One Before – Shpola Ziede Room [Review]

Puzzler on the Roof.

Location:  Brooklyn, NY

Date Played: March 31, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Shpola Ziede Room told a complex story of the immigrant experience. The story was Jewish, but the themes would resonate with Americans of many backgrounds. We believe that escape rooms are a storytelling medium and that by interacting and solving, players can connect more deeply with themes and stories. One Before was striving for a lofty goal.

In-game: A wooden menorah on a table in a cabin.

Unfortunately, in telling their story, One Before overlooked some critical aspects of game design: The puzzles lacked clue structure. The puzzles didn’t necessarily work as intended. Much of the tech was finicky.

Puzzle design and gameplay are fixable. Shpola Ziede Room offered something more than that. We hope One Before can continue to iterate on the gameplay and smooth out their immigrant experience escape room so that it enables players to take in the story through play and not be bogged down with frustrating solves.

One other thing that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention was how the handling of female characters felt uncomfortable, like something was lost in cultural translation.

If you’re looking for a Jewish escape room, or an immigrant experience escape room, or simply something unorthodox, and you can overlook the stumbles in gameplay, we encourage you to journey deep into Brooklyn to visit One Before.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A cultural experience
  • An unusual escape room theme and story

Story

We began our story at Ellis Island, piecing together the lineage of the Polonsky family and their journey from Europe to America. Then we were visited by the spirit of the legendary rabbi and mystic, the Shpola Ziede.

In-game: suitcases in Ellis Island.

Setting

The Shpola Ziede Room opened in a bureaucratic office on Ellis Island. There wasn’t a ton going on in this space, but it did have that Ellis Island feel.

The late-game took us to Ukraine in the 1700s. Once again, it wasn’t the most ambitious set, but it had a unique look and what felt like the correct vibe for the time and place.

In-game: A partially completed family tree that looks like a tree.

Gameplay

One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room was a standard escape room with a Jewish theme and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ One Before told a cultural story with the Shpola Ziede Room. Escape rooms are a medium with immense storytelling potential. We liked the unusual story and how players could experience it through gameplay.

➖ The storytelling was bogged down in text. While there were some more interactive moments (and these were the best moments!), much of the story and the puzzles required a lot of reading.

➕ One Before had added set details that made an office-y space feel more engaging than a run-of-the-mill office. The walls and choice of colors gave it an Ellis Island-y feel.

➖ The second act of Shpola Ziede Room was dimly lit. This made it extra challenging to solve puzzles, especially given the amount of text to read. Because we didn’t feel that the darkness enhanced the storytelling, it only added frustration.

➖ The early gameplay bottlenecked severely.

➖ One layered puzzle lacked clue structure. This puzzle involved significant written text, and when combined with incomplete cluing, it was especially frustrating to work through.

➖ There was a long audio clue sequence that included both story and cluing. Once over, the clues within could not be re-triggered later.

➕ We especially enjoyed one action, a cultural touchpoint, and a concept that worked well for an escape room puzzle. This moment was unique and culturally relevant.

➖ One tech-driven puzzle didn’t work well; it seemed broken and felt unintuitive. It was also supposed to be solved by trial and error. The combination of an entirely unclued solve with a finicky and poorly responsive interface forced a lot of wait time. It wasn’t fun to solve.

Shpola Ziede Room addressed immigration. This theme, central to the Jewish experience, can have broad appeal to escape room players of many backgrounds. We respect One Before for building a story that will be both intimately familiar to Jewish players and thematically accessible to those of other backgrounds.

➖ One Before aimed to target a general audience, but Shpola Ziede Room assumed knowledge that would be considered outside knowledge for a general American audience. One such example of this is the knowledge that Hebrew is read right to left. (Players do not need to read any Hebrew.)

Shpola Ziede Room’s handling of female characters was… uncomfortable. When exploring the Polonsky family tree, women were essentially ignored. The puzzle that involved evaluating women to make a marital match came across as demeaning. I don’t think that this was intentional. Nevertheless our entire team (2 men and 2 women) felt the same way. If One Before is serious about reaching an audience beyond the religious Jewish community, reshaping this section would be an important step.

