Escape Challenge – The Orphanage [Review]

Enter sandman.

Location: Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Orphanage was dark, with horror overtones. With this newest game, Escape Challenge delivered yet another style of gameplay: The Orphanage had us visiting and revisiting different areas of this abandoned home for girls, letting us get our bearings and then upending any sense of comfort.

The lights, sounds, and impeccable detail from floor to ceiling underscore how carefully this experience was crafted.

If you’re anywhere near Zoetermeer, The Orphanage is a must-play.

In-game: a statue of a nun praying hung high on the wall, above is a detailed wood planked ceiling.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Wonderful interaction design
  • Brilliant sound and lighting
  • Impeccably detailed sets
  • Collaborative puzzling
  • Frightening moments that are scary even if you see them coming

Story

We entered a long-abandoned girl’s orphanage in search of adventure. As the door closed and the lights flickered, we realized that something was wrong with this place. With our entrance blocked, the only way out was through the orphanage.

In-game: the hallway of the Orphanage with a series of hooks for clothing.

Setting

The Orphanage was grim with frightening moments. Escape Challenge built an incredible and immersive environment filled with carefully designed lighting cues. From floor to ceiling, they designed every detail of this set. They even weathered the strike plates and other door hardware.

Each and every space within The Orphanage felt lived in, and had clear purpose. It made the set feel real. 

In-game: A science classroom display with preserved animals and a human skull.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Orphanage was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, building connections, overcoming fear, and puzzling.

In-game: a closeup of a human skull.

Analysis

+ The intensity of The Orphanage began as soon as we approached the door of Escape Challenge. It set the stage for the experience.

+ Escape Challenge teased the scale of the set in The Orphanage. From the opening moments, we could tell it was expansive, but not quite how expansive. Escape Challenge controlled our movement through it, introducing us to different spaces on their terms.

The Orphanage surprised us. After we’d become comfortable with a space, they upended that comfort once again.

+ We loved The Orphanage‘s brilliant take on a childhood game.

– One prop interaction needed additional clueing. We were too gentle with it, and in doing so, erased some of our time.

The Orphanage included a variety of challenging puzzles that were fun to solve. We especially liked one dexterity challenge.

– The final segment delivered dramatic intensity, but chaotic puzzling. It didn’t really fit with the deliberately designed puzzle flow of the The Orphanage. Furthermore, the final solve didn’t bring any closure to the story. The concluding scene didn’t match the experience.

Observation: The children in this orphanage had names. Their names came into play multiple times, as we solved various puzzles. These were some of my favorite puzzles. I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to solve these puzzles around Dutch names, which I didn’t recognize and couldn’t easily pronounce. It’s not something I’d ever considered before, and as a name nerd, I was intrigued by this additional challenge. Luckily our Dutch-speaking teammates made this much easier.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive about 1 hour from central Amsterdam.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft.

Book your hour with Escape Challenge’s The Orphanage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

Boom Chicago – Escape Through the Movies [Review]

Yes and!

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 11, 2018

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €40 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Boom Chicago is an improv comedy troupe whose escape games explore comedy. Escape Through the Movies wove us through a large assortment of backstage spaces throughout their theater. Each new area that we entered took us into a new iconic movie for puzzles and laughs.

While it was a bit uneven in both aesthetics and gameplay, Escape Through the Movies was a fun assortment of unusual segments that didn’t take itself seriously. It presented great moments.

If you’re in Amsterdam, go with the right group and the correct mindset to experience one of the rare comedic escape rooms created by people who get comedy.

In-game: Promo images of a man operating an old film projector.

Who is this for?

  • Movie buffs
  • Comedy fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who are comfortable going up and down stairs

Why play?

  • Comedy
  • Classic movie moments
  • It’s different

Story

The movies are real worlds and Hannibal Lecter wanted to bridge the gap between our reality and the movies. History’s worst movie villains would conquer our reality unless we stopped them. 

In-game: Promo images of a Matrix-y looking cyber punk woman in black leather and and sunglasses. She is lit and gesturing dramatically.

Setting

Boom Chicago is, first and foremost, an improv comedy theater. Escape Through The Movies was built in various rooms throughout their backstage area. It spanned multiple floors and each new space represented a different movie (or series).

The set design was uneven. Some segments look beautiful, while others seemed thrown together.

