Jesse is a member of the escape room enthusiast community who has graciously invited us, and all of you, to his house. He’s also the Trivium Games tech guy.
What transit options do you recommend?
Jesse’s house is a 10-minute walk from Montgomery BART or 15-minute walk from the Caltrain depot. There is on-street parking if you’re lucky/ patient, but it’s a nightlife-y neighborhood so paid parking abounds.
We’re probably going to take a Lyft.
Should I know anything else about this location?
There are stairs and cats. The cats will likely be hiding, but their fur will be present.
What can I bring?
Please bring a drink or snack to share! Yes, it can be alcoholic. No, it doesn’t have to be.
Are you giving a talk?
Nope! This is just a casual meetup for hanging out with like-minded folks who live nearby or happen to be in town at the same time.
Reason tag-lined Reactor Room “test drive the future.” It was a fitting bit of marketing as the experience felt like a tech demo for a variety of gadgets. Some of these made for interesting gameplay moments. Many of them felt like an opportunity to see some expensive tech in action.
At $500 per private group, the staggeringly expensive Reactor Room was targeted towards corporate groups. With its large capacity and focus on gadgetry, I think it could make for an interesting outing on a corporate credit card. If you’re a regular escape room-playing civilian, you’ll likely want to pass on this game. Reason did something different, but the gameplay and puzzles fell short of what we’d expect at such an exclusive price point.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
We had been in the control room of our spaceship when the reactor was sabotaged. Now we were trapped there. We needed to puzzle through the tech-laden control room to shut the thing down.
Reactor Escape was a dramatically lit environment with an assortment of gadgets, buttons, switches, screens, and the like lining the walls of the gamespace.
It had a space-travel science-fiction vibe. Many of the props and set pieces felt like they belonged; others felt anachronistic or otherwise out of place.
Reason’s Reactor Escape was an atypical escape room with a heavy reliance on techie gadgets and a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around making connections, puzzling, and operating gadgets.
? Reason tag-lined Reactor Escape “test drive the future.” The escape room incorporated VR, drones, a 3D printer, a hologram, and a terminal, among other devices. This escape room felt like a collection of guided tech demos. It was atypical for an escape room. Whether this is good, bad, or neutral will be in the eyes of the player.
+ Reactor Escape was puzzle-dense. There was a lot to accomplish, spread throughout the gamespace. The puzzle types and difficulties varied enormously.
– Labeling was inconsistent. While we appreciated additional connective tissue to keep puzzle paths straight and streamline gameflow, it wasn’t evenly incorporated. It appeared slapped on as an afterthought rather than integrated into the set and props.
– It was rarely clear when a puzzle had been solved.
+ The most cerebral puzzle had some incredibly clever aha moments that we loved.
+ Reactor Escape incorporated elements we’d never before seen in an escape room. Some of these lent themselves to puzzling and enhanced the experience.
– The more interesting the tech, the less interesting the puzzle. In one instance, the puzzle consisted of pushing a button to start a machine. In another, the puzzle consisted of viewing a piece of information. These weren’t particularly inspired ways to incorporate these devices into a puzzle game.
– One gadget required hands-on teaching. Our gamemaster appeared in the room to walk one player through how to operate the device. The puzzle for it had clearly been scaled back due to the challenge of the gadget and was hardly a puzzle at all anymore. While nifty, this gadget didn’t make sense in a timed puzzle game. It wasn’t satisfying for the player, who felt dragged through using it. Using this thing detracted from playing the game.
+ We enjoyed Reason’s spin on how to open a padlock.
– The tech was finicky. We had one nifty component fail to accept correct solutions for a good while.
+ The puzzle paths came together in a satisfying endgame.
– This was the most expensive escape room that we’ve ever visited. At $500 per team, most normal non-corporate groups will be priced out of even entertaining the notion of visiting Reason.
Price: $198 for teams of 2-6 players, $33 for each additional player after 6
Startup Escape was a labor of love that wonderfully captured Bay Area startup culture and packed a ton of puzzle-play.
From the look of the office, to the prop selection, to the hint system, to the jokes, Startup Escape just felt right.
The opening and closing of this escape room could have benefitted from a little more intrigue, but the overwhelming majority of this game offered great puzzle branches.
If you have any connection to or understanding of the startup world, I think you’ll find delight in Startup Escape. Play it for the humor and the puzzles.
If you’re in San Francisco, consider this a strong recommendation for this delightful representation of a traditional escape room.
Who is this for?
Techies (or people who know enough about Bay Area culture to laugh at it)
Best for players with at least some experience
Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
It lampoons startup culture
Our group of founders had worked our way from our garage to a new open office in the Bay Area. We had taken our seed funding and needed to get our product to market as quickly as possible. Time was ticking; with every passing second, our valuation was dropping.