➕One Before has a gallery space in their facility. They have partnered with a local Jewish artist and they display her work in their party/ conference room. We love this idea and how the business is engaged with the community’s culture beyond the escape room.

A painting of a Cossack and a bear in a dance off.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in the neighborhood.
  • Take the Q to Avenue M.
  • You do not need to be Jewish to play this escape room.

Book your hour with One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: One Before comped our tickets for this game.

Unreal Escapes – Disco 54 [Review]

Last Dance

Location:  Staten Island, NY

Date Played: March 17, 2019

Team size: up to 11; we recommend 3-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Disco 54 was all about atmosphere and fun. The look. The music. The theme. All of it.

Aesthetically, it looked and felt like a club, and it had a brilliant playlist underpinning it all.

Unreal Escape’s second game was significantly different from their first. It wasn’t as visually arresting as Battleship and it didn’t have the same volume of tech. Instead it felt more focused on gameplay.

In-game: the DJ's mixer.

That said, the party vibe of Disco 54 was occasionally distracting. There were moments when the dance floor and music called to us more than the gameplay did… which, honestly, was fine. We really enjoyed this dynamic.

Unreal is a bit of a hike to visit, but now that they are operating two games it’s an easier decision. For our taste, we preferred Disco 54, but if you’re visiting Unreal, you should play both. They both have something worth experiencing.

Who is this for?

  • Groups looking to party
  • Hustlers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A unique story and set
  • You can dance (don’t worry; it is never required)
  • An unusual and authentic experience
  • Great song selection

Story

The legendary Disco 54 was closing down due to a… disagreement with the IRS. While the owner may have been in debt, that didn’t stop him from stashing cash throughout the club. We went in for one last party and a heist.

In-game: the VIP lounge.

Setting

Taking clear and heavy inspiration from Studio 54, Disco 54’s set was on point. From the dance floor, to the DJ booth, to the bar, to the VIP lounge, to all of the velvet, the escape game felt like a club.

All of this was elevated by a playlist that was as smart as it was fun.

In-game: the DJ booth labeled "Disco 54."

Gameplay

Unreal Escapes’ Disco 54 was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and the opportunity to dance.

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

In-game: a dance floor with colored lights shining on it.

Analysis

➕ A disco club was one of the more interesting and unique settings that we’ve seen for an escape game. It was refreshing.

➕ The club felt right. It was immediately clear to us just how passionate its creators were about nailing the right vibe.

➕ The music was perfect.

In-game: a disco ball

➕ Our gamemaster asked us what volume we wanted the music set to. We could request to turn the volume up or down at any time. We were quite content with our selection of “medium.”

Disco 54 flowed fairly well.

➖ There were some opportunities for stronger clue structure in a couple of puzzles.

➕ The open-ended goal of finding as much money as we could before escaping left plenty of reason for us to keep searching… we might find another way to earn more money.

➖ Not all parts of the set delivered the same scenic quality. The decisions made sense, but we felt when it lacked of grandeur.

➖ There was a missed opportunity that could have floored visitors.

➕/➖ There was some great use of tech within Disco 54. We wish that there had been better feedback and in-game notification of what we had accomplished. We had been instructed to “double check” things after we thought we solved something… and this was ok, but less than ideal.

➕ We really enjoyed taking a break from puzzling and dancing.

Disco 54 would make a great venue for a party.

Tips For Visiting

  • Unreal Escapes has a parking lot.
  • There’s a lot of great Italian food on Staten Island.
  • Unreal Escapes will reskin this escape room for bar and bat mitzvahs.

Book your hour with Unreal Escapes’ Disco 54, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Unreal Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Mission Escape Games – Escape the Hydeout: The Mystery of Henry Jekyll [Re-Review]

Transformation

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: March 15, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We returned to Mission Escape Games to play the significantly updated Escape The Hydeout 8 days shy of the 4th anniversary of us playing the original version.