In-game: Promo images of 3 hands manipulating a matrix of 8 light switches.

Gameplay

Boom Chicago’s Escape Through the Movies was a standard escape room with some other types of gameplay mixed in. It had a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, light interaction with an actor, and puzzling.

A woman crouched and walking cautiously through a dark vent or tunnel.

Analysis

Escape Through the Movies began with a typical escape room set and game flow. The setting was charming. It set the stage for our strange adventure.

– As we left the first set, we entered into an uneven fantasy world. Some sets seemed to strive for realism, while others did not. Boom Chicago seemed to struggle with how realistic to make this humorous adventure.

+ Boom Chicago chose this plot well. It could justify just about anything… so it took us through some of the most unexpected scenes. And it worked.

+ Boom Chicago added sequences that didn’t follow typical escape room gameplay. Some parts were a little intense and others were silly, but these segments were where Escape Through the Movies really shined.

– The puzzles – and other puzzley activities – didn’t give quite enough feedback. We’d wonder whether we were approaching them correctly.

+ Boom Chicago achieved a massive escape room milestone in creating an iconic movie interaction that so many other companies have clearly wanted to build, but simply didn’t know how to make it work.

– The timing wasn’t always on point. We’d solve something and the escape room would react, but off cue. This confused us.

– We traversed a lot of different sets in Escape Through the Movies. While we enjoyed the concept, it meant we walked through a lot of wholly undesigned space, which broke the fiction. In one instance, Boom Chicago needed better stage directions. We accidentally walked past one scene without stopping to experience it. (Our gamemaster directed us back.)

+ Some scenes were purely jokes. No puzzle/activity content. Boom Chicago pulled this off.

– The ending lacked the drama of some of the early scenes. It had fanfare, but the final solve wasn’t epic enough to serve as a conclusion to such a large-scale experience.

+ Boom Chicago specializes in comedy. Escape Through the Movies didn’t take itself too seriously. It made fun of its subject matter and we laughed along with it.

+ Boom Chicago has a spacious lobby with a bar. It’s a fun place to hang out before or after playing Escape Through the Movies.

Tips for Visiting

  • Boom Chicago is accessible from Amsterdam City Center. It is right near the Anne Frank House.
  • We recommend Long Pura for an Indonesian meal across the street.
  • All players need to be able to walk up and down stairs.

Book your hour with Boom Chicago’s Escape Through the Movies, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Locked Amsterdam – The Liebermann Conspiracy [Review]

One fine art break-in.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: ranging from €23 per ticket to €41.50 per ticket depending on team size and weekday or evening/weekend

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

In The Liebermann Conspiracy we set out on a heist, explored elaborate technological interactions, and navigated through a diverse collection of elegant sets. We saw a lot of things we hadn’t seen before, and had a lot of fun, even when we more or less lost the narrative at the end of the game.

I’m glad that we played this one because we almost didn’t (read on to learn more about that). If you’re in Amsterdam and willing to take a short taxi ride, Locked Amsterdam is a really interesting place to play.

In game: a storage area with a ladder going up to the next floor.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Neat gadgets
  • The break-in moments

Story

Journalist Hugo Laanen was hiding after his encounter with the Russian secret service in Locked Amsterdam’s first escape room, The Submarine. While Laanen was maintaining a low profile, he learned of a global conspiracy by the Liebermann Group. Since he was in hiding, he had reached out to us to investigate on his behalf.

In game: a closeup of a server rack.

Setting

The Liebermann Conspiracy’s sets were especially diverse, each space looking nothing like the previous ones. We began in a raw, yet realistic storage area, and progressed from there.

Gameplay

Locked Amsterdam’s The Liebermann Conspiracy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In game: a storage area with shelving covered in computer and cleaning equipment.

Analysis

+ We brought our tools with us to break in. And break in we did. These small details made for an exciting opening and supported the narrative.

+ The gamespace was composed of custom construction. This was impressive.

+ We were mesmerized by an in-game gadget and how Locked Amsterdam worked it into this escape room.

+ Locked Amsterdam turned a spatial constraint into an intense in-game moment.

+ We enjoyed many of the puzzles in this escape room.

– A flaw in a technological implementation allowed an observant player on our team to circumvent a major puzzle.

