Escape Room NJ – Awaken [Review]


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


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.


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.


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.


+ 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


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.


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.


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

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.


+ 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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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"


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Trap Door Escape Room – Bogeyman [Review]

Who ya gonna call?

Location: Red Bank, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

REA Reaction

Bogeyman was an exhilarating hide-and-seek-and-puzzle game. Trap Door transformed their space into a maze where a potential scare lurked at every turn. The challenge and intrigue came from the menacing world of the Bogeyman. This escape room is not for the faint of heart.  

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Horror fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who can solve puzzles while scared

Why play?

  • The thrill of the looming bogeyman
  • The story
  • The finale


After a number of children had been abducted under paranormal circumstances, we had been brought in to investigate the disappearances. Could we find the children before we became the Bogeyman’s next victims?

In-game: a paper sign tacked to a door that reads, "Alans room: no girls allowed that means you Lily."


The majority of Bogeyman was set in the bedrooms of the missing children. Each child’s bedroom revealed his/ her age, interests, personality, and circumstances, making them distinctive characters.

The Bogeyman’s presence was not implied; there was a live actor haunting our game. While he wasn’t out for blood, he was out for frights.

In-game: a string of child's art held up by clothespins, hanging over some kids toys.


Bogeyman was all about fear. While those of us who had played Zoe or had bravery kept our cool, some of our other teammates were paralyzed by fear.

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.

There weren’t a ton of puzzles, but each one tied directly to a child and their life. The limited amount of puzzles worked just fine because the Bogeyman and our panicked friends were pretty effective at disrupting our flow.

Trap Door splits larger teams in two, starting them in different parts of the gamespace. I imagine that this split would make Bogeyman easier in some ways and more intense in others.

In-game: A strange purple glowing passageway.


Bogeyman was scary. The lighting, actor, and gamespace kept us continually on edge, in a good way. The gamespace was never quite familiar or comfortable enough for us to let our guard down.

The actor was phenomenal. He kept track of our movements within the gamespace and delivered well-timed scares. He was menacing, but mysterious.

The dramatic ending delivered escalation and narrative closure.

The puzzle flow worked well with the structure of the space and the narrative. We enjoyed one interactive prop that fit the staging and added humor.


As much as we enjoyed this interactive prop, it was distracting. It was a bit too easy to take this down a rabbit hole… which we did.

When we checked for monsters, we’d frequently find wiring. Trap Door could hide their tech more cleanly.

Bogeyman included one tight transition space. While it worked well in the gamespace, it will make Bogeyman inaccessible for larger and less agile players.

There was not enough light in Bogeyman. During the pre-game briefing we were told that we “could bring our phones in for light.” That instruction really ought to be, that we “should bring our phones in for light.” We didn’t all carry them into the game and thus we didn’t have adequate lighting. This was frustrating.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is an actor in this escape room. Read our 6 Rules For Playing Room Escapes with Live Actors.
  • Some crawling is required to traverse Bogeyman.
  • Bring your phone in as a flashlight. You’ll need it.
  • There is a large public parking lot across the street from Trap Door.
  • Red Bank has many excellent restaurants, bars, and cafes.

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

Disclosure: Trap Door Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.


Escape Room Center – Tomb of the Red Queen [Review]

Not that Red Queen.

Location: Bridgewater, NJ

Date played: November 13, 2017

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $200 per team

Story & setting

We were archeologists studying an ancient Central American temple when the spirit of an ancient ruler imprisoned us for trespassing in his Queen’s tomb.

Escape Room Center houses a collection of escape rooms of varying themes and difficulty levels. They are adjacent to one another with walls reaching most of the way to the ceiling.

The larger set pieces in Tomb of the Red Queen gave it an ancient temple-y vibe. Beyond that, it was a room that housed an assortment of vaguely ancient civilization-themed puzzles.

In-game: A Central American tomb set with a temple in the middle.


Tomb of the Red Queen contained a collection sustained challenges that worked best with teamwork. The majority were stand-alone puzzles that would be solved independently of one another.

Tomb of the Red Queen also included a communication-focused segment.