In-game: An elegant study with red and wood walls. The trophy of a buck hangs over a fireplace.

Years later, Escape The Hydeout remains one of our favorite introductory escape games. Mission Escape Games solidified this by ramping up their set design and smoothing over the puzzle flow.

To give you a sense of history… our original review dates back to the days when we wouldn’t have even thought to assess set design.

The current iteration of the game was an aesthetically beautiful, incredibly fair escape room with just enough excitement to hook newbies without scaring them off.

If you’re new to escape rooms, Escape The Hydeout is a must-play. (It’s available in Anaheim, CA, Philadelphia, PA, West Hartford, CT, and New York City.) If you’re a veteran escape room player, this is a well-designed, well-executed room that likely won’t blow your mind.

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?

  • An elegant set
  • Silky smooth puzzle flow
  • Beginner friendly

Story

The good Doctor Jekyll had been acting strange and had then disappeared. We’d been hired to find him.

In-game: A bookshelf in an elegant study.

Setting

Escape The Hydeout had a beautiful Victorian aesthetic. The set wasn’t complicated, but it looked fantastic.

In-game: A chair beside a chess table and a globe in a study.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Escape the Hydeout was a standard escape room with an approachable level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a green walled, room with a chess board, chair, and globe.
The original, March 2015

Analysis

➕ We really loved the puzzles and flow of this game. This was true 4 years ago and these aspects have been further refined in the current version. It was always clear when we’d solved a solution. The game drew our attention to new opens.

➕ The set was fantastic. It was elegant, atmospheric, and deliberate. The audio especially added ambiance.

➖ There was a strong theme as well as allusion to story, but the story wasn’t a strong presence in Escape the Hydeout. We found the audio introduction to the story hard to follow.

➕ While there were written clues and codes in this escape room, we never read them off sheets of paper. They were carved into or otherwise embedded into tangible materials that looked and felt like they belonged in the world.

➕ There were some good reveals and well-executed tech.

➖ Still, 4 years later, Escape the Hydeout lacked the kind of epic or climactic moments that make us feel like a game is a must-play for experienced players.

➕ The emergency exit button works well. We… umm… might have had a teammate “test” it.

In-game: Closeup of a glowing red Emergency Exit button.

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Mission Escape Games’ Escape the Hydeout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

PanIQ Room – Jailbreak [Review]

Hard time.

Location: New York, New York

Date Played: January 7, 2019

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Split-team and puzzle-focused, PanIQ Room’s Jailbreak was an old-school prison-break game. A few flow jolting moments notwithstanding, it was a clever, traditional, puzzle-focused escape room with plenty to enjoy.

Regardless of experience level, there’s something to enjoy in Jailbreak. If you’re an experienced player, this game won’t show you anything novel.

In-game: A bunk bed in a concrete prison cell.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Designed around collaboration
  • Tangible puzzles

Story

Wrongfully accused and on death row, we had an hour to escape our cells before the warden and his guards showed up to escort us to a tragic end.

In-game: a metal toilet.

Setting

Jailbreak was a split-start prison game where we began split between two prison cells. The set itself was a drab, grey, concrete and metal jail.

The set was fairly small and didn’t have a ton of detail, but it certainly looked the part.

In-game: A cross hanging on a concrete wall.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s Jailbreak was a standard split-team escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, communicating, and puzzling.

In-game: flip flops on the floor beside a bench.

Analysis

➕ Jailbreak offered a lot of physically interactive puzzles. We liked the tangible nature of these solves. They were fun and satisfying.

➕ Jailbreak rewarded communication and collaboration. PanIQ Room even included a prop to help facilitate this. Many solves felt like a team victory.

➖ One cell was arranged such that the majority of the early gameplay was obscured by a tangible process puzzle that was accessible from the opening moments of play. By choosing to not interrupt this solve, we lost a lot of early momentum. With a tweak to the room’s layout, this cell would offer a lot more intrigue.