+/- We found three possible solutions to one puzzle. Locked Amsterdam didn’t mind that we hacked together something unintended – and we liked our other solutions better than the intended one – but we wished the intended solution had been less clunky.

– While it started out narratively strong, our sense of world broke down late in the game. The Liebermann Conspiracy evolved into an escape room with puzzles for puzzles’ sake, rather than a puzzle-driven adventure.

+ We traversed multiple sets. Each felt so different from the last. We especially loved one artistic late-game set. It was unexpected, but felt legit.

– The final gamespace felt plain and empty. This contributed to the scene feeling forced and out of place.

– The Liebermann Conspiracy lacked a climatic moment. Its best moments were early on and it didn’t build to a finale.

The Liebermann Conspiracy is a 90-minute escape room. While we did spend time waiting for various in-game tech in predominantly linear parts of the game, we didn’t have to feel time pressure because of this.

? Ok… Now for an uncomfortable subject. If we hadn’t enjoyed The Submarine on our last trip to Amsterdam, we would never have booked The Liebermann Conspiracy; we probably would have skipped Locked Amsterdam entirely. In our minds, the name seemed to imply a game related to an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. Rest assured that this escape room was not anti-Semitic. This was just a name with no stated deeper meaning. Your reaction to the name will likely vary based on whether or not you live in an area where you meet enough Jews to recognize Jewish names. All of that being said, a name change wouldn’t be the worst idea, because I am glad that we played this escape room.

Tips for Visiting

  • You’ll have to taxi or Uber from the city center.
  • At least one player needs to be able to climb a ladder and move swiftly.

Book your hour with Locked Amsterdam’s The Liebermann Conspiracy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Get Out of Here – The Diamond Heist [Review]

Tune up.

Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 7, 2018

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: ranging from €109 per group to €119 per group depending on team size and weekday or evening/weekend

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Diamond Heist’s design aesthetic and construction quality were world class. I’m struggling to think of another escape game that hid technology quite as well as The Diamond Heist. Additionally, Get Out of Here’s comic-booky, noir-esque voiceover narration delivered humor and story with incredible efficiency. The catch: cluing and gameflow were shaky at best and left a lot of room for guesswork and approximation.

The Diamond Heist is almost top tier, and with some game design iteration, I have no doubt that Get Out of Here could achieve true greatness.

If you’re in Utrecht, check this one out.

The escape room briefing area.

 

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A unique setting
  • Expertly hidden tech
  • Beautiful set design
  • Neat gadgets
  • Surprising reveals

Story

Big Harry and Little Charlie — brothers, business partners, and master thieves — had worked together for years without drama. Charlie, however, had grown to resent that his brother called all of the shots. Their last heist had scored the legendary Ephemeral Diamond and Harry wouldn’t even let Charlie see it… so Charlie had hired us to burglarize it from his big brother.

A clothing rack with hunter green jumpsuits.

Setting

Get Out of Here’s The Diamond Heist was set in an automotive garage. The large, detailed space was beautifully designed. It looked and felt real with all of the escape roomy puzzles, interactions, and technology hidden shockingly well.

In preparation for the mission, we were given jumpsuits.

Gameplay

Get Out of Here’s The Diamond Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections, a little physical activity, and puzzling.

Get Out of Here has two copies of this game, so it is possible to race through these games competitively.

Analysis

+ Get Out of Here’s custom construction was high quality. They built interesting set pieces into their large gamespace.

+ Much of The Diamond Heist was tech-driven. The tech build was high quality and seamlessly hidden. This contributed to our amazement at one particular reveal.

The Diamond Heist delivered a few badass reveals. These were incredible moments.

– The Diamond Heist lacked clue structure. Much of the gameplay was presented as interactions rather than puzzles. It became increasingly frustrating to interact with the space and to trigger the dramatic moments.

– At times, we felt like digging for clue structure was akin to pixel hunting. The puzzles and their components felt too small for the large gamespace.

+ We enjoyed one thematically appropriate puzzle that combined information from disparate sources into a substantial and satisfying team puzzle.

– One puzzle required highly precise color perception.

+ The comic book-esque voiceover felt like our inner monologue. The adventure narration delivered narrative progression. This was different and fun.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive 45 minutes from central Amsterdam.
  • At least a few players need some basic agility.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Don’t wear skirts or dresses as they will make it difficult to put on your jumpsuit.

