Escape Room Live Georgetown – Titanic [Review]

“Draw me like one of your french girls.” -Rose

Location: Washington, DC

Date Played: April 21, 2018

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Titanic was a puzzle-focused escape room for newer puzzlers ready to set sail. The themed challenges were a lot of fun. Titanic combined lock-based gameplay with tech-driven interactions. With the addition of more in-game feedback, Titanic could flow more smoothly and feel more immersive.

If you’re a less experienced player looking for an interesting puzzle game, this is a great place to dive in.

If you’re more experienced, this a value judgement. Know that you’ll move quickly through this 45-minute experience, but there are some cool puzzles to grapple with. 

In-game: a chaise lounge beside a porthole in a large stateroom.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Best for players with little to moderate experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Interesting puzzles
  • The chaise longue
  • The Escape Room Live lobby & bar

Story

In our stateroom aboard the Titanic II, the unthinkable happened: We hit an iceberg. (No one could have seen that coming). We needed to escape our room and find our way to the deck of the ship in time to board a lifeboat, or…

Meme: Frozen Rose holding Jack says, "I'll never let go, Jack." Next panel, Jack is gone, reads, "LOL JK."

Setting

Our spacious stateroom was sparsely furnished with a few lovely antiques, some wall decorations, and a porthole with an iceberg view.

In-game: a porthole looking out over the water, an iceberg in the distance.

Aside from being a touch too spartan and a little worn, the setting conveyed Titanic-style luxury well.

In-game: A portrait hanging on the wall over a mantle.

Gameplay

Escape Room Live Georgetown’s Titanic was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

In-game: a series of bells labeled "TITANIC."

Analysis

Titanic delivered fun, tangible puzzles. We particularly enjoyed a deduction puzzle.

+ We enjoyed the nautically themed props and their use as puzzle components.

+ David especially enjoyed sprawling on the the chaise longue and making jokes.

– Although we appreciated the theming, we would have liked to internalize more story – of the space, our characters, or the impending disaster – as we progressed toward deck.

+/- There wasn’t a lot to find. On the one hand, we weren’t bogged down by searching through red herrings. On the other hand, the space felt a bit empty. It lacked depth.

– A few of the puzzles lacked feedback. In one instance, when we couldn’t tell if we were striking the right chord, we assumed the puzzle was out of play or broken. It was working, but it gave no indication of that.

– Later in our play through, we solved a puzzle out of sequence, before receiving the appropriate cluing. The resulting interaction opened, but was not in play. Since we’d been conditioned earlier to proceed with puzzles even without feedback, we continued to hack at this interaction until our gamemaster noticed and nudged us back toward another unsolved puzzle.

+/- We are glad we couldn’t advance out of sequence because we would have missed a substantial portion of the game and some of the best puzzles. We wish the gamemaster didn’t have to step in to redirect us.

+ The exit door was nifty.

+ Escape Room Live’s lobby and bar area is gorgeous; it’s a lovely place to hangout. I don’t normally get excited for lobbies, but this one is special.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking garage few blocks down at M and Wisconsin. Street parking is a challenge in this neighborhood.
  • There are lots of restaurant options in Georgetown.
  • For baked goods, we recommend Baked & Wired. Be prepared to stand in line on the weekend.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live Georgetown’s Titanic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escape Room Live Georgetown – The Mummy [Review]

Mummy may I?

Location: Washington, DC

Date Played: April 21, 2018

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Mummy was about adventure over puzzles. The large-scale, interactive set pieces were exciting to manipulate. While some of the props and interactions were a touch too temperamental, the escape room delivered well-timed cinematic and memorable moments.

If you’re a new player in the area, try this one out.

If you’re more experienced, this a value judgment. Know that you’ll move quickly through this 45-minute experience.

If you’re in Georgetown looking for a good adventure, checkout The Mummy.

In-game: A massive sphinx head on the wall of an Egyptian tomb.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Beautiful set pieces
  • Exciting, set-based interactions
  • Cinematic moments
  • The Escape Room Live lobby & bar

Story

As archeologists, we were exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb when the main doors sealed shut. We needed to escape because… Egyptian curses aren’t favorable.