The puzzles required enough investment to feel substantial, but not so much that they became monotonous, especially when we worked on them together. They were interesting – mostly incorporating the larger props – and different from one another.

Tomb of the Red Queen culminated in an exciting puzzle sequence, based around a intriguing set piece. It included some surprising effects and brought closure to the themed experience.


The opening sequence fell a bit flat. We found that astute observation could work around the intended challenging element. Additionally, our gamemaster’s introduction as we entered the room, while intended as a clue for this segment, proved quite misleading.

For the majority of the escape room, the puzzles were only vaguely related to the ancient temple theme. While we enjoyed the culminating puzzle, the earlier ones were simply puzzles and the theming only sort of came through.

A few props notwithstanding, the set design wasn’t amazing. The set was clearly not the focus of Tomb of the Red Queen.

Additionally, the walls were entirely too glossy. Had they been matte finished, they wouldn’t have attracted as much attention.

Should I play Escape Room Center’s Tomb of the Red Queen?

Tomb of the Red Queen was a fun and difficult game.

Escape Room Center has a large facility with a number of escape rooms. In general, they are a great choice for newer players, families, and corporate bookings.

Tomb of the Red Queen is the most challenging escape room they offer. It’s puzzle-dense with substantial puzzles. We recommend Tomb of the Red Queen for more experienced teams.

If you are a newer player, start with one of their other games, such as Blackbeard’s BrigSimilarly, if you are organizing an event where the attendees might be puzzle-curious rather than puzzle-loving, don’t dive in with this one.

Tomb of the Red Queen is an entertaining, interactive, and harder than most escape rooms. If you’re ready for the challenge, you should accept it.

Book your hour with Escape Room Center’s Tomb of the Red Queen, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Center provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Center – Blackbeard’s Brig [Review]

Battle the true enemy: scurvy

Location: Bridgewater, NJ

Date played: November 13, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $200 per team

Story & setting

We had been taken captive and brought aboard the dread pirate Blackbeard’s ship. It was time to escape.

Escape Room Center’s spacious location inside a strip mall has a corporate and family-friendly aesthetic. Their 6 escape rooms are adjacent to one another, with walls reaching 3/4 of the way to the ceiling. This was a structure that we’ve seen before and hated… However, Escape Room Center makes it work.

Escape Room Center's facility. with 3/4 cubical wall structure.

Blackbeard’s Brig was a pirate ship-inspired, simply constructed and sparsely decorated gamespace. It was light and airy. It represented a pirate ship, but never pretended to be one.


Blackbeard’s Brig included a selection of nautical- and pirate-themed puzzles. They ranged in complexity and tangibility. There was a lot of puzzle variety.

In-game: A skeleton beside a chest leaning against a wall.


Blackbeard’s Brig included a few satisfying layered puzzles. These complex interactions were a lot of fun to work through.

The set decor provided a little nudge toward one potentially more challenging solve. It was a subtle touch.

Later in the escape room, a few unexpected props facilitated more interactive puzzling.

Escape Room Center designed some funny puzzle solutions that nodded to our captivity aboard this brig.

The puzzles and props were all thematically connected to the pirate ship setting. Escape Room Center built a particular pirate ship aesthetic for this puzzle game and it worked.


One early puzzle seemed unnecessary. It was likely meant to be an on-ramp for uninitiated room escapers, but it was uninteresting and entirely grounded in “escape room logic” where an item had meaning that was neither logical nor earned.

The wear on one puzzle added unnecessary confusion for a brief while.

Blackbeard’s Brig was a pirate ship-themed puzzle room. We enjoyed the thematic puzzles, but we never suspended our disbelief. While this was Escape Room Center’s deliberate design decision, Blackbeard’s Brig was still escape room first and pirate ship second.

The walls were far too glossy. Had they been matte finished, they wouldn’t have glistened and seemed so out of place.

Should I play Escape Room Center’s Blackbeard’s Brig?

Escape Room Center is a bright, open, and inviting escape room facility. Blackbeard’s Brig had approachable puzzles and unintimidating surroundings. It belonged here.

Blackbeard’s Brig was primarily about the puzzles. These varied in challenge level, puzzle type, and interactiveness, which made this escape room more interesting than it originally appeared.