Book your hour with Get Out of Here’s The Diamond Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Get out of Here comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room Zandvoort – The Gold Mine [Review]

Cave in.

Location: Zandvoort, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 11, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €59 per group of 2 players to €119 per group of 6 players

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Gold Mine was at its best when we solved collaborative puzzles through interesting and tangible interactions. While we were frustrated by the lighting dynamic that persisted throughout the experience, we generally enjoyed the puzzles in this underground workspace.

If you are in Zandvoort, it’s worth stopping in search of gold.

Post game green screen photo of the team beside mining carts. David and Lisa are peaking out from behind a post.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who are comfortable in dim lighting

Why play?

  • Collaborative puzzles
  • Exciting conclusion
  • The post-game photos

Story

Almost 200 years ago, this Amazonian gold mine had collapsed. Now, however, a persistent archeologist had succeeded in reopening the mine. He believed there would be gold sitting undiscovered in its depths. Despite local superstitions warning us that the mine might not be safe, we ventured in search of gold.

Post game green screen photo with the team riding a mining cart like it's a rollercoaster.

Setting

The Gold Mine was dark and gritty. It felt like an underground workspace, complete with tight spaces and low doorways. We were glad to have helmets.

Gameplay

Escape Room Zandvoort’s The Gold Mine was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

Post game green screen photo of the team in a mine about to detonate dynamite.

Analysis

+ As we solved the puzzles, we furthered our mission in the mine. We appreciated how the puzzles moved the narrative forward.

– Before we entered the mine, the “team leader” received a special helmet-mounted UV light. The rest of us entered with flashlights. While we never enjoy searching an entire space for UV cluing, we were particularly put off by the team dynamic created by the tool imbalance and the room lighting. David, who’d volunteered to lead our expedition, felt like he was constantly asking us all to turn off our lights, or shine them in a different direction. The rest of us felt we couldn’t play freely because we kept having to step aside for the UV searching.

+ The Gold Mine had a great transition.

– We didn’t always know when we’d solved a puzzle. The Gold Mine would benefit from spring-loaded releases or pointed lighting to signal opens.

+ There wasn’t a ton of light in this mine, but sometimes it gave us an interesting perspective.

+ We enjoyed the collaborative nature of the late-game puzzles.

– By the time we escaped, we’d had enough of the looping soundtrack.

+ Escape Room Zandvoort took fantastic postgame photos set against their green screen.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive about 45 minutes from central Amsterdam.
  • There are adorable restaurants along the beach, just a few minutes’ walk from the escape room.
  • Do not wear nice clothing. You will get a bit dusty in this mine.
  • The helmets were necessary. Beware of the low doorway.

Book your hour with Escape Room Zandvoort’s The Gold Mine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Room Zandvoort provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Real Life Gaming – Prison Escape (Exclusive English Edition) [Review]

80 actors, 170 players, 1 actual prison.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 10, 2018

Team size: up to 400 players; we recommend ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 3 hours

Price: €79.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Very public

REA Reaction

Prison Escape was no escape room; it was a massive and intense roleplaying game with 80 talented actors and a gigantic cast of players. Prison Escape was a living, breathing entity, an organism with systems that impacted one another. A disruption here trickled down to there.

From their extensive prison intake introduction, to the various escape conspiracies, Prison Escape was a factory that produced individual moments for its players to experience. Some of those moments were epic; others were dull snippets of prison life. They all came together to form a story arc for each player.

The planning, coordination, and care that went into Prison Escape was mind-boggling. When we stop to think about what they have achieved, it’s impossible to be anything but impressed.Lisa's Prison Escape mugshot in an orange jump suit.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • LARPers or people who are willing to be social
  • Players who are comfortable knowing that they will not experience most of the things that this game has to offer

Why play?

  • Fairly open-ended gameplay where with some luck, you’ll get out of it what you put into it
  • Playing a prison escape game in an actual prison
  • The actors were phenomenal.
  • Prison Escape was truly massive in scope.

Story

We were all new convicts serving 10-year sentences in the Breda Prison Dome. We could either find a way to make a new life behind bars or attempt to escape.

The crowd of 180 players gathered outside of the Breda Prison Dome.

