It’s become a holiday tradition that we visit the Room Escape Divas podcast in December. In today’s episode we talk about our latest news, tease some upcoming awesomeness, and discuss many other things (all relating to escape rooms!) This is a conversation among friends, with some deep musings on game design in the mix.
If you can’t make the meetup, you might still see us around. We’ve booked a number of escape rooms in and around Boston during this brief weekend trip. Also, we’ll be attending Club Drosselmeyer on Sunday evening.
Escape rooms enable a type of adventure… but so does real life, if you go looking for it.
Last month David and I “discovered” NYC’s abandoned City Hall subway station. We heard tale of this obscured treasure and sought it out.
We live in a city with an incredible number of interesting oddities to discover. And this one is available to all for the low price of a $2.50 subway swipe.
About City Hall Subway Station
City Hall Station was the original southern terminal station of the first line of the New York City Subway. It opened in 1904. This gorgeous station was designed as a showpiece for the new subway.
As ridership increased, train length increased beyond 5 cars and City Hall Station couldn’t accommodate the longer trains. Passenger service to the station was discontinued in 1945.
Discover City Hall Subway Station Yourself
Ride the downtown 6 train line south through Manhattan to its terminus at the Brooklyn Bridge/ City Hall Station in Lower Manhattan.
When the 6 train reaches the end of the line, the conductors won’t kick you off.
If you wait on the train, eventually it will start again and progress further south where it will pass through the abandoned City Hall station before looping around and returning to the Brooklyn Bridge/ City Hall Station (now as an uptown 6 train).
To see the station, ride in the last car of the train. Look out the windows on the right side of the train. It’s a small station, but architecturally beautiful. It’s worth seeing.
Unfortunately, the station is beautiful, but not conducive to photography.
This whole trip took us about 30 minutes and cost us $5. If you’re an escape room player searching for intrigue in New York City, this was an inexpensive and low-key little adventure.
Thank you for supporting Room Escape Artist over the last 4 years… or since whenever you stumbled upon us while searching about escape rooms on the Internet.
Many of you have asked us how you can support our efforts to build a sustainable escape room industry now and into the future. We’ve hesitated to turn our passion project into something more, but a couple of tours and many growing costs later…
Patreon is a platform for content creators to receive ongoing monetary support from the folks who enjoy their work. You can pay a small (or large) amount of money each month in exchange for some nifty bonus rewards. Patreon gives us an outlet to earn ongoing revenue, which we will put right back into Room Escape Artist.
Is REA still free?
Yes! We will continue to publish daily blog content right here on Room Escape Artist. You can still read as often (or as seldom) as you like, whether or not you support the Patreon. We believe in providing an accessible escape room resource to all players, creators, operators… and the escape room curious.
Our ask is that if you enjoy our work and have the means to support us, please consider it.
Are you selling out?
No. This is so that we don’t have to sell out.
Supporting the Patreon won’t buy you a good review. In fact, some of our Patrons have anonymous names and emails. You can do that too, if you’d like.
Should I back this Patreon?
You will support our mission to provide well-researched, rational, and reasonably humorous pieces that push the industry forward. You will support our efforts to build a community of players and creators that will sustain the escape room industry for the future.
We both work day jobs. All of the content you read is created on weekends and in the evenings… and late into the night. We are at capacity. We have more ideas than we can possibly create in off hours. With your support, we will give more time to Room Escape Artist and hopefully get a few more people involved with it. We will deliver more interesting escape room-related content for you to enjoy.
You can! You can share our Patreon page with your friends, family, teammates, colleagues, and anyone else you know who cares about escape rooms. When you share our content, you support us. We truly appreciate it.
Thank you to everyone who has already backed our Patreon. There are a number of you already. (We’ve already hit our first goal!)
We are incredibly grateful for your support. It is inspiring!
This week, the wonderful tabletop game design podcast Ludology interviewed Mike Selinker on the relationship between puzzles and games.
If that name seems familiar, it’s because Selinker is a prolific game and puzzle designer. He is also the author of Puzzlecraft, which is a puzzle design bible… that is finally going into a third printing next month.
Over the course of the episode, the hosts discussed a ton of interesting things with Selinker… with a substantive conversation on escape rooms thrown in. In addition to being a talented board game designer, co-host Gil Hova is a former gamemaster at one of the escape rooms that we frequent. He knows the business.
In this episode:
Our friend and Room Escape Diva Errol got a lovely shoutout (and they humorously amended his definition of the job of puzzle designer).
We got a shoutout for our philosophy on hints in escape rooms.
Escape Room Woodbridge just opened their latest room, Speakeasy. Their next project, coming in Spring 2019, will be an arc story to their current game The Haunt. Stay tuned.
