Exit Escape Room NYC – Sugar Rush [Review]

Undercooked

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played:  August 11, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sugar Rush put a new twist on the escape game format for us: our goal was to bake cupcakes. In the end, we received cupcakes.

In-game: 3 decorated cupcakes in a baking pan.

While Sugar Rush shined conceptually, the execution fell short of stellar on every level. The puzzles and gameplay were of spotty quality. The set looked kind of like a restaurant kitchen. The cupcakes were reminiscent of an elementary school bake sale. (Is that a thing that still happens or have we litigated that into oblivion?)

This game was fine, which was disappointing. There were opportunities for great reveals, narrative novelty, and better cupcakes. New York City has some great cupcake bakeries and I’d bet that people would shell out a few extra dollars per ticket if it came with quality dessert.

This was one of those games that I wanted to love. When I heard the concept, I wanted to send all of my friends who are kind of on the fence about escape games. It wouldn’t take a lot more refinement to make Sugar Rush special; I hope it gets there.

Who is this for?

  • Players with a sweet tooth
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The concept was adorable and novel
  • If you win, you get to eat a cupcake

Story

We’d entered the Great NYC Baking Challenge.

Our task: make the best cupcakes ever!

The catch? Someone had hidden all of our ingredients.

In-game: a small oven in a kitchen, above it a box labeled "Recipe Safe."

Setting

Sugar Rush was set in a restaurant kitchen with a strange glass wall dividing the space. The set looked almost as it should. At any given point, if you got up close to something, it looked right, but stepping back and taking in the set in as a whole, it felt off.

In-game: An empty egg carton and a checken in a kitchen.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Sugar Rush was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Before escape rooms entered my life, I spent a solid three years tasting (and analyzing) cupcakes all around New York City. I have notes on more than 60 bakeries; there’s a big spreadsheet. Don’t pretend you’re surprised. Anyway, it’s an understatement to say I adored the concept for Sugar Rush. I love baking and I love escape rooms! Even for those less enamored with dessert, this was a fun and novel thematic combination.

➕ /➖ In some ways, the set looked like a test kitchen, but it felt just a bit office-y. Individual props looked great, but we weren’t quite sold. It also didn’t have the necessary workspace for frosting our award-winning creations.

➖ The tech need a bit more refinement. It wasn’t entirely well hidden; exposed wires needed housing. It was also a bit glitchy and didn’t always give sufficient feedback.

➕ The props were adorable. We enjoyed how Exit Escape Room NYC build amusing puzzles around the essential cupcake ingredients. It was funny and charming.

➖In the second part of the experience, the puzzles were thematically related, but no longer tied to the narrative.

➖ Exit Escape Room NYC did the cooking show swap, but without trying to convince us that we were decorating the cupcakes we’d baked (with the ingredients we’d found!). We’ve seen this type of swap executed beautifully (and humorously) in escape rooms before. Sugar Rush would have been far cooler if they had gone the extra distance to sell their fiction to us.

➖ The cupcakes were “meh.” We won the game, but I cannot be convinced we won the Great NYC Baking Challenge.

❓ Because so many people have asked: We don’t know whether the cupcakes were bought or baked. (I’m guessing baked from a mix.) We aren’t health inspectors.

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC has two copies of this game. You could race your friends in this baking competition.
  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • Note that Sugar Rush is not located at their 38th Street location with most of their other games. It is located a couple of blocks away at 247 West 36th Street.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

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

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

Broken Ghost Immersives – The Rogues Gallery [Review]

Ain’t no party like a villain party

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: July 23, 2019

Group size: variable

Duration: approximately 2 hours

Price: $65 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We loved The Rogues Gallery… and also felt like it needed a lot more refinement.

Broken Ghost Immersives hosted this latest creation in the Wildrence. The space was retooled as a giant hybrid of tabletop gaming and roleplaying. We were villains attempting to take over the world after the death of the world’s greatest superhero.

In-game: a gathering of rogues

We were each given a character and let loose in a world filled with other villains – most of them other players. A few fantastic actors also played hilarious and compelling NPCs.

The beauty in The Rogues Gallery was that you could kind of play it however you wanted.