Setting

Prison Escape was played in and around the Breda Prison Dome, the retired prison that also hosted Up The Game. While some key components like prison locks had been removed from the structure, this was an otherwise authentic setting. It would have been impossible to ask more of the set.

The Prison Dome was massive, imposing, and strangely beautiful. While we had just spent two days in this building for the conference, it felt a lot less friendly under these circumstances, devoid of stage lighting, booths, and conference infrastructure.

David's Prison Escape mugshot in an grey jump suit.

Gameplay

Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape was not an escape room at all. Prison Escape was something between a real life game and an immersive theater.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, conversation, and a willingness to take action.

Exterior of the Breda Prison Dome with barred windows and barbed wire.

Analysis

This is an ever-evolving production so these points may not be relevant. If you’re planning to play Prison Escape, I strongly encourage you to skip the spoiler boxes below as the information contained therein may impact the way you choose to play the game.

Have your own experience first. Then return to read the rest of this review. You’ve been warned. 

+ The Breda Prison Dome was a phenomenal venue. This setting that had felt friendly days before was suddenly foreboding. It was an incredible transformation back to its natural state.

Prison Escape had an imposing introduction. It established the game world. It put us in character and costume. The prison warden delivered a badass welcome to hell speech.

Introduction - Discussion

+ The costumes – both ours and the actors’ – further solidified our characters in this experience. The prison guards had a clever technique for efficiently getting each prisoner into a prison jumpsuit that fit them perfectly, without ever disrupting the intense introductory sequence or breaking the fiction.

– The introduction took a long time. We spent a good portion of the first third of Prison Escape standing at attention. The novelty wore off quickly and discomfort set in.

– The grand introduction didn’t matter all that much. Prison Escape shattered that world just as soon as they had established it. We played the rest of the experience in a much looser, more zany prison world. As players, we had a bit of trouble accepting this transition. For quite some time, we were convinced that the harsh reality of the introduction would return. It didn’t. This dramatically impacted our understanding of the game’s world.

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Prison Escape set up epic individual moments. As an individual (or a small group), we’d be dispatched to accomplish a task that would be central to one of the plot threads. We had to come up with our own strategy and proceed. Succeed or fail, Prison Escape created memorable individual moments. For both of us, and most people we’ve talked to, these were the highlights of the experience.

Mid-Game Discussion

+ Prison Escape left a lot of breadcrumbs to lead players into a plot thread of their own. From found objects to the actors, if we observed carefully and made some basic connections, we’d find a plot thread to follow. Prison Escape worked hard to ensure that every player – even those with no experience in this type of gameplay – could engage with it.

+/- The different plot threads affected one another dramatically. When one plot succeeded long before it was intended to, it shattered another plot thread that hinged on an affected character. One group’s win caused another group to fail.

– After a certain point, if a plot thread failed, there was nothing else to do in Prison Escape. There came a point where it was impossible to break into the other storylines. There were no new plots taking shape. When David’s plot was disrupted midway through, there was no more fun to be had at Prison Escape

[collapse]

+/- Many of the escape plots were comically ridiculous. This was a ton of fun. It was strange, however, when juxtaposed with the serious tone established in the introduction.

End-Game - Discussion

– The few dozen people who didn’t escape didn’t get an end to their story. They got to watch another group’s plot resolve, but they weren’t participants anymore, only onlookers. They didn’t get a conclusion. We don’t recommend that everyone win. We do recommend that everyone receive an interactive ending.

– About 80% of the participants in our play-through escaped the prison. This seemed like a high number. It diminished the victory for those who succeed and added insult to those who did not. While the escape was fun, the best moments of the experience weren’t in achieving victory. We don’t think everyone needs to escape to enjoy Prison Escape. There was a missed opportunity to catch some plots in action and bring back the intensity of the introduction.

[collapse]

+ The actors were phenomenal. Furthermore, they were all speaking in their second language. This was the first time Real Life Gaming had run Prison Escape in English. We were seriously impressed with the English and the acting, especially all of the improvisation.

+ In Prison Escape, we were responsible for our own experiences, to a point. If we observed, conversed, played, strategized, and engaged, it could be a truly epic experience.

? In Prison Escape, the game structure was responsible for our experiences, to a point. There was a fair bit of luck involved in getting started. The actions of actors and other players would also affect our experiences, both negatively and positively. We weren’t entirely in control of our own destiny, which made sense in a prison.