Escape Room Herndon recently opened a new room: Maritime Mutiny. The pirate captain Ravensbeard has been cheating you and the crew out of your rightful share of plunder! Now that hornswoggling scoundrel has barricaded himself in his quarters. You and your mates must break in to reclaim what be rightfully yours and send that scurvy dog to Davey Jones’ Locker. If you’re crafty enough, mayhaps you’ll even commandeer the whole galleon.
San Diego, CA
Golden Lock-In recipient, Puzzalarium has a new game open… or maybe it’s opening soon… or maybe it’s a puzzle? Check out Boiler Room.
TV Host Julie Alexandria visited Steal and Escape and produced this great video.
Kauai Escape Room has opened a new game: Quest For the Lost Continent. Intrepid adventurers have been flocking to Tiki Island to search for the famed Lost Continent of Lemuria. Entrance for private groups is granted through Kauai Escape Room.
On December 16, We will be hosting an Escape Room Fan Shindig in Boston, MA. This is a casual gathering for folks to meet each other and chat about escape rooms and other immersive entertainment. We’ll be giving a short talk as well. Meet us there!
Curious Escape Rooms announces We the Enthusiasts: Escape Room Enthusiast Passports: Collect a special stamp from every game you play at a participating Escape Room business! These durable leatherette bound and saddle stitched books with a gold foiled covers are the perfect memorabilia to fit in a purse or pocket. A list of participating businesses with unique stamps for each of their games is at WeTheEnthusiasts.com! Passports are currently for sale for $9.99 at Curious Escape Rooms in Fitchburg, MA with more locations coming soon.
Detroit, MI (Metro Area)
Decode Escape Rooms is opening their second location this week: Decode Ypsilanti. This new location will open for regular bookings in December.
New York, NY
Unreal Escapes in Staten Island has opened a new game: Disco 54 NYC. (After playing their first game Battleship earlier this summer, we are looking forward to visiting!)
Neil Patrick Harris visited Exit Escape Room NYC played High Speed NYC. (This game has been one of our go-to recommendations for newbies and experienced players alike.)
The Museum of Intrigue has added a new way to play — the Journal of Intrigue! Not only does it act as a stamp passport to track our catalogue of 30+ on and off-site games, but it holds another level of mystery. Each time a story is completed successfully in the Museum itself, the journal is updated with clues, photos, and more. Complete bonus puzzles and uncover the Museum’s past, and earn prizes for your troubles! Available for $30 at the front desk during your visit. (We have been waiting for this!)
Nashville, TN (metro area)
LiveMinds Adventure Escape in Franklin, TN is under new ownership. Two local escape room companies teamed up on this venture. They will reopen Treasure of Pacari in early December. (If you have played at LiveMinds before, the updated version will be about 50% different.) They will also reopen Knight Sky later in December, which will be redesigned with entirely new puzzles and a new story line. The new owners have plans for more rooms at LiveMinds Adventure Escape in the new year.
The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the very best escape rooms in the world. Rich Bragg and Errol Elumir announced the winners on Facebook Live earlier this month. The list of 25 winning escape rooms and 10 winning companies is now published on the Top Escape Room Project website, along with a ton of other ranked escape rooms and additional data. Here is our write up.
Note that since this blog post originally published with the top 20 rooms as the winners, the award creators uncovered a problem with the original data and updated the results. This blog post has been updated to show the (slightly reshuffled) top 25 rooms, all as winners.
Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman – Skurrilum (Hamburg, Germany)
Only 3 companies have 2 top escape rooms. That would be Skurrilum (fittingly, it won top company), 13th Gate Escape, and Claustrophobia (although the winning rooms are in different countries).
9 of the 10 top companies also had top escape rooms. The one outlier is Escape My Room, which has a unique, fully themed experience. They also have some fantastic games.
Escape Room Distribution by Country: USA (8), Netherlands (5), Germany (3), Spain (3), UK (2), Andorra (1), Russia (2), Bulgaria (1)
Company Distribution by Country: USA (4), Germany (2), Netherlands (2), UK (1), Spain (1)
The Full Results
I encourage you to check out the Top Escape Rooms Project for more results, beyond the winners. Which room missed the podium at #26? Which room ranked #100? (Yes, there are more than 100 rooms ranked.) How many people ranked each room? There is a ton more interesting data available for you to pour over. It’s easy to get sucked in.
If not now, I highly recommend viewing this website when planning a trip. If your destination city – or a nearby city – has a room ranked by the Top Escape Rooms Project, even if it’s number 73, it’s probably worth a visit. (I’ve played #73 and it’s worth going just a bit out of your way for.)