In-game: Close up of the steel bars and keyway on the cell door.

➖ Because one group was freed before the other, the later potion of this game could easily become uneven, with only half the group getting the opportunity to solve some of the more exciting puzzles. The addition of gating so as to more quickly free both cells of players would even out the experience.

➕/➖ Although the puzzles were fun, they didn’t make sense in the narrative. It felt like an escape room set in jail rather than a clandestine jailbreak.

➖ There was wear on a few props. One in particular showed its true colors too soon. With a bit of maintenance, this one would be safer from inconsiderate hulk-like players and more exciting for all teams.

➕ The setting worked well. It was minimal, but jail is minimal. The music created the right ambiance. The staging supported the gameplay.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • If you’re coming by subway, take the B/D to Grand St, the F to Delancey, or the J/Z to Bowery.
  • We recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House for a quick meal or Lena for wine and tapas.

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

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.

David Kwong’s Enigmatist [Review]

A Gold Bug

Location:  New York City

Date Attended: January 12, 2019

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $95 / $125 / $150 per ticket depending on seat

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Enigmatist was a night of puzzles, magic, and storytelling. It was as quirky as it was phenomenal.

It was a performance, not an escape room, but it included escape room-style solving.

The Enigmatist has just extended its run of Friday and Saturday evening shows through March 2019. If you read this blog, and you are near New York City, you should purchase tickets immediately.

The Enigmatist sign.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Magic fans

Why Attend?

  • Wonderful feats of magic and word play
  • Good puzzles
  • Lots of hidden layers and meaning

Story

The Enigmatist was a one-man show performed by magician and New York Times cruciverbalist (crossword constructor) David Kwong.

Throughout the evening, Kwong explored the story of Riverbank Laboratories.

The performance was an unusual mixture of magic, puzzles, cryptography, crosswords, and storytelling.

Instructions for how to approach the four initial puzzles.

Setting

The Enigmatist was set on a small stage at the High Line Hotel. Upon arrival we were presented with 4 puzzles to solve in the lobby.

Once we took our seats within the intimate theater, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the performance and solving the puzzles within it.

A map of the Fabyan Estate Street Car.

Gameplay

David Kwong’s The Enigmatist was a performance with gameplay. There were multiple puzzles to solve throughout the evening. The audience’s ability to solve the puzzles shifted the energy and dynamics of the show.

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

Lisa and David bundled up in front of a tree covered in lights.
Winter is here.

Analysis

➕ The opening puzzles were lovely. They generally struck the right difficulty balance. They set the tone for how to approach the puzzles in the show.

➖ Of the initial 4 puzzles, one was noticeably more involved than the others. Unfortunately it was also the most compact and hardest to see. This led to a an uncomfortable crowd around it. Having an extra copy or spreading it out more would solve the problem.

➕/➖ There were self-service hints available for the opening puzzles. This kept solvers of all levels engaged with the puzzles. That said, more granular hinting would probably have helped alleviate bottlenecks.

➕ Kwong has an impressive gift for sleight of hand. In general, the magical moments of The Enigmatist were really well produced. He put a fresh spin on everything by integrating the tricks into the story. In the process he gave both more meaning.

➕ Kwong played with words a lot… and I don’t mean puns. I mean he manipulated words and letters in mind-bogging ways. My biggest takeaway from the night was to never play a word game against David Kwong.

➕/➖ Throughout the performance, Kwong told an intriguing story of cryptography. He integrated a lot of charm and historical facts. At the end of his tale, however, he made some questionable decisions. I think I get why he did it, but I didn’t like it. I still don’t.

➕ There were layers and layers of hidden meaning and hidden magic. The last few minutes of The Enigmatist were 🤯.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s New York City. Good luck.
  • Food: It’s Chelsea. You’re spoiled with options.
  • Arrive early and enjoy the puzzles.

