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.