Prison Escape is not consistent. It is not a stock experience, David and I had profoundly different experiences. Your game will be unique, as will your individual experiences within it.

The Breda Prison Dome lit at night.

Tips for Playing

  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of standing at attention.
  • Do not wear a skirt or dress.
  • Bring as few personal effects as you can. You’ll be locking them in lockers during the experience.
  • Be open to the highs and lows of the experience.
  • Take action. You have to actively play if you want anything to happen.

Book your event with Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Life Gaming provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Challenge – The Freakshow [Review]

Step on up. Come one, come all. This is a show that you won’t want to miss.

Location: Delft, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Freakshow was an intense and physical journey through a twisted circus. Escape Challenge created yet another special game that wound us through a wide variety of sets and scenes as we sought our freedom.

This fast-paced game was not for the faint of heart or body, as it required a bit of balance and dexterity that exceeded the typical demands of an escape game.

There was so much to love in The Freakshow; if you’re anywhere near Delft, please do yourself a favor and play this game.

In-game: The ominous entry way to the fortune teller's wooden trailer.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • People without mobility difficulties
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful and heavily varied sets.
  • Physical puzzles and challenges
  • Tons of memorable moments

Story

We had been abducted by the carnies. They would force us to perform in their circus freakshow if we couldn’t escape before their next show ended.

In-game: Advertisements for different freakshow performances including Big Hera and New Spidora.

Setting

Freakshow looked great. It took us through multiple set changes. Each new location established a fresh look and new challenges. It was heavily detailed and remarkably immersive with quite a few memorable settings.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Freakshow was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, physical activity, and puzzling.

In-game: A series of boxes and props from the freakshow beside a wooden trailer. There is a rabbit in a top hat, and a the image of a fortune teller painted agains the wall.

Analysis

The Freakshow opened dramatically.

+ Escape Challenge expertly built tension with sound and light.

+ As we made our escape, we traversed multiple different sets, each different from the previous ones. These sets captured many different circus aesthetics.

The Freakshow felt unbalanced. We moved quickly through large spaces and spent a long time in smaller ones. While this may have been because some puzzles played more to our strengths than others, we wished our time had been allocated differently.

+ We enjoyed many of the cerebral challenges in The Freakshow. They were mostly thematic and a ton of fun.

+ The physical challenges in The Freakshow added another dimension of challenge. These were exciting. They also involved the entire group.

+/- We felt torn about one late-game segment. It was interesting and appropriately zany… but I’ve rarely wanted to get past a puzzle and a space as much as I did with that one.

– The Freakshow ended abruptly. We were in this crazy, high intensity challenge, in a ridiculous setting. All of the elements for a climax were present… and then we won. And we looked at each other wondering if that was it. The escape felt incomplete. It needed a conclusive reaction from the set, ideally something that punctuated an escape.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive 1 hour from Amsterdam city center.
  • There is a parking garage across the street.
  • All players must be at least somewhat agile and able to go up and down stairs. Talk to Escape Challenge if you have balance issues.
  • There is a segment with flashing lights that might not be suitable for all players.
  • Do not wear nice shoes or clothing.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft. This escape room is in Delft.

Book your hour with Escape Challenge’s The Freakshow, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape – The Experiment [Review]

The doctor will see you now.

Location: Zwolle, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2018

Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €135 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Experiment balanced horror with silliness. The Great Escape deliberately designed every moment of this escape room. While the puzzles were not narrative driven, they were fun to solve and they worked with the decor and the acting to deliver an exhilarating experience.

It’s worth traveling out of your way – and it probably is out of your way, if you’re a tourist to Amsterdam – to Zwolle to play the experiment.

In-game: the entry way for the "Wester Clinics national institute for mental health," beyond it is a lobby.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Intense actor-driven moments
  • Immersive gameplay
  • Fun and unusual interactions

Story

One of our friends had asked us to accompany him to an experiment he’d signed up for. As soon as we settled into the waiting room, we realized that this experiment was something more sinister… and we need to escape.

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Setting

We entered a medical waiting room. Chairs lined the walls. The waiting room was decorated with the typical plants, wall hangings, toys, and reading material that we would have expected. (I guess the cliched medical waiting room aesthetic is transcontinental.) All of this foreshadowed the medical theming of the rest of the experience.