Book your tickets with David Kwong’s The Enigmatist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation Dive [Review]

Dive into the deep end.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: November 27, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $38 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private options

REA Reaction

Exit Escape Room NYC’s third game, Operation Dive, had a small yet detailed set, and strong challenging puzzles. 

We had access to almost all of the game’s mechanisms from the first moment. We enjoyed unraveling the mystery that was how to operate the submarine, but the incredible level of access also came at a price: this new game showed a lot of wear. I hope that Exit Escape Room NYC is up to the challenge of maintaining it. It’s a lovely game. 

Operation Dive is a wonderful game to play if you feel comfortable playing escape rooms. If you’re a newbie, this one will be a bit bewildering; play High Speed NYC first. Both are high quality games, but the earlier one is quite a bit more forgiving. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A sonar station and periscope are in view.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Puzzles that reveal themselves as you play
  • Satisfying physical interactions
  • Fun submarine environment

Story

With a hostile submarine attempting to attack New York City, the Pentagon had called upon us to fire up a decommissioned World War II-era submarine, identify the target, and destroy it. 

In-game: Main electrical panel, disabled.

Setting

We entered a small submarine set filled with pipes, gauges, maps, and bunks.  The set was compact, but detailed. Some parts looked great. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A map glows green.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

The challenge stemmed from a nonlinear design where the puzzle components were mounted into the set and available from the opening moments of play.

In-game: Ballast Tank gauge.

Analysis

➕ The set looked nifty. It was detailed. It had a submarine vibe, complete with gadgets that were interactive, but not overwhelming.

➕ Exit Escape Room NYC hid the puzzles in plain sight. Once we discovered how items intertwined, the level of difficulty dropped a bit. The challenge was largely in understanding how to interact with the game, which we enjoyed.

➖ We couldn’t always tell whether we’d completed an interaction. The addition of more puzzle feedback, to help players understand whether or not they’ve completely solved a puzzle, would significantly improve for Operation Dive.

➖ The set and props showed too much wear. This included some finicky tech and disappointing prop breakage. I suspect that giving players immediate access to a lot of interactions and no knowledge of how to approach the puzzles means that a lot of players are hard on this escape room. Operation Dive hadn’t been open very long when we visited and we couldn’t help but think it was really banged up.

 Operation Dive was well themed. The set and puzzles were submarine-esque.

➕ The small and narrow set worked because it was a submarine. This was a smart setting selection given Exit Escape Room NYC’s spatial constraints. 

➕ There were some lovely thematic puzzles in this Operation Dive. They were tangible, satisfying solves.

➕/➖  Operation Dive attempted to tell a story. This delivered some fun and thematic moments. While some of the nuance of the story came through clearly as we were playing, the most interesting bits only became apparent when we were analyzing the game after we’d escaped. Operation Dive felt more like a thematic adventure than a story-driven experience. Overall, the narrative was of mixed quality, but generally better than most. 

➕ With timed use of tech, Exit Escape Room NYC trigged great moments. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Room NYC – Jurassic Escape [Review]

Jurassic Escape

“Life, uh… finds a way.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 11, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

As I entered Jurassic Escape, in my head I heard the voice of John Hammond say, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” This escape room felt like it was heavily inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Escape The Room NYC largely nailed the aesthetic and vibe of the movie. This was straight down to the effects, including one of the most memorable moments in the movie.

As a kid, I loved that movie. I loved that book. I loved all things dinosaurs. I couldn’t wait to step into this world that I had so painstakingly tried to recreate with my toys in my parents’ basement. Did I mention that I was excited?

In-game: The dinosaur pens.

Did it play on that level?

Jurassic Escape was a mixed bag. Its highs soared and its lows were bafflingly disappointing. (How do you make shooting a gun the least intense moment in a puzzle game?) Jurassic Escape constantly shifted between an immersive dinosaur adventure and an average escape game.

In the end, I was thrilled that I got to play Jurassic Escape, but I couldn’t help feeling that this one could have and should have been a curve breaker.

Who is this for?