In-game: A blue glowing ankh set in sandstone.

Setting

The set felt small; there wasn’t a ton of room to walk around. (Note for the claustrophobic folks: It’s not that small.)

The props felt enormous. The Egyptians had carved life-sized – and larger – stone depictions of their gods to guard this ancient burial place.

The floor was covered in real sand and the entire set was a bit sandy.

In-game: A sarcophagus leaning against the wall of an Egyptian tomb.

Gameplay

Escape Room Live Georgetown’s The Mummy was a standard escape room with a compelling set.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and determining interactions.

Analysis

+ The set had scale. The space may have been smaller, but the props and scenery felt immense.

The Mummy was an adventure. We interacted with it and it reacted to us.

– While we weren’t a rough group, our gamemaster repeatedly told us not to touch or investigate the set pieces with our hands or other in-game props. The continual admonishment diminished the fun of exploration. More player-proofing would go a long way; we felt like we needed permission to play.

– We found one search puzzle more frustrating than fun, especially given the small search tool and the admonishment for certain types of set exploration.

+ We loved one particularly larger-than-life set piece’s reaction. It engaged and impressed the entire team.

The Mummy looked worn and not in a ruins kind of way. Escape rooms with sand wear more quickly than most and need additional maintenance.

+ The initial room setup subtly clued late-game gameplay. This small detail probably makes a big difference for many teams. It was thoughtfully designed.

– One prop fit exactly into a place where it didn’t belong. We ultimately used it for a completely different purpose where size and shape meant nothing. This was confusing, unsatisfying, and avoidable.

– The gameplay relied on a run book: a journal contained a good portion of the clue structure. While the run book made some sense narratively, in an escape room with a visually interesting set, it was disappointing to have my nose in a book.

+ The opening and closing puzzles were cinematic. Escape Room Live Georgetown designed the puzzle flow around memorable moments. It worked. The final puzzle was a great choice.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking garage few blocks down at M and Wisconsin. Street parking is a challenge in this neighborhood.
  • There are lots of restaurant options in Georgetown.
  • For baked goods, we recommend Baked & Wired. Be prepared to stand in line on the weekend.
  • The floor is covered in sand. We recommend closed-toe shoes.
  • Note that this is a 45-minute game. If you are experienced player, it will move quickly and feel short.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live Georgetown’s The Mummy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

PanIQ Room – Primal Quest [Review]

Grunt loudly and carry a bigger stick.

Location: Washington, DC

Date Played: April 22, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: ranging from $24 – $36 per ticket depending on weekday/weekend and team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Primal Quest was our first prehistoric escape room. It was a puzzle-focused game with enjoyable puzzles, set against a fun theme. The setting and the gameplay felt split from one another, as the set was prehistoric and the puzzles were modern. Pulling the puzzles and environment into a more cohesive unit could make this interesting game great.

If you’re in the neighborhood, it a fun playthrough.

In-game: A fire on the other side of a wooden cage.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting puzzles
  • Some good moments

Story

We were hostages of cannibal cavemen. Before they returned from hunting, we needed to escape or we’d be the meal in our last supper.

Setting

The cave was dimly lit and dusty. PanIQ Room had treated the walls to give them a more cave-like vibe. Some rooms had been heavily augmented to create a cave feel while others remained fairly modern. The cave was decorated primarily with animal hides, bones, and a glowing fire pit.

In-game: The walls of the cave with a pelt on the wall, and light shining in from above.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s Primal Quest was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

Analysis

+/- Primal Quest was our first prehistoric escape room. It was thoughtfully but unevenly themed in terms of set decor and props. Some portions of the game felt like they had received a lot of attention, while others strongly resembled the office building that housed the game.

– Some of the decor needed maintenance; it looked worn.

– A few modern details remained exposed. The escape room would have been better had these details had been hidden away.

– The set was dusty. After crawling through one low doorway, our pants were covered in grit. Especially considering PanIQ Room’s location in Georgetown, we recommend a cave aesthetic that looks and feels dirty without the actual dirt.

Primal Quest started off in a limited space with only a few challenges available. This offered an on-ramp for newer players.

