Palace Games – Escape The Palace [Review]

Puzzle Palace

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: June 2, 2019

Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group

Duration: up to 2 hours

Price: contact Palace Games for pricing

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.

Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.

Exterior of the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.

It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.

Wide shot of all of the players gathered.

If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging but fair puzzles
  • Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
  • Fun mechanisms

Story

We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.

The game's main character in a labcoat and goggles.

Setting

Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.

The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.

An "Escape the Palace" Banner hanginging over a stairwell with my team under it.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.

Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.

Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.

Lisa and Drew surrounded by other players.
Sorry mom. I joined a puzzle gang.

Analysis

Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.

➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.

➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.

➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.

➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.

➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
  • Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.

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

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Clockwise Escape Room – The Incredible Machine [Review]

Steampunk AI

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: May 31, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27-35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s something inherently charming about steampunk. Clockwise Escape Room built an escape room around a really interesting concept in The Incredible Machine. It was cute, fun, and played well.

In-game: A brain in a with a hat on.

The core idea of the game – which I won’t spoil – was fantastically clever. I found myself wishing, however, that Clockwise Escape Room did just a little more with it. That’s the core criticism of the room. This was a great game that could have pushed its best ideas, its set design, and its puzzles just a little further.

I absolutely recommend The Incredible Machine for all experience levels. I think that Clockwise Escape Room has something great here, but it could be amazing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Steampunk fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A fantastic concept
  • Some wonderful moments
  • Steampunk goodness

Story

We’d opened our eyes in a strange workshop within a steampunk dimension. With no idea how we’d arrived, we had to find a way back to our reality.

In-game: a mechanical, clockwork eye.

Setting

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine was set within a steampunk workshop and had all of the clockwork gears and mechanical mechanisms that one would expect to find in such a place.

The set was a little uneven, with some incredible setpieces, some blander elements, and one or two elements that were on the bubble as to whether they belonged in the game at all.

In-game: A desk with design schematics covering it.

Gameplay

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine’s was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A brain in a jar hooked up to a bicycle by a glowing red cable.

Analysis

➕ There was a good physicality to the steampunk props and interactions that Clockwise Escape Rooms worked into this game world to make it come to life.

➖ Although we liked the aesthetic, much of the space felt bare. We wanted Clockwise Escape Rooms to do more of the same with the look and feel of The Incredible Machine.

➕ We had to power up our brains early on to solve this escape room.

➕ We relied on different senses as we puzzled through The Incredible Machine. This worked well in the context of the game.

➕ Clockwise Escape Rooms created a character as part of The Incredible Machine. As we solved, we became more connected to this character.

➖ The Incredible Machine fizzled in the third act. These late-game puzzles were generally weaker and felt largely random. In this act, we lost the feel, story, and character of The Incredible Machine.

➕ / ❓ The Incredible Machine included substantial audio cluing. This was clear and justified by the game design. It worked well and even added to our experience. Our gamemaster mentioned that not all audio clues could be replayed. We didn’t struggle with this, so we don’t know if this could be severely problematic for some teams.

➕ The Incredible Machine had a phenomenal ending. This was teed up early in the game. We were eagerly anticipating the concluding sequence and it lived up to expectations.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking in San Francisco is limited and expensive. Take the subway to Civic Center or take the surface tram (F line).

Book your hour with Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

EscapeSF – Escape from Blind Tiger Bar [Review]

Assembling the naughty list.

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $89 for teams of 2 to $179 for teams of 6

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape from Blind Tiger Bar has been a regional favorite among San Francisco escape room players for a few years and we understand why. It had some really unusual and exciting elements. Had we played this game a couple of years ago, it absolutely would have wowed us… Today, we simply enjoyed it.

EscapeSF’s speakeasy-inspired escape room was solid. While its middle segment could have offered something a bit more interesting, it had an impressive opening scene and some wonderful concluding moments.

All in all, this was a good game as long as you control your expectations. While visiting San Francisco, we strongly recommend that you play EscapeSF’s Space Bus, a fantastic game that shows where this company is headed.

In-game: The Blind Tiger Bar with a beautifuly antique cash register.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An interesting start
  • An explosive conclusion

Story

It was the height of Prohibition and we wanted to acquire a speakeasy. Instead of funding our own illegal business, we’d decided to sneak into an existing one with the goal of finding the names of its owners and stealing their ledger. After that, the police would take care of the owners and we’d have ourselves a new illicit drinking establishment.