  • People who love dinosaurs (If you don’t… why?)
  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Dinosaurs!
  • Some fantastic effects
  • Some brilliant setpieces
  • Dinosaurs! 

Story

An evil corporation was cloning weaponized dinosaurs. We had to stop them.

In-game: A close-up of the face of a cage triceratops.
Image by Steve Ewing

Setting

We began our adventure in the dinosaur pens. This set looked fantastic. It was a few animatronics away from feeling like it could have belonged in a Universal theme park.

Late game, we found ourselves in the less inspiring laboratory, which looked a step or two above your standard white-walled lab escape room.

In-game: A hole in a wall, a storage room with crates is beyond it.

Gameplay

Escape the Room NYC’s Jurassic Escape was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The initial set was especially cool. This was exactly what I’d wanted to see in a Jurassic Park-inspired escape room.

➕ Escape The Room built some phenomenal effects into Jurassic Escape. We loved one absolutely amazing and oh-so-memorable moment.

➕ One puzzle directly referenced Jurassic Park. I saw it coming before I even entered the game. I was plenty happy to see it there.

➖ Jurassic Escape had some rough bottleneck puzzles that conflicted with the intense adventure theme. These puzzles stopped all forward progress. While this could be fine in some themes, it didn’t feel natural in Jurassic Escape.

➕ At its best, Jurassic Escape offered thematic puzzles that carried the narrative forward and instilled a sense of adventure.

In-game: a case for a tranquilizer gun.

➖ An early challenge featuring a gun was boring and lacked adequate direction. There was no reason for this to be anything but a quick, intense, and cool moment. It was instead a momentum-annihilating dose of tedium. If Escape The Room NYC only changes one thing about this game, please let it be this.

➕ Mid-game, Escape The Room NYC ratcheted up the intensity and really made Jurassic Escape roar.

➖ Escape the Room NYC never paid off the intensity of the theme or their best moments. When we won, the game ended as if we had found the door key. They forgot to truly end our story… and there was an opportunity to deliver an impactful exit.

❓ The featured dinosaurs in Jurassic Escape were from the late Cretaceous Period. [Pushes glasses up.]

Tips For Visiting

  • Escape the Room NYC is easily accessible by subway.
  • Take the elevator up to the escape room company.
  • We recommend Hill Country Chicken for a bite to eat before / after the game.

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

Disclosure: Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Time of Your Life: An 80s Prom Escape Room [Mini Review]

Livin’ On A Prayer at Hughes High

Location:  New York City, NY

Date Played: October 21, 2018

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 – 100 per player (the event was a fundraiser)

Ticketing: Public

In-game: Prom banner reads, "Having the time of our lives at Hughes High!"

What’s Going On?

Time of Your Life: An 80s Prom Escape Room was a hybrid immersive theater/ escape game put on as a fundraiser for EMIT. 

In-game: Prom's Gymnasium, hosting the party.

Educational Mobile Immersive Theatre (EMIT) is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing immersive theatre experiences to all learners.

Upon arriving, we were treated to candy, 80s pop music, and conversation with Susie, an excitable and devoted member of the prom. Once the party was in full swing, Kimberly, the prom queen, informed us how much she hated all of us… and that she had boobytrapped the school. If we couldn’t solve her game and prove that we were smarter than she thought we were, we would die at prom.

In-game: Prom kink & queen crowns

From there, we broke off into teams based on the color of our glow bracelets and started puzzling with one of the show’s characters as our guide through Hughes High. 

REA Reaction

Time of Your Life had humor and heart. 

This event took us through 4 stations where we spent 8 minutes puzzling on each challenge. When the bell rang, we had a couple of minutes passing time in the hallway while we were ushered to the next station.

In-game: Science lab vials of red liquid

Each puzzle presented a good group challenge and solved a portion of the final puzzle. These were real and fair puzzles; it was possible to fail at them.

The biggest issue we encountered in gameplay was an unevenness in the puzzle complexity, which threw off the pacing. A pair of the puzzles could easily take the full 8 minutes. We cracked another puzzle in about a minute. The third puzzle fell somewhere in the middle.

