Room Escape Lover’s Holiday Gift Guide – 2020

Welcome to our 5th Annual Holiday Buyer’s Guide. The fact that we’ve been doing this for 5 years blows my mind. As always, we’re here to help you solve the puzzle of what to get family and friends.

REA logo with a Santa hat atop.

Each year we assemble a list of puzzles, games, tools, and some truly random stuff that we think would make fantastic gifts for the escape room or puzzle-curious people in your life.

We do not (intentionally) repeat items, so feel free to check out our past Holiday Buyer’s Guides for additional inspiration. They have all been crafted with love and we still stand behind them:

Puzzles

We cover a lot of ground here, so puzzles are broken out into sub-categories for your convenience.

Tabletop Escape Games

Scooby-Doo: Escape from The Haunted Mansion

$30 (Amazon)

Scooby-Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion box art depicts th Mystery Inc gang in front of an ominous mansion.

David: “Jinkies, this game was adorable. It was about as Scooby Doo as it could have gotten, and it’s the perfect family-friendly tabletop escape room.” (Review)

Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (Think Fun)

$43 (Amazon)

The Cursed Dollhouse fully assembled.

Lisa: “It’s a dollhouse. You turn the game box into a dollhouse, and then you play it like it’s a real-life escape room. Sure, it had a couple of bumps, but it’s so much fun. And did I mention that it’s a dollhouse?” (Review)

Box One Presented By Neil Patrick Harris

$30 (Target)

Hand holding a gold Box One challenge coin over the game's box art.

David: “This one really surprised us. It was teed up as a single player experience (but we played it as a couple). We didn’t know what to expect or what we were getting into… and in the initial moments it seemed like it might disappoint, but wow. Must play. Few tabletop puzzle games have pushed the idea as far as Box One did.” (Review)

Witchery Spell

$58 + shipping from the Netherlands (DarkPark Games)

A pentagram surrounded with decorative symbols, with a lit candle in the center.

David: “We had Sarah Willson review this one because Lisa volunteered to play a part as one of the witches. In both my opinion and Sarah’s… this game is great. Also, I think that one of the witches in this game is really hot.” (Review)

Mystery Subscription Box: Madok’s Lost Treasure

$19.50 per month, or save on individual boxes with a quarterly or annual subscription (Society of Curiosities)

A wax sealed letter and a gold coin.

David: “This is a beautiful and unique take on the subscription game. It has an entirely different feel and style from anything else we’ve seen and puts a heavy focus on challenges and fiction that feel more real than purely puzzley.” (Review)

The Curious Set: Elevator & Stairs

$51 (BlueFish Games)

Initial opening of the box shows a wide variety of paper components.

Lisa: “We loved the Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks and said as much in our review… but we loved its prequel/ harder followup Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks even more. That review is coming soon. These are quality, approachable puzzle games.” (Review)

Root of All Evil

$130 (Crack-A-Nut Mysteries)

Closeup of the box contents includes a Holy Bible, newspaper clippings, and other items.

Lisa: “Root of All Evil built a grim fictional world and truly sold it through an attention to detail that rivals anything else we’ve seen in the tabletop mystery market. I’ve never enjoyed reading a journal more than in this experience.” (Review)

Jigsaw Puzzles

Ravensburger Sort and Go Jigsaw Puzzle Accessory

$11 (Amazon)

Puzzle Tray packaging beside a stack of trays.

David: “As an jigsaw puzzler, I always thought that buying dedicated sorting trays was a decadence that I didn’t need. Turns out, it’s a decadence that I love.” (Review)

H. H. Holmes Murder Castle 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

$35 (Etsy)

Illustrated box art for the 1000 piece Murder Castle puzzle.

David: “The book The Devil in the White City is fantastic on so many levels. It also introduced me to the real and insane story of H.H. Holmes and his murder castle. This illustrated puzzle brings the stories to life. It’s an interesting jigsaw puzzle because it has so much detail and the act of assembling it really makes sure that you take in every little bit.”

Puzzle 29

$40 (Etsy)

29 translucent blue acrylic jigsaw pieces and a white frame that fits them.

Lisa: “You think you’re a good jigsaw puzzler until a 29-piece puzzle kicks your butt. This thing is loaded with intrigue and smart design. Have fun figuring out what the deal is with that 5th corner piece.”

Mechanical Puzzles

Mondrian Blocks

$25 – each color offers a different set of challenges (Amazon)

Mondrian blocks logic puzzle box.