As the Green Emerald, I did what I do in games (and real life): I optimized our resources to conquer the world. And David… David did what he does: he got lost in role-playing as the nefarious Pyramid Scream, the benevolent scourge of stay-at-home mothers!

In-game: the character card for "Pyramid Scream." It's subtitled, "A multi-level massacre."
“You seem like a smart person who recognizes a great business opportunity when you see one.” -David

This sandbox, however, was a little too full. Interestingly, we never felt like there were too many players. Rather it seemed like there were far too many villainous teams, and Broken Ghost Immersives needed more efficient systems to move players through the mechanics.

If given the opportunity, we’d happily conquer this world again. It felt like a party with game mechanics. We hope that Broken Ghost Immersives brings back The Rogues Gallery with some refinements. If they do bring it back, may we suggest a name:

The Rogues Gallery II: The Inevitable Dark Second Chapter

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Villains
  • Best for players who are willing to let go and embrace their character (a little D&D experience doesn’t hurt)
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s funny
  • The NPCs were fantastic
  • It was engaging and amusing

Story

Good news, everyone! The world’s greatest superhero was just murdered.

To celebrate, all of the world’s rogues, A-list, B-list, C-list… and even the D-list (they knew who they were) were invited to a party of villainy and world domination.

In-game: An unusual device with buttons, dials, switches, and screens.

Setting

We entered the world of Wildrence, an immersive stage that has been home to many different productions.

The set itself was largely unchanged. I’m not going to spoil it. If you’ve never been, it’s best experienced in person. If you’ve been to Wildrence, you know the score.

In-game: a couple 12 packs of beer.
The answer to the question: “What do villains drink?”

Gameplay

Broken Ghost Immersives’ The Rogues Gallery was an immersive game that pulled heavily from role-playing, tabletop gaming, and video gaming.

Core gameplay revolved around meeting characters, finding missions, making moves on a giant projected tabletop game, role-playing (as shallow or as deep as desired), and completing a wide variety of quests/ challenges.

In-game: a handful of multicolored gems.

Completing challenges earned us colored gems that could be used to make moves on the giant world-conquering tabletop game. The team that took over the majority of the world won the game. It was like Risk, but with a finite clock, and turtling in Australia wasn’t a viable strategy.

There was a lot going on and it was impossible for any one player to experience everything. It would be impossible to truly experience all that The Rogues Gallery had to offer, even on repeat visits.

Analysis

➕ The characters of Rogues Gallery were phenomenal. We loved the names that we received. These were great jumping off points for us as players to turn ourselves into characters. It was such fun to put on these supervillain identities.

➕ A selection of NPCs facilitated The Rogues Gallery. Each character had a unique identity, brought to life by an actor. The characters worked so well in the world and the actors were as great as they were hilarious.

➕/ ➖ The best moments came at a price. One amazing segment removed players from the rest of the goings-on for long enough that they lost their grip on the larger game. This journey was David’s favorite part of Rogues Gallery because it gave him a chance to truly be his character. However, this came at a price of being essentially knocked out of the larger game. By the time he reemerged from his adventure, too much of the core game had moved on without him.

➖ Our visit to Rogues Gallery had too many teams. It didn’t feel like too many people. Rather, the players needed to be distributed into half as many factions. Too many teams were iced out of the larger game too early and forced into subservient roles. This wasn’t catastrophic, but it felt bad for those folks, and simultaneously disrupted the teams with winning strategies. Fewer teams would also work better for teammates going on long character journeys that removed them from the larger game.

Rogues Gallery encountered both line management and resource management problems. The mechanics of using resources wasn’t clear from the start and we had to wait so long that it was prudent to have one player constantly in the gameplay line. By the end of the game, we had far more resources accumulated than time to use them, given the waiting issue.

➕ The mini games were mostly fun. Some felt a bit too much like homework, but we recognized that they worked well in the environment and for a wide variety of player types. There were activities for those who wanted to role-play and games for those who preferred more challenge-oriented interactions.

➕/➖ The powers were nifty, but unbalanced. As supervillians, the powers worked in the world. We loved the concept. Some powers felt a bit too powerful, however, and others seemed impossible to use.