Primal Quest escalated in difficulty and intrigue.

Primal Quest contained interesting, satisfying puzzles of varied types. We generally knew how to approach them, but to solve them, we had to think a little differently than we had upon initial glance. The puzzles resolved cleanly.

– The puzzles were escape room-y and generally felt modern, even though we were in a prehistoric setting. This created a schism between the setting and the gameplay.

– One heavy prop may stall a team of younger or smaller people for substantial time on a puzzle where hints won’t be any help.

+ We particularly enjoyed the late-game puzzle embedded in an early set piece.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking garage few blocks down at M and Wisconsin. Street parking is a challenge in this neighborhood.
  • There are lots of restaurant options in Georgetown.
  • For baked goods, we recommend Baked & Wired. Be prepared to stand in line on the weekend.
  • This cave is dusty.
  • At least 2 players will need to crawl or otherwise get through a low doorway.

Book your hour with PanIQ Room’s Primal Quest and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room Live Georgetown – Ghostbusters [Review]

“Ray. If someone asks you if you’re a god, you say . . . . . YES!” – Winston Zeddemore

Location: Washington, DC

Date Played: April 21, 2018

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

This officially licensed Ghostbusters was beautiful. Escape Room Live Georgetown pulled iconic characters and moments from the original Ghostbusters films and produced an experience that was a great escape room and a fun homage to the source material.

The difficulty curve on Ghostbusters was a bit steep for newbies, so I’d encourage players get at least a game or two under their belts before taking on these ghouls. Experienced players should note that Ghostbusters is a 45-minute game, so if you get in a groove, it’s possible to knock this one out quite quickly.

We think this one is worth checking out if you’re anywhere nearby.

In-game: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man peering in through a window.

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
  • Collectors of spores, molds, and fungus.

Why play?

  • It’s an official Ghostbusters escape room
  • A beautiful set
  • Strong puzzles
  • Seeing some classic movie characters
  • The Escape Room Live lobby & bar

Story

Slimer, the Librarian, Mr. Stay Puft, and Vigo the Carpathian were on the loose in New York City. Who were Venkman, Spengler, Stantz, and Zeddemore gonna call?

Us. They called us.

In-game: The main set of the Ghostbusters firehouse. There is a large box in the middle of the room for manipulating hazardous objects.

Setting

Ghostbusters was staged in famed firehouse. The set was loaded with details and Easter eggs that called back to the original Ghostbusters movies.

This was a beautiful and fun environment to explore.

… And no, there was no pole to slide down.

In-game: Closeup of a Ghostbusters trap.

Gameplay

Escape Room Live Georgetown’s Ghostbusters was a standard escape room with nonlinear gameplay and a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and capturing ghosts.

In-game: The portrait of Vigo the Carpathian.
He is Prince Vigo!

Analysis

+ In this licensed Ghostbusters escape room, Escape Room Live Georgetown made great use of the most iconic magician/ tyrant, god, and class 5 full roaming vapor.

In-game: The Librarian ghost.

+ The set looked fantastic and felt Ghostbusters-y.

– There wasn’t much of an on-ramp. Ghostbusters threw us into the deep end and it was difficult to figure out exactly how to make progress (especially for the newbies in the group).

In-game: A close up of the proton pack schematics and the Ghostbusters logo.

+ Once we got rolling and learned how the game wanted us to play it, there were good, satisfying puzzles.

– Most of the puzzles were technology-driven, with serious lag and delay. We found ourselves staring at solved puzzles for long stretches of time waiting for the puzzle-concluding sequence to trigger.

– One of the core puzzle’s input mechanisms offered almost no feedback. When I was inputting the solution, I wasn’t even sure that it was working until the puzzle resolved.

+ The hint delivery system made perfect sense given the source material.

“He’s looking at me Ray.”

+ There was a smart augmented reality sequence.

+/- The finale had a great interaction, but it was missing a satisfying puzzle. This escape room was begging for a final boss battle.

+ The Escape Room Live Georgetown lobby is really something to behold. It’s a massive full bar with ample seating and tables. This was a lovely place to hang out.

