Top Tier Escape Rooms’ Outside In was bursting with personality. From the creative Inside Out-inspired theming, to tongue-in-cheek audio cues, to adorable photos from the game’s creator, it was abundantly evident that this escape room was designed by someone who truly cared. Four primary emotions — anger, trust, love, and fear — were developed through nicely designed sets, thematic puzzles, and some special effects. Most importantly, I was reminded of times I’d experienced these emotions myself.
The gameplay in Outside In was fun and flowed smoothly. Puzzles were presented sequentially, though most were best for just a few players and some spaces in the room were quite small, so larger teams may feel bottlenecked at times. One puzzle solved this by providing materials that could be worked on concurrently in the main space, and this approach might have helped make other points throughout the game feel less crowded.
The ending of Outside In was especially effective in conveying many different types of fears, all in a humorous and not actually fear-invoking manner. We enjoyed inspecting all the details and references in the finale, even after we’d solved the puzzles there.
Outside In was a whimsical and unique escape room from passionate creators who are experimenting and leveling up their skills in exciting ways. If you are near Oceanside, I recommend checking it out.
The Neighbor contained one of my all-time favorite tech moments of any escape room I’ve played. It was subtle in such an insidiously sneaky way… and it had me viewing my real-world surroundings a bit differently for weeks after playing.
Throughout The Neighbor, the puzzles and set design were consistently stellar, though with a noticeable increase in puzzle-narrative integration as the game progressed. We also appreciated a well-designed home AI system that served as an in-world delivery mechanism for both story and hints.
If you are choosing amongst Steal and Escape’s rooms, you can’t go wrong — they are all strong standouts within the San Diego escape room scene. The Neighbor included even more memorable moments and was generally more sequential, while The Lost Expedition was a consistently innovative and smoothly honed experience that had a split-team start and parallel puzzling. We also got a peek into The Missing Season, which opened shortly after our visit, and the set looked gorgeous.
The Lost Expedition was filled with unique interactions, innovative tech, and a multifaceted narrative. Steal and Escape went the extra mile in designing this room, and it paid off big time.
Nearly every element of The Lost Expedition was painstakingly designed and constructed from scratch, even when it wasn’t immediately obvious on the surface. The set was an impressive self-standing structure with numerous well-concealed details. There was a ton of tech in this room that worked reliably and facilitated the room’s most memorable moments. Each player was assigned a unique role that meaningfully translated into personal goals and skills and a sense of narrative purpose. Furthermore, fuel management — operating a control panel that actually turned the lights and power on/ off in the various areas of the game — provided an in-world approach to timekeeping.
The Lost Expedition was a challenging, narratively-driven, and densely-packed game that managed to flow remarkably well and avoid ever feeling too chaotic. This is quite a tricky balance to achieve, but Steal and Escape nailed it. This room had clearly adapted to a range of player feedback and gone through many iterations — reflected by thoughtful signposting and adaptive difficulty throughout the experience. A mission objective screen reminded us about our high-level objective(s) at any given time, and each of our roles focused our attention on a subset of the available tasks.
The Lost Expedition was one of the strongest offerings in San Diego and a must-play if you’re in the area, especially for puzzle-loving players with at least some escape room experience.
Team size: 7-25; we recommend as many players as you can gather
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $30 per ticket, $5 discounts for students, seniors, and veterans, or parties of 15 players or more
The Floor is Lava was not an escape room at all. It was a human-scale social deduction game that happened to be at an escape room facility. It was massive and fun. The set was fantastic. I wish that it weren’t on the other side of the continent.
Who is this for?
Social deduction game players, think Werewolf or Mafia
People who can handle winning and losing like an adult
Any experience level
It was a gigantic board game where humans were pieces
Skill-based gameplay where we could build mastery
The Floor is Lava was not an escape room. It was a social deduction game like Mafia, Werewolf, or Two Rooms & A Boom. The gamemaster secretly and randomly divided the group into two teams and assigned each player a special power. Then we chose our places on the islands. Falling off… or being “encouraged” off an island meant death… because the floor was lava.
The Floor is Lava was set within a volcano. There were islands (yoga mats) connected by illuminated paths that were safe to traverse. Everything else on the floor was – you guessed it – lava (shredded tire rubber).
The rules of The Floor is Lava were simple to learn and clearly explained in this video narrated by an amazing George Takei impersonator:
In a nutshell, as we entered the gamespace we reached our hands into a bag and each player removed on orange chip.
One side of the chip had a red or black dot on it. That indicated our team. The other side showed a special power that we could use for that round of the game.
More powers with increasingly complex and nuanced mechanics were introduced with each subsequent round. Two of the starter powers included:
“Phoenix” allowed the bearer of the power to immediately reenter the game after being killed one time in a round.
“Vindictive” allowed the bearer of the power to name any other player to die too, upon the bearer’s death .
The gameplay was simple. If I was standing on an island with another player I could ask to share my chip with them. We could:
Once a duo committed to a share, there was no backing out.
“Combat” within The Floor is Lava took the form of hip-checking. We could not use our arms, but we could bump other players off of an island with our hips.
If we touched the floor at any point in the game for any reason, we were out… because the floor was lava.
Once out, dead players could impact the game by voting to send dead players back in and by voting to sink or surface islands.
Everyone had a ton of fun. Whether a player was introverted or extroverted, passive or confrontational, The Floor is Lava was entertaining.
The set was incredible. It glowed. It was gorgeous.
The set was also comfortable on our unshod feet. Puzzalarium constructed yoga-mat islands and tire-rubber lava. We could balance, jump, or fall without injury. We never had to worry while strategizing gameplay.
In each round, we each drew a power and a team. The powers were awesome. They balanced each other. They also forced us to continually change our own gameplay strategy. There were some seriously entertaining powers.
Puzzalarium introduced The Floor is Lava through an entertaining and informative video. From there, our gamemaster added more complexity with each round. The Floor is Lava could quickly become overly complex, with so many different “powers” available (at random) to the players. Puzzalarium’s smooth onboarding enabled us to just get a handle on things before they threw another wrench into our strategizing.
The Floor is Lava was replayable. In fact, I’d imagine the more you play, the more fun it could be. I would absolutely love to play it again with an experienced, competitive group. I imagine that the dynamics would change dramatically with a group where everyone fully understood the game from the get-go.
When we died, we could watch the game on a screen in another room and take actions that affected gameplay.
While we did get to participate after death, players who died early struggled to be relevant and engaged.
The hip checking game mechanic meant that size was a huge advantage in the The Floor is Lava. Our group included some small women, a few big guys, and a lot of folks in between. To a large extent, size determined strategy. In some cases, it meant avoiding confrontation with the big guys.
It was hard to notice when an island was sinking. We would have liked more dramatic lighting or sound cues for that. It wasn’t fun to die on a sinking island, never having realized that we were in danger.
Due to the learning curve of rules, strategy, and tactics, the pacing was uneven. As an inexperienced group of players, most of the excitement didn’t unfold until the third and final round. Earlier rounds felt a little sluggish. I expect this would change with a more experienced group.
Tips for Visiting
People will see your socks.
Wear comfortable clothing.
It’s a light contact game.
If you have a group of serious gamers, think about booking a double session.