Startup Escape was primarily staged in a bright Silicon Valley open office. Each workstation had a different assortment of techy gadgets.
Startup Escape nailed the aesthetic and vibe.
Hints were delivered via Slack.
Startup Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, dexterity, teamwork, and puzzling.
+ Startup Escape told the story of our new company attempting to make it big in Silicon Valley. It accurately poked fun at startup culture.
– The opening moments of Startup Escape were a bit underwhelming. They told a clever story, but didn’t have the heart that the rest of the game had.
+ The hint system was Slack… and it was personalized. This was perfect.
+ Our game clock was our company’s valuation. The longer it took us to get to market, the lower our valuation would be.
+ Startup Escape followed multiple distinct puzzle paths that all converged in the end. These were clearly delineated and flowed logically.
– There was a moment of bottleneck before the puzzle paths diverged. Additional clue structure would likely help teams avoid spinning their wheels at this juncture.
– Startup Escape lacked a final boss puzzle. The culmination of the different puzzle paths felt anticlimactic despite the dramatic final interaction.
+ We used a variety of tech to solve the puzzles. We enjoyed playing with these various gadgets in order to solve puzzles.
– Some of the tech in the escape room was too worn. We struggled to make it work well enough to solve the puzzle at hand.
+ The puzzles were well-integrated, humorous, largely teamwork-focused, and fun.
+ Startup Escape landed the look and feel of a startup perfectly. From the desks to the toys, it was dead-on.
SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.
The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.
I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.
Who is this for?
Players who welcome a challenge
People who can ignore a weak set
1990’s pop fans
Any experience level
Brilliant time loop game mechanic
So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.
The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.
The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.
Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.
A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.
The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.
Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.
+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.
– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.
+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.
+ The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.
+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.
– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.
– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.
+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.
+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)
– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.
– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.
+ The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.
Palace Games succeeded in blurring the lines between real life and video game.
The Edison Escape Room was a brilliant display of technology in escape room design. The detailed set was phenomenal. The gameplay ranged from well-executed standard puzzles to wholly unorthodox challenges in the physical environment, all of which leaned into teamwork. Palace Games stitched these elements together with technology that brightened each element individually and energized the interconnected experience. The Edison Escape Room was as impressive as it was fun.
This escape room was a commitment. At 100 minutes there might have even have been too many challenges. A few too many of these felt like the final puzzle leading to an unnecessary anticlimax. Palace Games packed a lot of different twists into The Edison Room.
Palace Games’ latest creation is a wonder of the escape room world.
It is worth traveling a distance to visit The Edison Escape Room.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Radiant set design
Unusual teamwork mechanics
The room reacts to the players
Incredible feat of technology in escape room design
Thomas Edison had maintained a secret study in the Palace of Fine Arts during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. When the Palace Games team unearthed a telegram confirming the existence of this study, they did indeed uncover the space.
This study hid a secret: Since Edison had deemed his children unsuitable heirs to his businesses, he had crafted a series of challenges into his study in an attempt to find an acceptable heir. If we could solve all his challenges, we could earn the right to lead Edison’s businesses.
Edison maintained a small wallpapered study with a wooden desk, phonograph, and some wall hangings. A display of lightbulbs featured prominently on one wall. It was cozy and welcoming.
This classic study was a facade. The more exciting and dramatic elements of his challenges were yet to come, if we were bright enough to enter his lab.
Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room began as a standard escape room and evolved to deliver highly interactive atypical sequences.
The Edison Escape Room offered a high level of difficulty. This difficultly, however, was adaptive. If a team wasn’t up to the level of challenge, the room would adjust to the give the players a better experience.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and working together.
+ The Edison Escape Room delivered phenomenal reveals. It was exciting, dramatic, and invigorating.
+ The set was delightful. There was always more to take in. A close look illuminated disguised jokes and puns. I spent a few minutes puzzling through these humorous tidbits that were entirely irrelevant to the larger puzzle game. I enjoyed every second of this time.
+ The puzzle design encouraged both parallel puzzling and group solves. The branching came back together repeatedly in interactive and entertaining group challenges.
+ We enjoyed so many of the puzzles in The Edison Escape Room. These included typical escape room-style puzzles as well as atypical, interactive group maneuvering.
– One of the late-game puzzles felt underclued. Witnessing it play out, we liked the concept, but it seemed as if the game was dragging us through it rather lighting a path of clues that we could follow.
+/- The Edison Escape Room provided audible feedback to confirm that we’d correctly solved a puzzle. Some of the choices of confirmation tone seemed oddly out of place and immersion-breaking in an experienced grounded in 1915… even when they were amusing.
+ Palace Games intertwined gamespace and puzzle seamlessly; for much of the escape room these were interconnected on a level far beyond what we’ve come to expect from escape room design.