The Escape Room Live Georgetown bar. It looks posh.
Yup. That’s a bar. No, we didn’t drink before our games. We are professionals.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking garage few blocks down at M and Wisconsin. Street parking is a challenge in this neighborhood.
  • There are lots of restaurant options in Georgetown.
  • For baked goods, we recommend Baked & Wired. Be prepared to stand in line on the weekend.
  • Plan to spend some time in at the Escape Room Live bar.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live Georgetown’s Ghostbusters, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escape From West Texas on CNBC’s West Texas Investor’s Club: Interview with Ginger Flesher-Sonnier

Ginger Flesher-Sonnier is the Owner & CEO of Escape Room Live. The company currently operates Escape Room Live DC near Glover Park and Escape Room Live Alexandria. They will be opening a second Escape Room Live DC location in Georgetown later this summer, and their Alexandria-based games have been some of the most wonderful room escapes we’ve encountered.

West Texas Investors Club is a television show on CNBC. As described on the CNBC website, “Self-made multimillionaires Rooster McConaughey and Butch Gilliam invite ambitious entrepreneurs from across the country to come down to West Texas and make their case.”

“Escape From West Texas” (Season 2, Episode 10) aired on June 14, 2016. The episode features Ginger pitching for a $4 million investment in her escape room business. She accepted $800,000 for 40% share of her company and their help expanding her business into corporate resorts.

The full episode is available on CNBC’s website.

We recently spoke with Ginger about her experience on the show and where her company goes from here:

Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your experience on Escape From West Texas. For context, when was this filmed?

Ginger: Mid-February, 2016.

How did this all come about?

They actually reached out to me and asked if I would be on the show. I had seen their show after Shark Tank one night last summer and really enjoyed it – so much more than Shark Tank, surprisingly – so I agreed to go through the casting process. They had 10,000 applications this season so I am honored to have actually been approached by them.

What was it like seeing yourself walk off a private airplane in slow motion?

Surreal! But fun. The whole experience was amazing.

How much of your experience in West Texas do viewers see?

An extremely small part! Imagine boiling down about a week of filming to mere minutes. My pitch actually lasted 3 hours. Same with the negotiations, which wound up taking place into late Friday night (hence my puffy face… it was an exhausting week). The entire ride with Gil never made the show, nor his serenade at the end.  

In the episode, the investors play one of your games. How long did you have to design and fabricate the room on the show?

All I can say is that I did have longer than one day! That would have been impossible. But I can say that we did construct it from scratch completely ourselves (my husband and I). 

Wide view of the "Escape West Texas" jail game. The key focal point is a large megal safe that reads "Wells Fargo Bank."

What specific design considerations went into this game?

I really wanted to create something that spoke to their West Texas heritage, so we decided on the West Texas Jail Break. It was much more appropriate than my Edgar Allan Poe room would have been!

Close up of the marshal's desk in the Escape West Texas jail.

Were you worried that these guys were going to be terrible at your game?

Ummmm…. they were.

In their defense, they had no idea what the heck to expect. Editing, editing, editing! The game was so much longer than that what viewers see, with many more puzzles. They edited it down to two or three. They even mismatched puzzles and their endings with editing… it was surprising but looked fine.

Close up of the wall in the Escape West Texas jail dipicting a high level of detail in the room's design.

The investors weren’t too keen on your restaurant & bar concept or locations in Vegas, Disney, or Times Square. What do you think of their assessments?

They are dead on about the low profit margin of restaurants. We ARE adding bars to our locations wherever it is possible, though. I still disagree about being in a place like MGM in Vegas and that is still not off the table.

The investors pushed the importance of the corporate client and you’ll be using their connections to open in corporate resorts. When should we expect to see these resort games opening?

We are meeting with Hyatt and Hilton in the next couple of weeks. A television show is also in discussions. Things have been crazy, especially with us opening this new location in Georgetown complete with a liquor license.

The good news is, we have paired up with Larry Kirchner from The Darkness, a haunted house in St. Louis, to build all of our rooms and he is AMAZING! You will be blown away by the Titanic, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Friday the 13th, and Mummy rooms. They have CGI, lighting effects, sound effects, and incredible theming. They aren’t cheap though, and all in all will come in at about $100,000 apiece.

