town quiet and the bank full. It was heist time.

In-game: sign for an old western back beside the skull of a steer.

Setting

We entered a collage of an old western town. The walls were painted with murals, each one representing something different. Tangible props lined those walls.

There were more tangible interactions in Western Bank Heist than in Malus the Elf, but at the same time, the focus on the murals made the set more abstract.

In-game: ACME Dynamite

Gameplay

Western Bank Heist had a unique style of play where most of the puzzles came together at once, even when we were doing lots of different things.

Western Bank Heist most readily rewarded observation.

Standouts

Western Bank Heist was adorably thematic. It didn’t try to be realistic. The set and props were playful and fun.

Western Bank Heist could engage less puzzle-minded players. It was easy to get involved.

One larger, layered puzzle required different types of observation. This too helped engage different types of players in a collective solve.

Locks and Puzzles incorporated technological puzzle elements well. These were interactive and gave feedback.

Shortcomings

It was frustrating to get started. Locks and Puzzles abundantly clued the opening interaction, but the layout of the set – more thematic than realistic – buried the opening thread of the gameplay.

The scale and details of a crucial prop were a bit off. We struggled with a puzzle simply because we didn’t realize what the prop was supposed to be.

Western Bank Heist teeters on the edge of outside knowledge. While it would be possible to solve this escape room without these specific skills, it would certainly be much more challenging.

Tips for Visiting

  • Locks and Puzzles has ample parking available out front.
  • There are plenty of food options nearby.

Book your hour with Locks and Puzzles’ Western Bank Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locks and Puzzles provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Locks and Puzzles – Malus the Elf [Review]

“Malus the Elf, what’s your favorite color?”

Location: Lakewood, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

REA Reaction

One month late, we happily embraced the spirit of Locks and Puzzles’ charming Christmas escape room. Malus the Elf was a challenging puzzle-driven escape room. It could have benefitted from a little more drama, but it offered excellent puzzle value.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Christmas aficionados
  • Players with a least some experience

Why play?

  • The Christmas spirit
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

When Santa rejected Malus the Elf’s request to become a toymaker, the mischievous elf became determined to prove the big guy wrong. Malus created a series of puzzles and toys to show Santa what he could do, but in order to secure Santa’s attention, he also stole something that Santa would need to do his job.

Could we puzzle through Malus’ game and help Santa save Christmas?

In-game: a drafting table with toy designs, mounted to the wall above are toy tools.

Setting

Malus the Elf was a puzzle-focused game set in a small room within Santa’s workshop. The set felt like a festive dungeon with most of the scenery either painted or hung on the walls.

While it wasn’t an awe-inspiring room, it was a well-themed, cleanly executed setting with some playful details.

In-game: a wrapped christmas present labeled "To Santa"

Gameplay

Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles. Malus really liked puzzles. This was a challenging game that required a fair amount of deduction to piece the right components together, and then a bit more to work through to the correct conclusion.

There were no gimme puzzles in Malus the Elf.

In-game: multiple strands of christmas lights.

Standouts

Malus the Elf was a charming Christmas-themed adventure. Locks and Puzzles used simple props to create a cozy, winter-dungeonland theme.

Malus the Elf offered serious puzzles. These were balanced with other less complex puzzles, but none of them were cakewalks. The puzzling worked well.

We enjoyed the ending. It was on the nose, but it wasn’t as straightforward as it had originally appeared to be.

Locks and Puzzles have a great game for their price point, which makes it easy to recommend Malus the Elf to puzzle-minded players.

Shortcomings

Malus the Elf lacked a clear starting place. The most inviting props and set pieces weren’t in play yet and the initial puzzle was relatively complex. We recommend that Locks and Puzzles start players more gently so that teams are engaged before they stall.

One puzzle seemed a bit too ambiguous. It was layered – which was cool – but it wasn’t clued quite clearly enough.

Malus the Elf was emotionally level. It lacked a story arc as well as a surprising or climactic moment that could deliver an emotional rush to the puzzlers.

Tips for Visiting

  • Locks and Puzzles has ample parking available out front.
  • There are ample food options nearby.

Book your hour with Locks and Puzzles’ Malus the Elf, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locks and Puzzles provided media discounted tickets for this game.

East Coast Escape Room – Summerfield Place [Review]

What monsters wouldn’t let the family finish Thanksgiving dinner before abducting them?

Location: Toms River, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.50 per ticket

REA Reaction

Don’t be fooled by the mundane initial guise of Summerfield Place. This escape room escalated, adding intensity and intrigue. East Coast Escape Room designed the puzzles to be the star attraction, merging them smoothly with the story.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Puzzle flow
  • The late-game reveal
  • Escalation

Story

A family was mysteriously abducted from their home during Thanksgiving dinner. It was up to us to determine who took them and save their lives.

Summerfield Place entryway, a red brick house with a black door numbered 13.

Setting

Summerfield Place let us loose in the home of a family who had recently gone missing. The initial setting was recognizably Thanksgiving day family room and dining room.

In-game: a set dining table with fruit and a turkey in the middle.

The set was well-executed and felt natural, even if it was a touch mundane.

Once we solved the initial mystery, however, East Coast Escape Room dialed up the intensity and the set design along with it.

Gameplay

Summerfield Place played like your standard search-and-puzzle escape room, with a heavy emphasis on puzzling. The escape room also conveyed a full narrative.

In-game: a grim, glowing lab environment with menacing strands of unusual life running along the walls.

Standouts

East Coast Escape Room delivered a light-hearted take on a classic investigative escape room. The mystery was never scary or horrific. The ambiance and puzzles provided an adorable and playful experience.

The puzzles flowed well.

East Coast Escape Room leaned into less-common puzzles types. They clued these unorthodox interactions well.

Summerfield Place offered us a choice.

Summerfield Place escalated. The set design added intensity without introducing fear or horror. The final act added excitement and intrigue, while staying true to the playful vibe.

There was a hilarious late-game Easter egg.

Shortcomings

While it was meant to feel like a home, Summerfield Place felt more like an escape room’s take on a living space. It was homey, but not convincing.

The initial set was mundane. It wasn’t particularly interesting to investigate, even if East Coast Escape Room ultimately paid off the game with an exciting ending.

One segment was a bit heavy on deciphering.

Tips for Visiting

  • East Coast Escape Room is in a plaza with a large parking lot.
  • There are plenty of food options in the area.
  • This is a tough game, and you want to do well in it because the true excitement comes later. Start with an easier game if you’re a newbie.

Book your hour with East Coast Escape Room’s Summerfield Place, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: East Coast Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.