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]

The Grand Parlor is one of the best escape rooms in Northern New Jersey. Here are our recommendations for other great escape rooms around Northern New Jersey.

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 Dungeon is one of the best escape rooms in Northern New Jersey. Here are our recommendations for other great escape rooms around Northern New Jersey.

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.