➕ The end sequence was exciting and surprising. It brought the entire group together. The finale was guided by the NPCs, but shaped by the players. We loved the story we told.

❓ At The Rogues Gallery, each player dictated how much they would enjoy the experience. You could play as a LARPer, gamer, puzzler, or something in between. Your fun will be dictated by your personality and what you want to get out of the experience.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with Broken Ghost Immersives’ Rogues Gallery, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Rogues Gallery is not currently running.

Disclosure: Broken Ghost Immersives comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room Madness – Nuclear Annihilation [Review]

A critical mass of puzzle material.

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: June 24, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Nuclear Annihilation was a challenging puzzle-centric escape room with some nifty interactions. Escape Room Madness presented a traditional escape game, completely with old-school difficulty and low lighting.

The lighting became annoying, even though we had more than enough flashlights for the team.

In-game: Nuclear reactor control panel covered in buttons, switches, and lights.

While there were some strong narrative mechanics, they were few and far between.

If you struggle to see in low light or want a stronger sense of adventure, I cannot encourage you to play this game. However, if you’re attracted to escape rooms for the puzzles, and want to have a large amount of content to play through, this is a great option.

As far as old-school escape rooms go, this one appealed to me more than most.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Volumes of puzzles
  • Nifty switches as inputs

Story

A terrorist attack on the nuclear power plant where we worked had left us trapped. We had to handle the situation.

In-game: "Biohazard" and an image of a gasmask painted in black on concrete.

Setting

We entered a low-lit room with puzzle stations lined up around the periphery. Many of the stations had some lovely, tangible interactions with buttons, switches, and dials that were pleasantly tactile.

Flashlights in hand, we puzzled through the game.

In-game: A desk in a dimly lit room, a panel with glowing switches in an assortment of colors.

Gameplay

Escape Room Madness’ Nuclear Annihilation was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

The difficulty came from the volume of puzzles within the space.

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

In-game: A suitcase bomb open, dials, buttons, switches, and a display revealed.

Analysis

➕ Escape Room Madness built fun electronics into Nuclear Annihilation. The control panels with switches and lights looked and felt good. These fun inputs worked well in the gamespace.

➕ / ➖ The gameplay was gated with locks. The volume of locks gave everyone the opportunity to participate in opening up new game elements. While some of the puzzles and locks were correlated by clues, on other occasions, we’d derive a 4-digit combination and have to try it all over the room. There was almost no variation in digit structure among the locks, which was unfortunate.

➕ Time notifications came to us as news reports. These were well produced and worked well within the theme.

➖ The puzzling felt largely disconnected from the rest of the experience. While many of the puzzles were thematic, they didn’t convey narrative. Escape Room Madness relied on laminated pieces of paper as clues rather than building clue structure into the environment.

➕ Our favorite puzzles made use of clues and inputs other than laminated paper. Newer players were especially excited by one layered decode that relied on unfamiliar props.

➖ The gamespace was dark. While Escape Room Madness provided enough flashlights for each player to have their own, we were continually hampered by the flashlight-between-head-and-shoulder lighting technique, in order to use two hands on a lock. With all the locks we needed to see and manipulate, we would have been much more comfortable with a bit more light.

➖ We wasted a bit of time on puzzles we couldn’t solve yet. On multiple occasions, it seemed as if a puzzle was accessible, but we didn’t yet have all the necessary components. Additional gating would be helpful so that players don’t feel like they’ve wasted large amounts of time.

❓ We accidentally created a red herring in this room… and honestly, our imagined puzzle was pretty amazing. We needed a hint to move on past our concept because we were so sure of it. We were then dumbfounded when we learned that it wasn’t the intended puzzle because it worked so perfectly.

Nuclear Annihilation was an old-school puzzle-driven escape room. There were a lot of puzzles to solve. For players who play escape rooms for the puzzles, there were a ton of puzzles that solved cleanly and moved the team forward.