Gameplay

The Great Escape’s The Experiment was an escape room that included elements of interactive theater. It had a higher level of difficulty and a high level of tension.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling, with a bit of improv as well.

In-game: a stack of intake forms in the lobby.

Analysis

+ Through acting, set design, and scent, The Great Escape built the world of The Experiment elegantly and effectively.

+ As we entered the gamespace, we were greeted with a new environment. More than the look, the smell alerted us to the nature of this experience. It worked brilliantly.

+ In the first scene, we got to know the characters. In the scripted part, the actors played off each other. This enabled The Great Escape to develop a menacing character without alarming the players. Interjected throughout the scene were the less scripted interactions with us, which further developed the characters’ roles as well as our place in the game’s world.

– While the puzzles played well, many of them felt arbitrary. They were more escape room-y than mechanisms to drive the plot forward.

+ That said, we enjoyed solving these tangible, large-scale puzzles, and their silliness contributed to the absurdity that balanced the horror-vibe.

– In one scene of The Experiment, we encountered multiple combination locks with identical digit structure. We recommend more variety to make this scene play more smoothly and not stifle forward momentum.

– Height was an advantage. One late-game puzzle presented a lot of information just slightly too high for me to comfortably work with it. The irony was that, given the type of puzzle it was, I was the natural person to solve it… and my three +6-foot (182cm) teammates looked on.

+ The hint system was charming. It worked with the staging.

+/- The Experiment built to a dramatic escape. Our teammates had differing opinions about this ending depending on the roles we took in accomplishing it. From my vantage point (which I shared with David), our clandestine escape operation delivered a dramatic conclusion. Our teammates in another role would have liked more threat of danger/ failure at this juncture. Their ending felt too soft for the experience.

+/- For people who are afraid of the concept of an escape room, The Experiment embodied exactly what they fear: being trapped in an uncomfortable setting that’s just a bit scary. These feelings can be off-putting. For the right players, however, these feelings can also be energizing and exhilarating.

The Experiment was silly-scary. It wasn’t overly horror, but it was intense. The acting, environment, and puzzles came together really well to deliver a deliberately crafted experience.

+ Hats off to the actors who delivered The Experiment to us in their second language. They did a phenomenal job.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with The Great Escape’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room Rijswijk – Jason’s Curse [Review]

Jason’s childhood.

Location: Rijswijk, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €125 – €135 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Jason’s Curse was deceiving. We weren’t expecting an immersive world when we entered an escape room in an office building… but an immersive world was what we found. When we entered the game, it seemed like we were playing a traditional escape room… but it gave way to something entirely unexpected.

Escape Room Rijswijk did something truly special with Jason’s Curse. You’ll just have to play it to see what it is. If you’re anywhere nearby, I’d strongly encourage you to pay Jason a visit.

In-game: A heavily weathered stairwell down to a basement.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Friday the 13th fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles
  • Surprising construction… They really do something special here.

Story

Jason’s Curse functioned as a prequel to the Friday the 13th movies, taking us through Jason’s childhood. As one would expect, it was grim.

In-game: A close up of a heavy metal door labeled "Jason's Room."

Setting

Built in an office building, Jason’s Curse wove us through a series of different spaces over two floors, each with a different look and feel. While it may have been in an office building, I forgot that’s where we were until we reemerged at the end of the game. The gamespace was compelling and tense, but never grotesque or horrific.

In-game: a weathered basement wall with the words "KNOCK KNOCK WHO IS THERE" painted on it.

Gameplay

Escape Room Rijswijk’s Jason’s Curse was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: A grim and rundown living room with an old dusty synthesizer.

Analysis

Jason’s Curse started off as a more typical escape room… and escalated from there. This provided a good onramp for the experience.

– One early prop was wearing in crucial places.

Jason’s Curse surprised us with a brilliantly crafted spatial transition. Escape Room Rijswijk used a trick we’d been waiting for and we were thrilled to see it expertly executed.

+ Escape Room Rijswijk included a good mix of puzzles that generally forced collaboration. We enjoyed the puzzle variety.

– Too many of the puzzles relied on a single prop that was small and hard to share. We would have preferred the cluing to these puzzles be built into the sets.