At Escape Room Center, we weren’t meant to believe we were on a pirate ship. We were meant to share a collection of seafaring solves and a few chuckles. That’s exactly what we did.

Blackbeard’s Brig would be a great choice for new escape room players, families, and corporate groups. This is a wonderful place to learn the basics of escape room puzzling.

This would also be a fun playthrough for more experienced players who prefer puzzles to set design. It won’t be too challenging, but it will probably surprise you. Escape Room Center certainly surprised us a few times.

Book your hour with Escape Room Center’s Blackbeard’s Brig, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Center provided media discounted tickets for this game.


Puzzle Out – Grand Theft Jersey City [Review]

You’ll never guess what that shoe cost.

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: September 25, 2017

Team size: 4-30; we recommend 4-16… Note that they have two copies of the game and larger teams can split and play head-to-head, 16 = 8 vs 8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

Grand Theft Jersey City took place in a bank vault, where we were trying to steal as much loot as possible… and more than our friends stole… and then escape with it all.

Each of the valuables had a barcode affixed to it. We “stole” them by scanning the barcodes. As we scanned each item, its dollar value was added to our running total.

The space looked more like a museum than a vault, with white walls, bright lights, and valuables in glass cases.

In game: A museum-esque vault behind a gave. There is the Mona Lisa, a dress, and many cases of rare artifacts.


Grand Theft Jersey City was loaded with puzzles. Most puzzles lead to a scannable valuable. Some puzzles were stand-alone and others were interconnected.

While the puzzles had physical components, they were generally more cerebral than tangible. They relied on logic, ciphering, math, and observation, among other skills.

There were additional bonus puzzles labeled with a green and gold star. These indicated high dollar value items that were not necessary for victory. The bonus puzzles were especially challenging.


The barcode concept worked really well. It enabled Puzzle Out to create a heist where we didn’t have to hang onto or keep track of a ton of large and heavy loot.

The barcode concept even factored into the puzzling. This was a brilliant puzzle design. It was challenging, rewarding, and fit right into the overall gameplay.

There were many fun and satisfying puzzles to solve within this escape room. Puzzle Out did simple, puzzle-driven gameplay really well. This has been Puzzle Out’s signature each time we’ve visited.

Grand Theft Jersey City kept our teams of 7 experienced players each fully engaged throughout the experience… and we were all playing for just under an hour.

As a head-to-head game, Grand Theft Jersey City was intense. We were scurrying around solving for and scanning loot as rapidly as possible. We could see our dollar value and the opposing team’s increasing on a screen. As the minutes ticked away at the end, and we could see that we were neck and neck, we debated whether to escape or try to add more money to our tally.

The soundproofing between the two games was excellent. We may have been next to one another, but we never heard the other team.


While Puzzle Out leaned into their strength, challenging puzzles, we would have loved to see more attention to the set. It never felt like we were in a vault.

Some of the puzzles – and especially one of the more complex layered puzzles – was suffering from wear and tear.

We relied heavily on the barcode scanning app. While it generally worked, a few small UI tweaks would greatly improve the experience… and make one particular puzzle a lot more fair.

The scanner app was also a little too slow to respond and sometimes failed to scan an item at all. Our gamemasters were on top of this and promptly added the correct dollar value to our score.

The excitement came from the head-to-head gameplay as the monetary values increased. We would have loved to see a more interactive head-to-head design where one team’s gameplay could impact the other’s. That would have further increased the drama.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City?

Grand Theft Jersey City was a game for puzzle lovers of any experience level.

You could easily book this for a few friends to play together without the competitive aspect and have a great time.

I’d recommend, however, that when you visit, you go all out. Bring two teams of evenly matched puzzlers and distribute the skill sets across the teams. Make sure you have at least one person per team who is willing to work a scanning device. Also, if you’re bringing large teams, someone will likely need to play “project manager” to keep the puzzling, loot, and gameplay organized.

While Grand Theft Jersey City was a heist in name, it was really a puzzle battle.

Book your hour with Puzzle Out’s Grand Theft Jersey City, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Out comped our tickets for this game.