In-game: a worn Colt M1911 pistol.

Setting

Escape from Blind Tiger Bar began with us in an alleyway surrounded by doors for all sorts of businesses. Initially, we had to determine which door hid the speakeasy. From that point, we spent the duration of the game within the illegal bar surrounded by liquor bottles and the various props that one would expect to find in a bar.

This escape game had been around for quite a few years when we played it. It was showing its mileage.

In-game: Liquor bottles on a shelf.

Gameplay

EscapeSF’s Escape from Blind Tiger Bar was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed the structure of Escape from Blind Tiger Bar. EscapeSF sandwiched standard escape room gameplay between inventive opening and closing sequences.

➕ The themed set was charming. We especially loved one pivotal prop. It was a true antique and a ton of fun to engage with.

➖ Escape from Blind Tiger Bar was an older game and the set and props were a bit worn.

➖ There was a lot to uncover. We found the searching to be varying degrees of boring and fuzzy. These solves generally felt uninteresting and arbitrary.

➕ We enjoyed the more puzzley puzzles.

➖ One puzzle could be solved out of sequence with just a bit of common outside knowledge.

➕ The gameplay had consequences. Our choices through one sequence determined how our experienced resolved.

➖ In the moment, we made a conscious decision, but not a knowing one. It wasn’t clear as we played that there would be consequences.

➕/ ➖ As we played Escape from Blind Tiger Bar, we couldn’t help but feel like there were missed opportunities in this game. We believe this is a matter of timing and perspective. When Escape from Blind Tiger Bar was introduced, it pushed the envelope. Today it isn’t as surprising as it was a few years back. That doesn’t take away from the game EscapeSF built, but it does change the way it feels to a well-traveled escape room player.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a paid parking garage across the street.
  • We enjoyed dim sum at the nearby Great Eastern Restaurant.
  • There were steps down from the lobby to Escape from Blind Tiger Bar.

Book your hour with EscapeSF’s Escape from Blind Tiger Bar, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: EscapeSF provided media discounted tickets for this game.

EscapeSF – Space Bus [Review]

Ride on the Magic School Bus

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $155 per team of 4 players to $275 per team of 8 players

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The aptly named Space Bus was exactly as its name implied: a retired school bus transformed into a spaceship… and a beautiful one at that.

In-game: The Space Bus' exterior with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background.

When we heard “converted school bus” we pictured a rundown hacked together mess… not a slick Star Trek-esque setting.

In addition to looking good, Space Bus performed where it counted: strong puzzles.

While there were a few aspects and moments that could have been smoother, EscapeSF’s mobile sci-fi game was a solid escape room through and through.

If you’re in San Francisco, this should be among the escape rooms that you play.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Best for any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great puzzles and flow
  • An elegant spaceship set
  • Space Bus can come to you (within reason)

Story

We boarded the Space Bus bound for Space Academy. While in transit with our fellow cadets, the bus was damaged. We needed to figure out how to get everything running properly before the system failure became terminal.

In-game: A wide angle view of the starboard side of the Space Bus.

Setting

Space Bus was set in a converted school bus. From the outside it was incredibly clear that this was a bus, but once inside, we were in a spaceship.

The glowing lights and sleek sci-fi design greatly exceeded anything that I had ever imagined I’d see in a school bus. The only details that gave away the gamespace’s original purpose were some rooftop emergency exits, air conditioners (all painted silver), and the exit door leading to the front of the bus.

In-game: The glowing thermal control system routing console.

Gameplay

Escape SF’s Space Bus was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It was unusual because it was on wheels.

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

In-game: The glowing energy consumption level by sector console.

Analysis

➕ EscapeSF turned a classic yellow school bus into a spaceship. The bus had been through an impressive metamorphosis. It was jarring – in a good way – to see a school bus look so futuristic and beautiful.

In-game: The Space Bus school bus with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

➕ The physical interactions in Space Bus were immensely satisfying. This spaceship had great button-y buttons.

➕ We enjoyed the structure of “turning puzzles on” and then returning to them when we were ready to solve them.