Brett: “A series of challenges with one simple rule: place the starting pieces in specified locations, then figure out where the remaining pieces fit. It escalates from easier puzzles to quite difficult ones, but always producing an attractive color block pattern. Challenge cards and pieces are packaged in a clever case, making it good for portable puzzling.”

DanLock

$180 (Etsy)

Danlock puzzle lock with a key attached to the shackle and a broken key.

David: “I’m a big fan of puzzles and locks… so blending them together is a no-brainer for me. In the annals of puzzle locks, the Dan Lock is a puzzle that really established a lot in this niche genre. I’ve never owned one, but I did solve a friend’s.”

cluebox

$37 (Etsy)

A wooden puzzle box with a spindle of gears.

David: “ClueBox is a really clever puzzle. It blends mechanical puzzling with escape room-style clue structure. The result is approachable fun for newbies and experts alike.” (Review)

Puzzle Books

The Master Theorem Book

$30 (Amazon)

The Master Theorem book cover.

Lisa: “We took a bit of a break from puzzle books in 2020, but Master Theorem was the exception. It has a unique voice and an assortment of quality puzzles that we kept returning to.” (Review)

Home & Office

AfterShokz Titanium Open Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones

$80 (Amazon)

David: “About 15 years ago I read a science fiction novel called Daemon (which is fantastic and could make a great gift as well). The book passively mentioned bone conduction headphones. It wasn’t essential to the plot, but it captured my imagination. In 2020, I’ve spent a lot of time in headphones and I don’t like over-ear or earbuds, so I tried a pair of these bone conduction headphones and they are really cool. They leave your ears completely open. There is also a more expensive waterproof/ exercise model.”

Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

$29 for a 24 pack (Amazon)

The key to a good gin & tonic is the tonic.

Lisa: “It has been a long time since we’ve gone out to a bar, so we’ve been mixing our own potions. Gin & tonic is an easy choice, but most people buy inferior tonic. Splurge for the good stuff; it will completely change the way you think of the classic gin & tonic.”

A fever tree bottle glowing under blacklight.
It also looks amazing under blacklight. (To be fair, so does inferior tonic.)

Flatiron Pepper Co Chile Flakes Gift Set, 4 Pack

$35 (Amazon)

A collection of 4 different bottled pepper blends.

David: “A non-trivial portion of the joy that I’ve experienced in 2020 has been from exploring spices and hot sauces. The gift set from Flatiron Pepper Co is by far the most versatile product that I’ve found. These pepper blends are so fresh, flavorful, and vibrant. There’s a pepper blend for every meal in this box. Give the gift of 🔥.”

OXO Good Grips Multi Grater (The Strange Bird Grater)

$13 (Amazon)

A v shaped cheese grater with a flexible hinge.

David: “I learned about this cheese grater in an unusual Facebook thread over in the Everything Immersive group where Haley E R Cooper educated me. As is so often the case… she was right. If you want to read the original conversation, have at it. You’ll just have to join the Everything Immersive Facebook group first.

Kishibori Shoyu – Premium Artisanal Japanese Soy Sauce

$23 (Amazon)

Premium soy sauce bottle.

Lisa: “It turns out traditional soy sauces are amazing. I wouldn’t cook it into something, but in the right places, this stuff is an outrageous finishing touch.”

Tabletop Games

Magic The Gathering Challenger Decks

$22 – Cavalcade Charge or $25 – Flash of Ferocity (Amazon)

4 different magic challenger deck boxes.

David: “I’ve been playing Magic The Gathering on and off since I was about 10 years old. I love brewing up decks, and I truly enjoy the complexity of the game… but I don’t really like to keep up with buying tons of cards. The Challenger Decks are amazing because most of them are legitimately good out of the box, and with a few upgrades, it’s easy to turn these things into powerhouses. All 4 are interesting, but I think that Cavalcade Charge and Flash of Ferocity are the strongest out of the box.”

Magic The Gathering Arena Starter Decks

$10 (Amazon)

Two magic starter decks and a play guide.

David: “If you’re brand new to Magic, the Arena Starter Decks are really good – Magic has a dodgy history when it comes to starter deck quality. These also come with the added bonus of working in Magic’s digital format, Arena, as well (which is also where I do most of my playing these days).”

Gloomhaven: Jaws of The Lion

$48 (Amazon)

Box art: Assorted fantasy weapons on a tavern table with a map and gold.

Lisa: “Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a collaborative fantasy, adventure, and strategy game. It is the little sibling of Gloomhaven (2018 Buyers Guide), an epic tabletop game designed to be played over dozens of sessions… and we have been playing it throughout 2020. The smaller version is far less of a commitment in terms of playtime, price, and complexity… but it’s still really fun.”