Tips For Visiting

  • Nuclear Annihilation is located on the 5th floor. Note that Escape Room Madness has other games on the 6th floor.
  • Escape Room Madness is located in Koreatown. On this block, we recommend Mandoo Bar for dumplings and Spot Dessert Bar for crazy and incredible desserts.
  • Take public transit; Escape Room Madness is half a block from many subway lines.
  • As with all Midtown Manhattan escape rooms, if you’re driving a car, prepare to pay dearly for parking.

Book your hour with Escape Room Madness’ Nuclear Annihilation, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Room Madness comped our tickets for this game.

The Privilege of Escape [Reaction]

Fun then thought-provoking.

Location:  New York City, NY

Date Played: July 17, 2019

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: free (limited availability)

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Risa Puno is a skilled creator of unusual, purposeful games. She’s also an escape room player. These traits immediately emerged when we first interviewed Risa about her Creative Time-supported project, The Privilege of Escape. Risa didn’t choose the escape room format because it was trendy. She selected it because she liked the medium and wanted to do something special with it.

In-game: a large black 20 sided sculpture.
Image via Creative Time

Nevertheless, we were a little skeptical that The Privilege of Escape would find a non-threatening, inoffensive way to demonstrate its thesis. It would have been easy to create a game that worked only for individuals who accepted its premise at the onset. We’ve experienced a lot of mediocre immersive theatre that falls into this “preaching to the choir” rut.

The Privilege of Escape avoided this trap. It elegantly demonstrated its thesis.

In-game: a strage geometric sculpture, and a input terminal with multi-colored buttons.
Image via Creative Time

As an escape room, The Privilege of Escape had a fantastic variety of puzzles, locks, and technology. The set had a clean yet unique look. The experience included in-character staff. Above all, it was entertaining and challenging.

The Privilege of Escape‘s premise was that we entered a study conducted by “The Institute.” We were split into two groups. The groups raced against each other to complete the challenges. Saying more – or any deeper critique – would spoil too much.

In-game: a black and white room with numbers on the wall, a large gridded table, oversized dice, and a tall jenga-like tower.
Image via Creative Time

When all was said and done, the game’s intent and thesis became clear. It leaned heavily on show rather than tell; that’s why it worked… that and it was free. This would not be a commercially viable concept.

This was a smart game on so many levels. When its run concludes, I look forward to breaking down in more detail how and why this experience worked (and a couple of things that could have been improved upon).

If you could get tickets (and at this point you probably cannot), you absolutely should experience The Privilege of Escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s Midtown Manhattan; use public transit.
  • When you enter the address, walk to the center of the building and down a flight of stairs to find The Institute.

Book your hour with Creative Time’s The Privilege of Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The Privilege of Escape: Interview with Artist & Game Designer Risa Puno

Risa Puno is an artist who uses games to examine social dynamics. We spent a lovely April evening with Risa chatting about escape rooms over dinner at an adorable restaurant in the West Village. After learning about her upcoming project, an escape room that explores issues of privilege and inequity, we were eager to chat with her more.

Risa Puno sitting on her workbench.

We caught up with Risa this week to learn more about her project. Her Kickstarter The Privilege of Escape has less than a week to go!

Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your project!

This summer, I am working with Creative Time to create an interactive public art project called The Privilege of Escape that uses the format of escape room games in order to address issues of privilege and social inequity.

Who is Creative Time?

For over 40 years, Creative Time has worked with artists to realize public art projects that contribute to the dialogues, debates, and dreams of our times. Their free and open to the public artworks address major social issues, including the annual 9/11 memorial Tribute in Light, Kara Walker’s A Subtlety…, the enormous sugar sphinx staged at the Domino Sugar Factory in 2014, Duke Riley’s Fly by Night at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy, a political haunted house at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in 2016.

World Trade Center "Tribute in Light" twin towers of light glowing bright in the sky.
Creative Time project, “Tribute in Light.” Photo by Jesse Mills.

Why address the concept of privilege through a game?

I am using the mechanics of escape room games to show that privilege doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win… but it does make it easier to play the game.

Games can operate as simple metaphors for more complex social interactions. This game will be a kind of experiential metaphor that can (hopefully) bypass the charged language around privilege.

The word “privilege” has become so loaded that it often triggers some pretty strong reactions that can shut down meaningful conversation. This game will be a way to open ourselves to the topic.