Larry’s ability to build multiple rooms quickly in his warehouse from the ground up, disassemble, ship, and reassemble onsite has opened up a whole new world. Getting consistently themed rooms into resorts now seems much more feasible.

We are also working with a professional and seasoned puzzle designer who has vast experience in designing for the best puzzle hunts in the world. He is local to us and we work extremely well together.

What new design considerations do you see as factors for resort-based games? 

Simply put: more automation, including automatic reset of the games. This is in addition to the increased immersion through true set design and special effects, of course.

How will you handle quality control in these diverse locations?

Our Director of Operations and his VP of Operations are gearing up to be mobile. They are very excited.

What overlap or conflict does this deal have with the partnerships you’ve formed with movie studios? 

None.

In the negotiations, you counteroffered with $800,000. That was a very specific number. How much time did they allow you to research before giving them this number?

No time. I replied immediately.

If we do the math, you valued your company at $2 million. Given that you’ve grossed $2.3 million in 15 months, help our readers understand why you took the deal.

I agree that the valuation was not good, especially since our gross receipts for 2016 should be over $4 million. Here was my thought process, although things are still fluid in the deal: These guys have far more connections than you can even imagine – in Hollywood (Rooster is Matthew McConaughey’s brother, after all), New York, Wall Street – so the growth potential here goes beyond anything I could do myself. Given that fact, as an example, 60% of $100 million is a lot more than 100% of $10 million, don’t you agree?

And are you happy with the outcome?

I love these guys. I love creating. And I really love being a successful entrepreneur. I’m happy as hell.

Ginger and Rooster clinking beer cans in celebration of their deal on The West Texas Investors Club.
Escape Room Live Owner and CEO Ginger Flesher-Sonnier pitched investors Rooster McConaughey and Butch Gilliam on “West Texas Investors Club,” which airs Tuesdays at 10PM/ET on CNBC.

Escape Artist DC – Night at the Museum [Review]

I must have blacked out; I don’t remember throwing a party.

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $16-$28 per ticket (it’s complicated)

Story & setting

We were a team of drunk art restoration experts. Apparently, we threw a raging party in the museum that employed us and destroyed a priceless painting. We had an hour to restore the painting before our employer returned.

The game space looked a lot like the last game we played at Escape Artist DC, The Gallery Heist. This was a low-budget art gallery-esque location. Much of the art on the walls looked like it belonged, which was a big step up from our last visit to Escape Artist DC. That being said, the game was miles from immersive. The set wasn’t refined and its condition had deteriorated from wear and tear.

Escape Artist DC Logo

Puzzles

The puzzles were challenging because they didn’t offer feedback. It was difficult to determine when we had solved something and what to do with the solution. We needed more hints than I was comfortable asking for. We even needed hints on puzzles we knew how to solve because applying the solutions was frequently more baffling than deriving the solutions.

Standouts

The art was cool and every puzzle tied back to the art and story… even if the story didn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

Escape Artist DC lived up to their name by profoundly incorporating art in their game.

I truly admire Escape Artist DC’s generous pricing model. They openly acknowledge that they are shooting for a wallet-friendly price point. In that they deliver.

Shortcomings

The game offered little to no feedback. There were long spans where we had no idea if we had solved something, what to do next, or if we were even on the right track.

The speakers that our gamemaster used to deliver hints were crackly and difficult to hear. In this particular instance we had a deaf teammate with cochlear implants and she couldn’t hear the hints at all.

While Escape Artist DC has stepped up their art game, the overall aesthetic of the room left a lot of room for future growth.

Should I play Escape Artist DC’s Night at the Museum?

Escape Artist DC swung from producing some of the easiest games I’ve seen to one of the most unintuitively complicated games I’ve been locked in.

The puzzles all came together in the end. When our gamemaster explained the thinking behind it after the fact, the rationale was sound… but that didn’t make the experience as fun as I was hoping for.

Night at the Museum is a challenging experience, especially if you attempt it without hints. This is an advanced game for players who don’t care about immersion and are looking to see if they can conquer a room that doesn’t give anywhere near as much as it demands.