Rich Bragg, one of the Guinness World Record holders, created the The Top Escape Rooms Project to crowdsource the best escape rooms from the people who know and love them the most, escape room enthusiasts.
Other contests for “best escape room” have used public internet-based polls that can be dominated by the companies with the biggest marketing budget and spammed by bots.
The Top Escape Rooms Project required the voters to have credentials as escape room players and allowed them each just one vote. It actively sought out the most experienced players in the world (mostly North America and Western Europe) to participate.
In phase 1, the participants nominated up to 10 escape room companies and up to 20 escape rooms. Any company or room that received 2 or more nominations moved to phase 2. In phase 2 the participants ranked the companies (where they had played at least two rooms) and the individual escape rooms (that they had played).
The participants were largely from North America and Western Europe. On average, they had each played over 300 escape rooms. They found each other and this project through the “Secret” Escape Room Enthusiast Slack Chat. Bragg set up a “top_rooms_project” channel there. Throughout the nominations and voting, there was lively discussion about what makes for the best escape room companies and the best escape rooms.
David and I participated in the Top Escape Rooms Project.
Nominating wasn’t too challenging. We have favorites. Our nominations were almost identical.
Stacked rankings were… mind-bogglingly challenging. I’m positive that if I ranked the same companies and escape rooms again today, without looking at my previous rankings, I’d rank them at least somewhat differently.
I’m confident that in my own rankings the best companies and rooms are on top and the weakest ones are on the bottom. David and I ranked the top and bottom pretty similarly to each other.
The middle, however, gets murky. Most escape rooms don’t deliver on everything. I had to stop categorizing puzzle design, gameplay, narrative, set design, production value and the like and rank them all against each other, regardless of where they shined. I tried to focus on fun – my own fun – which had its own biases. It worked against games that are objectively brilliant, but not so much my style. In the middle – where David and I pitted these elements against each other to create rankings – our rankings looked pretty different from one another.
No… we’re not going to publish our rankings.
While the exact rankings might be more fluid than this list would lead the viewer to believe, the top rooms project developed an incredible set of escape room recommendations. It turned the opinions of the most enthusiastic players into valuable data for escape room tourists.
Hamburg, Germany will have to be one of our next international destinations. I’m sure we aren’t the only ones thinking this.
We clearly need to visit Spain as well.
We’ve visited 6 of the 8 top escape rooms from the United States. For the 2 we haven’t played, we’ve been impressed by the company’s earlier room. Even before this data set came out we wanted to go back to these companies to see these newer rooms.
It’s been 2 years since we visited Seattle. We’d love to see Locurio’s The Storykeeper. I think people ask us on a weekly basis when we’ll finally review it.
We played escape rooms in Nashville this summer, just days before the folks who ranked 60 Minute Escape’s Frankenstein: The Awakening. When we visited 60 Minute Escape, the game was almost ready… but not ready enough. We’re pretty sad to have missed that game and hope to return to Nashville again soon to see it.
When I look beyond the top 25 escape rooms or the top 10 companies, there are so many more incredible escape rooms to visit.
Over the 4+ years we’ve been writing Room Escape Artist, we’ve waved a flag for many escape room companies who are off the beaten path. We love that these games have been uncovered, visited, and now ranked by many escape room enthusiasts.
That said, the Top Escape Rooms Project’s Phase 1 dataset is loaded with hidden gems that only received a single nomination.
For instance, David was the only person to nominate Piwnica Quest’s Midnight Killer MK II from Wroclaw, Poland… probably because he was the only person participating who had played it (although he won’t shut up about it).
We are confident that there are many more hidden gems out there that the well-traveled enthusiasts haven’t uncovered yet.
As with any data set, this one is biased. These are the top escape rooms of this community. It’s a group of people mainly in Western Europe and North America. This community listens to each other’s recommendations. That created a bit of a feedback loop. (That’s not a knock against this community. It happens in any community where people like and respect each other.)
The Top Escape Rooms Project was created for the love of escape rooms. It wasn’t about the clicks, links, or ad revenue. It wasn’t designed as a marketing ploy. It was simply about the joy of finding the best escape rooms in the world.
We have so much respect for this.
The Question of Best
At Room Escape Artist, we don’t focus on “best.” Our award, The Golden Lock-In Award (2017, 2016, and 2015), focuses on “favorites.”
We think about how escape rooms – both companies and games – succeed and how they could improve.
We think about what aspects of the games fit individual preferences. What is most fun for me isn’t necessarily right for you.
We analyze escape rooms in shades of gray.
That said, the internet demands “best.” We search for the best this and the best that, for a shortcut to the superlative in any one thing. There’s a place for it. We commend the Top Escape Rooms Project on its incredible achievement in conceptualizing and delivering an outstanding list of best escape rooms.