Why build this as an escape room?

I am especially interested in escape rooms because they are awesome and super fun (duh!), but also because I believe in their potential to communicate deeper meaning. There is something about the combination of group problem-solving with urgent competition that is remarkably impactful.

When I played my first escape room, I was surprised and impressed by how real my emotions were during game play—curiosity, excitement, anxiety, frustration, panic, discovery, delight, euphoria—it was all built in! Whenever I play, although my brain knows it’s just a fun game without anything at stake, I really do feel the highs and lows in a visceral way.

The emotions are heightened by the small group experience, which is rather intimate, and where people’s personalities can emerge in interesting ways. Escape rooms promote teamwork and communication by rewarding participation and collaboration. Even when I’ve played with strangers, I’ve felt a personal connection with them after escaping because we have shared both adversity and triumph together.

A game that requires collective problem-solving to get through uncomfortable situations seems like an ideal format for tackling difficult social issues. Plus, I think having to work to unlock resources and opportunities in order to advance yourself speaks a lot to the concept of privilege.

The ability to escape is inherently a privilege. The freedom to remove yourself from disturbing or harmful circumstances requires (at the very least) access to means, expectation of mobility, and the hope for a more favorable outcome. Our privilege often manifests in what we don’t have to worry about or the things we aren’t aware of. That invisibility can make it really challenging to address.

Escape rooms generally attract people with curious minds who are looking to challenge themselves. After all, escape rooms are all about thinking outside of the box, letting go of assumptions, and seeing things from a new perspective.

Since players usually like to spend additional time afterward to “froth” and talk through the tough puzzles and epic hero moments, I truly believe this format can spark meaningful discussion and communication that could continue beyond the game itself.

A mini golf hole with a loop.
Risa’s “Leap of Faith.” Photo: TalismanPHOTO

What is your response to someone who “doesn’t want to be lectured” while playing a game?

I agree! I wouldn’t want to be lectured while playing a game either. That’s not what this project is about. We are working hard to design interesting puzzles and develop an engaging narrative. It should be as active and exciting as a commercial escape room.

That being said, this is first and foremost a public art project. Privilege and social inequity are not issues that I take lightly.

I believe that games can be used to better understand how we relate to one another. I think that when people are having fun, they tend to be more open to new things. As an artist, my aim is to present a playable experience that allows participants to draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions.

It might not be something everyone wants to take part in. I totally get that. However, if you’re interested in a memorable experience that might provide some food for thought, then you should definitely come play!

What are you hoping people feel as they walk away from this experience?

I imagine that people will walk away feeling a lot of the same emotions they do when playing regular escape rooms. After a really good game, I usually leave still feeling tingly from the thrill. I am hyper-aware of the world around me and my role within it. I want to relive every moment and puzzle, trade opinions with my teammates, celebrate the things we did really well, and talk through things that we could have done better.

I love discussing the dynamics between the players and how that affected our game. It makes me feel like we were in charge of our collective experience. I think that’s what having the privilege of escape is all about.

What are some escape rooms you are taking inspiration from?

I’ve mostly played escape rooms in around New York City, where I live.

I really enjoyed the seamless puzzle flow in Operation End of Days at Mission Escape Games.

I also enjoyed how Komnata Quest’s innovative use of physical space in Maze of Hakaina supported their theme.

I thought the hint delivery system in Alien Encounter at Clue Chase was particularly novel.

I felt transported by the introductory sequence of Deep Space at 5 Wits in West Nyack.

I enjoyed how Exit Escape Room NYC constructed the submarine setting for Operation Dive.

Practically every room I’ve played has offered fun and unexpected moments that I’ve found inspiring. It’s fascinating to see what kinds of narratives game designers come up with to create a sense of urgency and wonder.

As a builder and tinkerer, I especially love seeing exciting sets and hands-on puzzles that require spatial reasoning and visual logic. I’m a total nerd, so I definitely prefer puzzle-based challenges over tasks. I live for that “aha” moment when you realize what you’re supposed to do with something that’s been right in front of you the whole time. I’ve also become addicted to the rush of adrenaline that comes when you don’t know how many puzzles are left so you’re not sure if you’re going to make it out in time.