In-game: The Space Bus Flight Manual

➕ Space Bus was a successful checklist-style escape room. Although we were following set instructions, it wasn’t exactly a runbook. We had to correlate instructions with puzzles, which added a reasoning element, and the gameplay wasn’t strictly linear. Additionally, the checklist made sense in the scenario. We could imagine a larger world where we’d be completing a different set of tasks should our spaceship have encountered a different sort of trauma.

➖ For the most part, the instructions were in small booklets. Although we had multiple copies, one was pretty worn, the text was small, and we couldn’t remove the pages to correlate them with the physical puzzle elements. We were constantly flipping through these books trying to find something we knew we’d seen before, which was frustrating. Even adding section tabs would make a big difference.

➕ The puzzles were intelligent. In some cases, they had multiple possible solutions. EscapeSF had programmed the technology to recognize multiple correct solves, and all correct solutions, even if the solutions were – as happened in once instance – input out of order. EscapeSF also had bypasses ready should anything not function properly. The tech was fun, forgiving, and fair.

➖ Space Bus started strongly, but lacked a finale. The last scene was the weakest in terms of both set design and puzzles.

In-game: The front of the Space Bus filled with post-game signs.

Tips For Visiting

  • Space Bus is mobile. You can play it parked outside of EscapeSF or book it to come to you.
  • You will need to go up a few steps onto the bus.

Book your hour with Escape SF’s Space Bus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: EscapeSF provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Spellbound Supper [Review]

Puzzle pre fixe

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 3-10; we recommend exactly 5 or exactly 10

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per person weekdays, $33 per person weekends

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

SCRAP once again created a unique escape game structure clever enough that it could be a genre unto itself.

The entirety of Spellbound Supper happened in our seats around a dinner table.

In-game: Team B surrounding their white table.

SCRAP used a combination of real life objects, projection, and a Microsoft Kinect to allow us to gesture and interact with the projected items. It was “magical” in the Steve Jobs sense of the word.

Spellbound Supper was an amazing concept and a remarkable experience. At the same time, the game felt unfinished. There were many little places where added refinement would have made all the difference.

We would love to see more games in this style. SCRAP could and should push this idea even further. It was mind-opening and entertaining. Throughout the experience, despite the imperfections, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much fun it was.

If you’re in San Francisco, this one is absolutely worth checking out. Much like The Popstar’s Room of Doom it wasn’t perfect, but its cleverness and novelty greatly outweighed its flaws.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technophiles
  • Fantasy fans
  • Players with mobility struggles
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The brilliant use of technology
  • The dramatic yet simple setting
  • Unusual gameplay, challenges, and puzzles

Story

We’d heard legend of a risky dinner served by a powerful witch. Those who had attended, if deemed worthy, had been rewarded with wonderful magical abilities. Everyone else who had dined with the witch had vanished.

In-game: Team A surrounding their white table.

Setting

Spellbound Supper was an escape room played entirely at a dinner table. All of the puzzles and components were either delivered by our server or projected onto the stark white table cloth.

The projected graphics were beautiful.

The room itself was elegant and slightly intimidating, but not in a frightening way. Its minimalist intensity combined with the demeanor of our server to create an imposing vibe.

In-game: A neatly folded green napkin on a white plate and white tablecloth.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The unorthodox environment added challenge. We had to solve different types of puzzles – printed and projected – from our seats at the table.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and using the magical tools we were provided.

Analysis

➕ The dinner table theme was novel. This was our first puzzle feast.

➕ Although we didn’t move from our seats at the table for the duration of the game, Spellbound Supper kept our attention focused on the meal. SCRAP used projection mapping to reveal the gameplay. It was magical and visually intriguing.

➖ The courses progressed rather nonsensically. There didn’t seem to be any reason – story-driven or puzzle-driven – supporting this progression.

➕/➖ The technology could be finicky. We were torn about it. On the one hand, straight video games do some of this better. On the other hand, it was entertaining to be playing a video game with real props, in real life.

➖ We became impatient with the mechanics. We had to wait for long voiceovers to finish. When we made mistakes – which we did often as we pieced together how to solve puzzles – we had to finish a failed cycle repeatedly, which became tedious and took away from the magic feeling magical. We spent a fair bit of time waiting to get back to puzzle-solving. A reset interaction would have been a big improvement.

➕ Spellbound Supper assigned us roles. These were pretty even. You couldn’t draw the short straw. Additionally, the roles were vital to the experience. (For this reason, we recommend you play with a group of exactly 5 or exactly 10 people.)