In terms of pricing, the escape room world is loaded with games of lesser value at much steeper prices. The games at Escape Artist DC have more than a few imperfections, but if you can bring a full team, they are one of the better deals you’ll find in the escape room world.

Book your hour with Escape Artist DC’s Night at the Museum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Insomnia Escape – The Alchemist [Review]

A magical experience

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

The Order of the Alchemists has created the mythic and powerful Philosopher’s stone. We had to steal this stone from the library of the Master of the Order before the Order could use it to take over the world.

The library staging was both believable and fantastical. Despite the wealth of objects in the room, it wasn’t cluttered. Through the furniture and props, Insomnia Escape achieved an ornate and mythical ambiance that was dead-on.

The setup was a heist, which was as plausible as the fantastical could be.

In-game photo of a wizard statue, an intricately engraved human skull, and a stainglass window in the background.

Puzzles

The puzzles in The Alchemist worked their way through the objects in the room. The game cleverly zeroed in on the important items so we didn’t feel trapped in a room of red herrings, even though there were more than a few items that weren’t incorporated into puzzles.

In part, this stemmed from a linear game flow. The escape room set clear intermediary goals and the puzzles marched forward pretty directly.

Additionally, The Alchemist told its story through the puzzles. It used a variety of interactions to continually escalate dramatic intrigue.

Standouts

The library of the Master of the Order was an intricate, beautiful, and fun environment to explore for an hour.

Double wood doors with runs painted on them, beset by a pair of black lion door knockers.
Quite the knockers.

The technology in The Alchemist was well hidden and seamlessly revealed additional information as the game unfolded. It was elegant.

In this escape room, Insomnia Escape flawlessly executed their own take on some typical escape room standards. Nothing felt cliche.

This library included quite a bit of reading material. However, we weren’t bogged down by the amount of text.

Shortcomings

We felt a lack of supervision. We were supposed to speak to the camera to receive a hint, but the gamemasters weren’t very responsive. We know that it can be difficult to communicate through these surveillance systems, but even so, this was excessive. It may have worked in our favor, given that twice we ended up not needing a hint after we’d asked for one and not received it. (We never actually used a hint.) Regardless, we had asked and it didn’t come. This would likely be more frustrating for less experienced players, or players neck and neck with their clock.

Team victory photo taken in the Alchemist's study.

In a few instances, once we’d solved a puzzle and knew how to proceed, it became tedious to execute the solution.

Should I play Insomnia Escape’s The Alchemist?

If you like artful design, story, and beautifully hidden technology, then yes, this is your game.

The Alchemist was mystical and magical. It transported us into a solidly constructed, carefully crafted alternate universe. Furthermore, our mission was clear and we felt like characters in an unfolding fantasy heist.

This is not an ideal game for new players because they will likely have trouble finding and following the thread of gameplay. We recommend that players get a few games under their proverbial belts before taking on The Alchemist, as they will find it far more enjoyable if they have a firm grasp of escape room mechanics, tactics, and flow.

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

Escape Room Live Alexandria – Poe-ranormal Activity [Review]

“The generous Critic fann’d the Poet’s fire, And taught the world with reason to admire.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Location: Alexandria, VA

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We were the team of paranormal investigators called in when a historian vanished while searching Edgar Allen Poe’s old chambers for a lost manuscript. The game started just after the our investigative team had split up (because that’s always a good idea when searching a spooky location) and been locked in separate rooms by the building’s ghosts.

The story worked.

The set was well constructed, beautifully designed, and immersive. It captured the aura and symbolism associated with Poe.

Interior game image depicts a silhouette of a woman, a painting of a naval battle, and a sconse.

Puzzles

The early puzzles required communication between our two groups, separated by a locked door. The split was balanced and the puzzles were expertly intertwined.

Poe’s work inspired the puzzles in Poe-ranomal. Not surprisingly, this escape room leaned heavily on word-related puzzles. While clues in the game provided us with all the necessary information to solve the room’s puzzles, a bit of familiarity with Poe’s work proved advantageous.