In-game: The library with chairs labeled as bookshelves.

From an aesthetic standpoint, there wasn’t a lot going on. There were 4 spaces (gymnasium, science lab, library, & office). While each space included a few props to represent the set, it was ultimately a collection of bar tables and chairs. If you’re playing escape rooms for the set, this one will be a hard pass.

Finally, the performers were fantastic improvisors. They kept things silly and amusing. They rolled with whatever the players threw at them.

Time of Your Life wasn’t a fancy party; it was a humble and funny performance with a handful of solid puzzles. If that sounds like an alluring combination, and you’re the kind of person who’s happy to buy a more expensive ticket to support a good cause and some lovely folks… then keep an eye out for the next remount. We hear that an encore is in the cards.

If we were going to do it again, we’d probably go in costume. I’m still not sure why we didn’t think to dress the part. 

PanIQ Room – The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash [Review]

Pour me a shot of puzzles.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: September 17, 2018

Team size: 2-7 ; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22 per ticket to $24 per ticket depending on team size and day of the week

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash set us as wily criminals of the Wild West in a standard search-and-puzzle escape room. While the puzzle flow occasionally stalled, it offered satisfying moments that combined searching with interactive puzzle solves.

If you’re looking for a traditional, beginner-friendly escape room with a solid set in Manhattan, try your hand at this jailbreak-heist.

In-game: wanted posters viewed through a keyhole.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Searchers and scavengers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fun premise and theme
  • Surprising discoveries

Story

A large sum of cash sat in the saloon awaiting the winner of a high stakes poker game. Instead of trying our hands at cards, however, we were taking a backdoor approach: we’d gotten ourselves arrested. Now we were locked in a cell in the sheriff’s office, next door to the saloon. We needed to break out and get to the cash before the sheriff returned or the poker game began.

In-game: jail cell bars.

Setting

We were locked in a small, barred, and dimly lit cell in the corner of the sheriff’s office. His office had a few pieces of furniture and a wall of wanted posters.

In-game: a wall of wanted posters.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: the sheriff's office with a desk, his jacket, and a gun rack with two rifles on it.

Analysis

+ The staging of The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash as a jailbreak heist was an amusing premise that, odd as it seemed, justified the gameplay.

The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash was well themed from floor to ceiling. Although the opening set was sparsely decorated, the second act included more detailing. The set design was solid… not amazing, but strong.

– The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash had a few substantial red herrings including one that we suspect will pull in most players and one that will likely only distract experienced escape room players.

? One early puzzle created a bottleneck that could last quite some time and quickly become quite frustrating, especially for a larger team. We didn’t struggle with it at all. In fact, it was David’s favorite part… but that’s probably because he nailed it on his first try.

– One interaction made it all too easy to accidentally inhale particles… I can tell you first hand that this was uncomfortable. Depending upon the player’s lungs, this could be a hazard. This entire interaction should be reworked; it wouldn’t be a big challenge.

Particle Spoiler

The particles were sawdust.

Sawdust is a carcinogen in large doses, which isn’t the concern for this puzzle.

My concern is for people who are allergic to it or suffer from asthma or other respiratory illnesses. The amount that I inhaled gave me discomfort for a few days.

[collapse]

+ PanIQ Room lit up their mid- and late-game opens. This touch added excitement to small reveals and made the clues easier to read.

– We encountered some wear on various set pieces and props.

The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash included multiple rewarding mechanical search puzzles. We enjoyed these moments.

– The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash lacked a finale. Because the final sequence didn’t engage or excite the entire group, it didn’t build energy towards a reveal or memorable moment.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • If you’re coming by subway, take the B/D to Grand St, the F to Delancey, or the J/Z to Bowery.
  • We recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House for a quick meal or Lena for wine and tapas.

Book your hour with PanIQ Room’s The Cage, the Cards, and the Cash, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.