➖ There weren’t a whole lot of props and the ones they had felt chintzy. With a few more details, dinner would have been classier, and the game more polished.

➖ There was a lot to read. Seated at a table, we had to pass cards around in low light. We would have preferred this part to be better incorporated into the projection mapping or the physical gameplay.

➖ We played with 2 groups of 5 players each. The two groups played the game simultaneously around separate tables without ever interacting, or even seeing each other. We finished at different times, which lead to confusing, anticlimactic endings. The audio kept playing while we tried to figure out if we’d won it or if there was more.

➕ As is typical of SCRAP games, there were a few twists. These were mostly fair challenges that mostly made sense, well… it was still a difficult SCRAP game with an obligatory logic leap or two.

Spellbound Supper was fun. Even in moments of frustration, I was eager to try again, see the next challenge, and explore the interactions. It was so unlike any other escape room we’ve played and the novelty was part of the fun.

Tips For Visiting

  • The Japantown parking garage is across the street.
  • There are lots of great restaurant options in Japantown.
  • There is no real food served as part of this game.

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Spellbound Supper, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Escape Games by SCRAP provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Come to our February Meetup in San Francisco

We will be in town later this month for the Immersive Design Summit and we’d love to meet you!

Whether you’re a local or you’re in town for IDS, if you enjoy escape rooms, we’d love to hang out.

Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

We invite all escape rooms creators, designers, players, enthusiasts, bloggers… and the escape room curious to meet up at the famed, Jesse’s house!

The evening will be a detailed immersive experience creating the feeling that you’re at an escape room meetup in the home of a kind individual from the local escape room community.

Details

  • Friday, February 22, 2019
  • 9pm – Midnight
  • Jesse’s House, 72 Lansing St, San Francisco
  • You must RSVP (EventBrite). We have a maximum capacity of 40 people. Please do not flake.

FAQ

Who is Jesse?

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.

RSVP while we still have space.

Reason – Reactor Escape [Review]

Mini Mini Maker Faire

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 10-16; we recommend less than 10*

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $500 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

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.

In-game: a pair of monitors mounted to a wall.

Who is this for?

  • Corporate groups
  • Technology aficionados
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The gadgets

Story

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.

In-game: a doorway between two rooms.

Setting

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.

In-game: A wall with buttons.

Gameplay

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.

Analysis

? 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.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • We recommend a short walk to SOMA StrEat Food Park.
  • You must be able to walk upstairs to get to the escape room.

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

Startup Escape [Review]

Bootstrapping!

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 18, 2018

Team size: 2-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $198 for teams of 2-6 players, $33 for each additional player after 6

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

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.

In-game: An open office with 4 desks.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • 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

Why play?

  • It lampoons startup culture
  • Puzzle variety
  • Gadgets-turned-puzzles

Story

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.

In-game: a close up of the marketing desk with a mouse, keyboard, and a locked iPhone.

Setting

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.

In-game: a monitor with Slack open, and our Room Escape Artist account open to receive "help."

Hints were delivered via Slack.

Gameplay

Startup Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, dexterity, teamwork, and puzzling.

Analysis

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.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • We recommend Mikkeller for food/drinks.

Book your hour with Startup Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Startup Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

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.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

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.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

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.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

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.

Analysis

+ 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.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Palace Games – The Edison Escape Room [Review]

💡34,000

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 20, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

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.

In-game: an incandescent lightbulb labeled

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technology fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Radiant set design
  • Dramatic reveals
  • Unusual teamwork mechanics
  • The room reacts to the players
  • Incredible feat of technology in escape room design

Story

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.

In-game: Promotional image of Edison's 1915 World's Fair Tower of Jewels, rainbow iridescent tower.

Setting

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.

In-game: an old phonograph on Edison's desk.

Gameplay

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.

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

Analysis

+ 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.

In-game: A period appropriate Periodic Table of the Elements.

+ 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.

In-game: a grid of incandescent light bulbs all labeled with different words.

+ 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.

In-game: An old 6 lever Winchester lock.

+ 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.
  • For food we recommend Super Duper Burgers.
  • Accessibility: If you have mobility concerns, speak with Palace Games about adaptations to accommodate for these. The Edison Escape Room is highly adaptable.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.