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 anti-climax. 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 wall-papered 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 more typical escape room style puzzles as well as more atypical, interactive group maneuvering.

– One of the late-game puzzles felt under-clued. 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 different 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.

San Francisco: Meet us at the Adventure Design Group

We’re thrilled to announce that we’re co-hosting a meetup with the Adventure Design Group when we visit San Francisco in August.

Details

  • Monday, August 20 at 7:00pm
  • The Laundry Gallery and Cafe (3359 26th St)

Stylized image of teh Golden Gate Bridge.

Speaking

We’ll also be giving a talk at the event. ADG has hosted a ton of amazing speakers over the years and we’re honored to be among them.

We’re going to:

  • tell stories about some of our favorite escape rooms from our travels
  • discuss trends in escape rooms
  • share perspective on where we think the medium is going
  • unpack what changes mean for the players

If you’re in the area, come on out, we’d love to meet you.

Sign up on Facebook or Meetup today!

Palace Games – The Roosevelt Escape Room [Review]

Maybe a slightly smaller stick?

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date played: September 1, 2016

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 8-10

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.

In-game image. A corner with red wallpaper and gold trim. A photo of the Panama Canal hangs on the wall beside an elephant's head.

Puzzles

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.

Standouts

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.

Shortcomings

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.

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

Palace Games – The Great Houdini Escape Room [Review]

“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.

A big, old switch. It is set to "Get Ready" and the other position is "Begin!"

Puzzles

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.

Standouts

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.

Shortcomings

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.

Book your session with Palace Games’s The Great Houdini Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

This review was written in partnership with Dr. Brian Ressler.

OMESCAPE: The Omega Room Escape [Review]

Location: San Francisco, California

Date played: August, 2014

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: $28 per ticket

The Plot

“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…”

OMESCAPE Omega Room

Ambiance

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.

Sturdy Room

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.

Strong Puzzles

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.”

Too Linear

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.