+ The gamespace responded to our actions. Furthermore, it adapted to the team’s ability. It was impressive.
+ The Edison Escape Room encouraged us to build mastery of the gamespace and the props within. We welcomed Palace Games’ unambiguous approach to prop reuse. It furthered our engagement with the gamespace. The props were enticing and we were eager to see them recalled and reimagined as the game progressed.
-The Edison Escape Room didn’t need to be 100 minutes long. Some of the late-game content became overly repetitive. On multiple occasions we thought we’d solved the final puzzle… and then Edison tossed us another challenge. Considering how much time we spend in escape rooms, it’s strange to say that this was too much escape room, but by the end, that’s how we felt. The energy of the space dimmed.
– The final puzzle – the actual final puzzle – wasn’t as climactic as some of the culminating puzzles that came before it. This contributed to the petering out.
+ The technology driving The Edison Escape Room was impressive. We were in awe that it worked. While we don’t believe escape rooms need technology to be great, Palace Games incorporated this technology brilliantly to bring the elements of escape room design together.
+ The Edison Escape Room provided a continual sense of new discovery. In a gamespace as elaborate and interesting as this, discovery was invigorating. This was a ton of fun. I still can’t believe that this thing exists.
Tips for Visiting
Drive to the back of The Palace of Fine Arts. There is parking.
Duration: 90 minutes (with the opportunity for additional time)
Price: $410 per time slot
Story & setting
Set inside of another portion of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, we were once again cast as the same characters from The Great Houdini Room Escape, attempting to solve Teddy Roosevelt’s challenge. The whole sequel thing felt forced and unnecessary.
The game was deceptively large and the set was pretty damn incredible. Even when the seams showed, it was impressive. It felt like there was always something new to discover in this massive, 90-minute game.
Like The Great Houdini Room Escape, this was a puzzler’s game. Puzzle after puzzle, there was a lot to figure out and interact with.
The Roosevelt Room included two of the most brilliant puzzles I have ever encountered in a room escape.
The aforementioned two incredible puzzles.
The first puzzle was a brilliant on-ramp for the room; it got everyone involved and functioning as a team.
The largely invisible application of technology was very well done.
The scope of the Roosevelt Room was staggering.
It was a large team room escape that truly kept a large team busy throughout the entire game.
Our gamemaster was so damn charming.
Losing teams are granted extra time to complete the experience.
This may be weird to say, but it was a little bit too large. The game felt like it would have been better had some portions been edited down or sped up.
One of those incredible puzzle interactions seriously lacked in cluing. There was no chance that our team was going to figure out how to get started without a push in the right direction from our gamemaster.
Far too many puzzles required a lot of task-based or repetitious work after we had figured out how to solve them. Really cool interactions overstayed their welcome.
The puzzle quality was uneven. There were groups who worked on one series of puzzles that felt cheated when they saw what the rest of the team had been working on.
I had a very annoying technology failure.
Should I play Palace Games’ The Roosevelt Escape Room?
Palace Games is clearly selling a massive, premium experience. Costing a little over $400 per team, in a enormous, custom-built, technology-driven environment, they have made a special game. And they know it. They are all about the experience; they want everyone to experience every last drop of the game, even the teams that lose.
The downside of all of this is that it felt like it was a little bit too much. We ran over by about 15 minutes, but long before we were playing on bonus time, we had players looking at their watches. There was room to edit down or simplify some of the interactions in this game. It would be better for it.
This game is great for teams of experienced players who puzzle together regularly. It was not the best game for the hodge-podge of wonderful friends that I cobbled together on my last-minute work trip. This is a game that requires a cohesive, experienced team to truly get the most out of it.
That said, if you cannot pull the perfect team together, pull a group together anyway and play it. This is an unusual and special game. It’s worth spending a little too much time inside of it.
“My brain is the key that sets me free.”
– Harry Houdini
Location: San Francisco, CA
Date played: August 30, 2016
Team size: 6-12; we recommend 7-9
Duration: 80 minutes (with the opportunity for additional time)
Price: $410 per time slot
Story & setting
“Harry Houdini built the world’s first escape room in the Palace of Fine Arts 100 years ago as a challenge to 8 brilliant innovators. The room is now open to the public – can you and your friends escape Houdini’s mystery room in 80 minutes?”
Our team was collectively cast as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, John Philip Sousa, Buffalo Bill Cody, Helen Keller, and Luther Burbank – famous attendees of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco. While the roles were not specifically handed out, there was a puzzle designed for each character.
After a lengthy introduction to the history and backstory of the room, we were led into a heavily decorated and dimly lit wooden room. After a few more nods to theme and another round of rules, we were instructed to flip a switch and embark on Houdini’s most enduring challenge.
The Great Houdini Escape Room boasted a diverse collection of puzzles.