– There was a lot of to read. We could get by with some amount of skimming, but to fully understand everything, at least one player needed to bury their nose in a book. In an immersive game, it was frustrating to be glued to the written page.

– By solving the puzzles, we got a sense of Jason’s traumatic childhood, but we didn’t pick up on enough details to understand the complete picture.

+ Our gamemaster walked us through the entire story afterward, something Escape Room Rijswijk offers to every team, to help us understand how it all fit together. They also take each team back through the game to take another look. We were eager to take them up on this offer.

Jason’s Curse escalated. It shifted into a more intense experience with more challenging puzzles, more explicit story, and more dramatic sets.

Jason’s Curse was intense, but not heavy horror as its subject matter would suggest.

+ The story of Jason’s Curse played out like well-thought-out Friday the 13th fan fiction.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive one hour from Amsterdam city center.
  • Players must be able to walk up and down stairs.
  • At least 1 player must be able to crawl into a small space.

Book your hour with Escape Room Rijswijk’s Jason’s Curse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

 

Escape Challenge – The Honeymoon Hotel [Review]

Be careful crossing the threshold.

Location: Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 12, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €119 – €129 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Honeymoon Hotel took us through our own frightening story arc in a tale inspired by the famed serial killer H.H. Holmes. Escape Challenge’s attention to detail was dumbfounding. Every centimeter of their massive set was carefully designed. We didn’t love the final puzzle, but damn near everything else was incredible.

If you’re anywhere near Escape Challenge, it’s worth going out of your way to play The Honeymoon Hotel.

In-game: A wooden bellhop's desk with a bell and a note.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Intense gameplay and storytelling
  • Surprising twists
  • Smart puzzles
  • Beautiful set & interaction design

Story

Inspired by the story of 19th century Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes, Honeymoon Hotel took us on a journey through the hunting ground of a murderer who married his victims before killing them.

In-game: Closeup of a bloodied sign pointing towards the "Honeymoon suite."

Setting

Escape Challenge are world class set and interaction designers. Honeymoon Hotel was as detailed and immersive as it was intense. Light and sound led us through this escape room, surprising and startling us all along the way. 

Each new space we entered was clearly part of the hotel, but every room had its own character and purpose.

In-game: an old telephone beside a tossed bed.

Gameplay

Escape Challenge’s The Honeymoon Hotel was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, overcoming fear, and puzzling.

In-game: A baggage cart loaded with luggage.

Analysis

+ The intensity of The Honeymoon Hotel began as soon as we approached the door of Escape Challenge. It set the stage for the experience.

+ The sets of The Honeymoon Hotel felt lived in. The decor felt homey and comfortable… but not too comfortable.

In-game: The ornate ceiling light fixture on the Honeymoon suite casing a a beautiful shadow.

+ Escape Challenge used lighting and sound to guide us through the experience… and to build suspense as we traversed a new space. Movement was brilliantly orchestrated.

+ The early puzzles felt approachable. As the escape room progressed, the challenge increased along with the severity of the decor. The two worked in tandem to ramp up the intensity of the experience.

In-game: Two mounted deer heads on a wall, above is a heavily detailed ceiling.

The Honeymoon Hotel surprised us. It would present us with something familiar, and then use this in an unexpected way.

– One puzzle relied too heavily on color perception, which varies significantly among individuals.

– The final puzzle didn’t live up to the rest of the experience. It didn’t capture the drama or intensity of the previous scene. It didn’t match the aesthetic of the gamespace. It was also too small to engage the entire team.

+ Escape Challenge’s set design was impeccable; they left no detail untouched. Even as we exited the space, they added closure through a pointed choice of lighting.

In-game: A closeup of an old wooden piano.

The Honeymoon Hotel captured the spirit of H.H. Holmes. It didn’t follow any one of his many gruesome escapades. Instead, it took players on a journey inspired by these harrowing experiences. Players don’t need to know the source material to appreciate the plot of The Honeymoon Hotel, but if you’re familiar with H.H. Holmes, your imagination will make these scenes that much more intense.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive about 1 hour from central Amsterdam.
  • Escape Challenge has two different facilities: one in Zoetermeer, the other in Delft. This experience is at the Zoetermeer location.

Book your hour with Escape Challenge’s The Honeymoon Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Challenge comped our tickets for this game.