Standouts

Poe-ranomal was no exception to the immersive design we’ve come to expect from Escape Room Live Alexandria. In this instance, they built a relatively mundane stage that delivered dramatic interactions through hidden magic.

The ghost tracking device added to both the game mechanics and the ambiance.

Late in the game, dramatic practical effects truly enhanced the climax of this escape room.

The attention to detail in the theming demonstrated that the game designer had, in fact, read the works of Edgar Allen Poe… which, tragically, is not always the case in escape rooms themed on authors.

A statue of a raven, perched on a stone.

Shortcomings

When our two teams reunited part way through the game, we now inhabited all together the same game space we had thoroughly explored independently. We spent significant time explaining to each other which items had already been solved, or what their unsolved status was. Throughout the game, we had to be particularly mindful of teammates starting in on already-solved components.

Some of the technological interactions lacked clear feedback in the form of obvious new information. In multiple instances, we were positive that our actions had triggered something, but couldn’t quickly figure out what was now available to us. This solution confirmation delay briefly stifled momentum.

We experienced a mechanism failure with the final interaction of the game. It was disappointing not to see this game’s dramatic conclusion. Escape Room Live Alexandria refunded our tickets to make good on this shortcoming, as they would for any customer in this situation, and for that we salute them… not enough companies follow this practice after significant failures.

Should I play Escape Room Live Alexandria’s Poe-ranormal?

Poe-ranomal was a beautifully simple stage that revealed complex design mechanics as the game unfolded. It expertly wove the paranormal into a story flow. The theming and story demonstrated subject matter expertise in a way that many literary-themed escape rooms do not.

Even with the ghost tracking, this game was not scary. There were dramatic moments, but this was still a family-friendly experience.

Escape Room Live Alexandria is a company that minds the details of their experiences: from their magnificent waiting room, to their humorously delivered rules and setups, to the staging, and puzzles. Even when things go wrong, they are on top of it. It’s a fun operation to visit.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live Alexandria’s Poe-ranormal, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Insomnia Escape – Cosa Nostra [Review]

“La Cosa Nostra” is the Sicilian Mafia. Who knew?

Location: Washintongton, DC

Date played: January 10, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Price: It’s complicated.

Theme & story

Cosa Nostra was your standard Prohibition escape room setup:

It’s 1933 and we were a team of federal agents entering a speakeasy to find documents linking a politician to the mafia.

The twist in Cosa Nostra was its superb execution.

An old bar with a rotary phone on it. Behind the bar is a mirrored wall lined with liquor bottles.

Design and Production

Insomnia Escape managed to assemble a collection of functional props that are of the era (or at least feel like it), and used them to build a room that felt like another world.

Cosa Nostra was beautiful and it is fully illustrated by their incredibly well-produced intro video (which was not available when we played the game). The video was largely shot within the game and will give you a sense of what is to come.

Irreplaceable experience?

Most of the objects in Cosa Nostra felt like they ought to belong in 1933. There were a few items that felt a little out of place such as key chains, some liquor bottles, modern money, and plastic poker chips, but for the most part, the game was firmly set in the past.

There were two large set pieces that floored our team. These old, heavily mechanical pieces were large, in working condition, and absolutely essential to the game. In a lot of ways, these set pieces made the game.

My long-term concern for Cosa Nostra is: what happens if these objects break? I cannot imagine that finding replacements would be an easy task. This is a hypothetical risk. At this point everything works well, but it could become an issue.

An old bar with a rotary phone, and a mechanical cash register.

Crowded space and bottlenecking

Parts of Cosa Nostra bottlenecked both physically and in gameplay.

There were a few locations within the set that only allowed for one or two players to participate at a time. When these locations became relevant, the game hinged on the two people involved.

Difficulty

Insomnia Escape crafted an experience and they want their players to see it through to the completion.

To that end, the game was not overwhelmingly difficult. It was meant to be solved. That’s not to say that there weren’t challenging puzzles; it would certainly be possible to lose. However Cosa Nostra was a far more player-friendly game than most.

Max support

We played Cosa Nostra with a family of fellow escape room addicts. One of our teammates was a 3rd grader, Max.

We’ve written about playing escape rooms with children before and how to maximize their fun. None of those rules applied with Max. He was incredible and played like he was born to solve puzzles.