As with other rooms that host larger groups, it featured a mix of puzzles that could be attacked individually as well as larger challenges for the whole group.
The mix of puzzles was broad and deep. There was so much to do and there were more than a few things for everyone. This was a busy room that demanded parallel puzzling.
The Great Houdini Escape Room was incredibly well themed on several levels. While there were necessary intrusions of post-1915 technology, the technology was more or less hidden and treated as “magic” in the magician’s sense of the word. The room fit within the narrative it presented. With a few rare exceptions, that narrative was carried through all the way to the completion of the game.
The venue was truly special. The Palace of Fine Arts was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The backstory of the The Great Houdini Escape Room drew heavily from the real history of the space, with obvious embellishment. The transition from actual history to escape room story was nearly seamless.
While there were paper instructions and clues, the majority of challenges involved physical interaction.
Palace Games provides bonus time to losing teams, as they want everyone to see every bit of their creation.
A few days after our escape, they sent us a detailed report on our performance. It offered details on each individual puzzle and step along the way, including our team’s elapsed time compared with our percentile and the average time for that task, presented numerically and in chart form.
The space was relatively small given the 12-person maximum team size.
The tech occasionally showed a bit too much. In once instance, a strip of LEDs representing water felt bizarrely out of place.
Parts of this game were linear, but it didn’t feel like that would be the case; that was off-putting.
There were several times when our team was split up, working on several different puzzles at once. For several of us, there was a distinct feeling that we were missing out on what was going on elsewhere.
There were a few props that were far too fussy. Our gamemaster (who did a great job) was hovering over the team while we were interacting with these things. He clearly knew that they weren’t operating as designed.
Should I play Palace Games’ The Great Houdini Escape Room?
The Great Houdini Escape Room has a stellar reputation. Prior to visiting, many people whom I hold in high regard have described this game as their favorite. I had high expectations and was not disappointed.
The room was well-themed with a consistent narrative that carried throughout the game. The integration of the space’s actual history, albeit fast and loose with the facts, gave the game a unique energy. The puzzles were challenging, eclectic, and mostly felt like they belonged. They were well integrated with the room and provided a good mix of puzzle types with occasional task-based challenges.
This was not an escape that could be boxed or played in your living room. There was so much to interact with.
While the experience was slightly longer than the standard 1 hour, and well worth it, $410 flat rate was higher than average, especially for smaller groups (which I’d recommend). This was a game designed for experienced, highly functional teams. The Great Houdini Escape Room is for players who have at least a little experience under their belts. Much of what makes it special will be lost on new players.
The Great Houdini Room Escape was a top-tier game and any moderate to experienced player should give it a shot if they’re in San Francisco.
“Professor Stanley, known for his theory of time travel, disappeared inside his own office three days ago. His students say he was about to publish new findings on multiple time dimensions. As his closest friend, you’ve decided to find out the truth of Prof. Stanley’s mysterious disappearance. Pay attention to any clues related to time, otherwise the same thing could happen to you…”
The room starts off on the right foot. A fiction is explained with a short video on an iPad. While it isn’t the most compelling story in the world, it’s enough to get you going; the room takes care of the rest.
The room is beautifully designed. There’s a character to it; a sense that it is real. The background music is quietly eerie without being distracting. There’s a gravity to everything, but it’s never foreboding. As the game unfolds, that gravity grows into a palpable feeling of adventure.
All of this is facilitated by a remarkably sturdy room. In addition to being well-designed, the room is well-built enough that the puzzle masters just tells you the ground rules, and then leaves you in the room on your own.
They don’t have, and don’t need a referee hovering over you, chastising you for touching things that ought-not be touched.
And everything just works.
Each and every puzzle is fun to solve. They are all derived of objects that are in the room, and with rare exception, those objects feel like they are supposed to be there for reasons that extend beyond “we put it there.”
One of the less-than-stellar aspects of the room is that it is very linear. There are approximately six major gate puzzles which prevent a team from doing anything if the gate isn’t cleared.
Since all of the puzzles are fun, this is ok. However if you get truly stuck on one of these, you’re dead in the water.
A Few Weak Props
Among the props that are immediately findable in the room is a bookshelf full of books. They are hilariously fake book-like cardboard boxes, and the detract from the otherwise high quality feel of the room.
4 – 8 People?
We did this room soundly with four people. It’s big enough in terms of square footage for eight people to fit comfortably, but there aren’t enough puzzles to occupy eight smart people.
The fact that the puzzle is so linear makes it difficult to keep more the three or four people fully occupied at a time.
I would recommend doing this with three to six people (six is pushing it).
The Struggle is Fun
This isn’t the most challenging room, but it has enough struggle to it. It’s clever, fun, and sturdy.
I would highly recommend this as a room for first timers.
Book your hour with OMESCAPE, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.