I’m taking inspiration from games I haven’t played yet too! Since there are so many rooms out there and so little time before this project goes live, it’s been super helpful to read your reviews on Room Escape Artist. Thank you!

While I’ll be too busy with this project to join your Escape Immerse Explore tours this summer, I totally want to do that next year!

I am most inspired by how creative and innovative the escape room community is. It’s wonderful to be around thinkers who are constantly trying to push the envelope with new ideas. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting has been so generous with information and advice. This is a fun, wacky, intense community. I am absolutely honored to become a part of it.

What are some of the other projects you’ve created that might give escape room players a sense of your approach design?

I make interactive installations and sculptures that often use forms of play to understand how we relate to one another.

For example, I made a fully functional 9-hole miniature golf course called The Course of Emotions: a mini-golf experience. Each hole presented emotional obstacles that you had to overcome, such as Worry, which featured a windmill with blades shaped like question marks to symbolize how when you’re worried your questions get in the way; a par-40 maze that literally spelled the word “Frustration;” and Insecurity, which required players to deal with physical insecurity by putting while standing on a seesaw platform.

Emotion mini golf
Risa’s The Course of Emotions I.

I’ve also made my own version of the classic tilting maze game Labyrinth. My version was larger and two players were given identical mazes attached to the same tilting surface, so they had to negotiate and decide whether they were going to cooperate or compete. The title, Good Faith & Fair Dealing, comes from contract law. I really liked seeing how players communicated with each other because it said a lot about their relationship with one another. It was fun to see the differences between how old married couples played versus people who had just started dating. Roommates and coworkers were probably the best since they’re used to problem solving and compromising with one another. Once I saw identical twins play and they won together without speaking a word out loud!

Who else is working with you on The Privilege of Escape?

I’m primarily working with Brett Kuehner, who designed the Golden Lock-In Award-winning Clock Tower at Escape the Room NYC.

Brett is the best! His enthusiasm for all things puzzle-related is infectious!

Our working styles and skill sets are complementary. I have a lot of ideas. He’s been invaluable in sorting them into: fun versus confusing, reliable versus finicky, and feasible versus unrealistic.

I have experience with interactive play and analog/ tactile game design, but this is my first time creating an escape room. Brett’s technical expertise and first-hand knowledge of escape room behavior and logistics is incredible.

Brett is always patient and generous with his advice. He’s been an incredible asset to this project.

What design concepts are you currently thinking through?

This week I’ve also been thinking about what makes an escape room fair.

There is a surprising amount of acceptable frustration and confusion that is part of the normal escape room experience because the players’ sense of accomplishment is rooted in overcoming difficulties. This is different from anything I’ve built previously.

Another challenge at the moment is developing the narrative aspect of the experience. My past work hasn’t usually involved an explicit narrative and I don’t have a background in immersive theater. Thankfully Creative Time has my back for that (and everything else!).  I’m really excited by how things are shaping up.

With Creative Time backing this project, how will the Kickstarter money be used?

The more money we raise, the more people can play! The funding gained through the Kickstarter campaign will be used to extend the run of the exhibition.

Creative Time is covering the costs of the project’s production and run, but we are facing a limited capacity due to the small-group nature of escape rooms. With your support, we’ll be able to extend the length of the project, allowing us to share this unique experience with as many people as possible.

By backing our campaign, you can get all kinds of nifty rewards too, including reserving a spot for yourself to play.

Your support also acknowledges Creative Time’s efforts to work with the next generation of socially engaged artists. Really, it’s a win-win for all of us who are interested in gaming, social justice, and art all rolled into one!

An infinite mobius strip monkey bars.
Risa’s Mobius Strip Monkey Bars

Where/ when/ how can players experience your escape room?

The Privilege of Escape will open this July in New York City. Creative Time’s projects are always free and open to the public, but tickets go fast and there usually ends up being a really long waitlist.

You can get your ticket in advance by backing the Kickstarter. Many of our reward tiers include it!

More information on ticketing will be available in June on Creative Time’s website.

Back The Privilege of Escape on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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.

Book Jailbreak

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.