Should I play Insomnia Escape’s Cosa Nostra?

Absolutely. Only avoid Cosa Nostra if you are looking for mind-boggling difficulty.

Insomnia has built a vibrant room that captures the 1930’s about as well as I imagine any escape room ever will. It’s attractive, entertaining, and includes some wonderful set pieces.

Insomnia Escape and Escape Room Live DC share a building. Go play with both companies. They have different approaches and both companies do great work.

Book your hour with Insomnia Escape’s Cosa Nostra, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Room Live DC -Back to the 80s! [Review]

Hints? Where we’re going, we don’t need hints (unless something breaks).

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: January 8, 2016

Team size: 8-12; we recommend 6-8

Price: $28

Theme & story

Back to the 80s! is like totally 80s!

We were sent back in time to find the greatest mix tape ever made. Every prop was an 80s pop culture reference and the soundtrack was also incredibly 80s (in a good way).

A boom box cassette player/radio

The storyline was paper thin, but it didn’t matter. Back to the 80s! is a walk down nostalgia drive… Or a trip to “the olden days” depending upon your perspective.

What if I wasn’t alive or don’t remember the 80s?

Escape Room Live DC’s website states:

“Knowledge of 1980s trivia is not necessary to escape the room (but it sure may make it easier!). All information needed is inside the room.”

I’ll second this statement. Observant players will be able to get out without hints or knowledge of the 1980s.

If you’re going in without knowledge, don’t be afraid to ask for a hint here and there. Some elements of the game are incredibly intuitive if you’re in on the jokes.

While I got all but one reference (that I was aware of), I left the room feeling like I would have been baffled by some of the puzzles if it weren’t for my understanding of the references.

That said, the New Kids On The Block reference was hilarious… Escape Room Live has mastered puzzle puns.

Three shelves with a variety of toys, clothing and movies from the 1980s
Even the Care Bears were invited to the party.

Playful puzzles

The overall mix and quality of puzzles in Back to the 80s! was stellar.

There was something for everyone and the playfulness of the puzzles themselves was the standout quality of the game. Escape Room Live DC did a wonderful job of turning the toys, music, and references into a string of delightfully campy games.

Watercolor painting of an unsolved 3x3 Rubix Cube
I am happy to report that we did NOT have to solve a Rubix Cube… But we brought someone who could have if we needed to.

Groundhog Day

Thus far I’ve played four games with Escape Room Live and I was surprised to see a couple of puzzles that were effectively repackaged from some of their other games.

They were cool puzzles and one of them was executed better in Back to the 80s! than it was in the game where I first saw it, but it was disappointing to know the solution to a puzzle because I had already seen it before.

And yeah… Groundhog Day came out in 1993. Close enough?

Bad setup

Like Oliver North… We had a bad setup, and it cost us our game.

We were rocking the 80s when our game came to a screeching halt. One of the critical props in the room had two tiny pieces missing that cost us somewhere in the realm of 7-10 minutes, which is very significant in a 45 minute game.

Our puzzlemaster wasn’t aware of our struggles because when we asked for help, he hadn’t realized how deep into the game we were.

The two missing pieces (which were probably stolen by the previous team) burned down so much time that the clock was expiring as I accessed the final puzzle. I knew what I had to do to win, but didn’t have the time to execute.

Like the sudden demise of Atari, it was disappointing.

Escape Room Live DC - Back to the 80's! Team Shot
Tragically, Lisa’s giant cell phone was cropped out. We were calling each other.

Should I play Escape Room Live DC’s Back to the 80s!?

Yeah… Back to the 80s! is a rad game.

The setting was a blast, the puzzles were fun, and the overall experience was about as playful as escape rooms get.

The self-plagiarism of puzzle design in Back to the 80s! was a disappointment, and the bad setup that we experienced really put a damper on our night (bad setups are a very rough way to go down), but we had fun nonetheless.

Whether a room full of 80s props and references is a museum or a memory, Back to the 80s! is a game worth playing.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live DC’s Back to the 80s!, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

I’ll be back.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Live DC comped our tickets for this game.