Pandemic Legacy: Season 0

$75 (Amazon)

Pandemic Legacy Sason 0 with 1960s characters on the box.

Lisa: “Truthfully, we haven’t played this yet, but it’s sitting next to our table waiting for us to play it in December. We recommended Season 1 & 2 in past guides and they were a marvel of game design. I can’t wait to see what catharsis Season 0 has in store for us.”

Lucky Duck D20 DND Die

$15 (Etsy)

Clear D20 with rubber duckies inside of them.

David: “It’s a ducky in a 20-sided die! Do I really need to sell you on this?”

Tears of My Players DnD Coffee Mug

$17 (Etsy)

Hands holding a much that depicts D20s and reads, "Tears of My Players."

Lisa: “I’m pretty sure that every dungeon master we’ve ever played with secretly sips from this. You know who you are and what you’ve done.”

Tools

Mini Right Angle Ratcheting ScrewDriver

$9 (Amazon)

A right angle ratcheting screwdriver with 18 different bits of various types and sizes.

David: “The Wera screwdriver that I recommended last year is my go-to fix-most-things tool… but this cheap, silly little tool has worked miracles for me in tight spaces. I don’t always need it, but when I do, I am so happy that I have it.”

Sparrows – Challenge Vault

$129 (Sparrows)

David: “This is a small safe designed to teach you how to crack safes. If you’re into mechanical puzzles, lock picking, or you’re the kind of person who likes to know how to do things, this product is incredibly cool. The only reason that I do not own one right now is that I know that I don’t have the time to get really good at this… yet.”

Stocking Stuffers

Uni Mechanical Pencil Kurutoga

$7 Pencil (Amazon) & $6 Graphite Refills (Amazon)

A red, a blue, and a pink pencil with a rotating mechanical mechanism.

Lisa: “If it’s wrong to love a pencil, I don’t want to be right. This mechanical pencil slowly rotates as you write with it so that the graphite wears evenly. It’s magnificent. David and I both use them when puzzling. Buy extra graphite; the pencil doesn’t ship with much in it.”

Foldology – Origami Puzzles

$14 (Amazon)

Foldology oigami puzzles in various states of solve.

Lisa: “I’ve always loved origami. Any scrap paper or candy wrapper turns into a bird in my idle hands. I also really enjoy folding my way through these squares while we watch TV.”

CH751 – A key that opens far too many locks

$6.00 (Amazon)

2 ch751 keys

David: “Now is the time that I entertain and educate you. This silly little key goes to the most commonly-used lock on office furniture, cabinets, and RV compartments… and it shows up in a lot of escape rooms. It’s a dirt cheap lock that manufacturers keep using out of laziness and stupidity. So buy yourself a “skeleton key” to keep on your key-chain… and seriously make sure that you are never locking up something important behind a lock keyed to CH751.”

For the Little Ones

The Mad Hacker

$10 The Mad Hacker (Amazon)

Cover art for the Mad Hacker Escape Game Adventure book.

Lisa: “If you’re looking to open the world of puzzling up to your primary-school age child, The Mad Hacker is an adorable and beautifully illustrated entry point.” (Review)

Playmobil Scooby-DOO! Adventure in The Mystery Mansion

$99 (Amazon)

A purple and green haunted house playset with Scooby-Doo Playmobile characters.

Lisa: “If you asked tiny me what I wanted for the holidays, the answer was always Playmobil. My obsession was intense. What I love about this particular playset is that it’s a great way to introduce kids to mystery, adventure, and trap doors. Teaching your kids to love trap doors is just good parenting.”

Escape Room Tickets (Real-Life or Online)

Recommendations for Avatar-Guided Online Escape Games – In these games, you interact with the escape room through an in-game avatar who is your eyes, ears, and hands in the physical game space.

Stylized image of a laptop with a large Zoom meeting and a cup of coffee.

Recommendations for Play On-Demand Online Escape Games – These are games that are always available to start now – no need to book a time slot.

A team photo from THE BASEMENT. One player looks like a disembodied head due to green screen funniness.

David: “Whether you play in real life at your friendly neighborhood escape room business or try one of the countless digital escape room variants, these companies absolutely need the business. It has been a hard year, and supporting them is as important as it is fun.”

REA Merch

REA Merch Shop

Lisa “For the first time, we finally have REA logo swag available and we’re super excited. If you’re debating between the items, let me tell you that the hoodie is so soft and comfortable. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a hoodie. The mug is also really great.” (About REA Merch)

Something Special

Rune Cube

$500 (Art of Play)

Wooden Rune Cube puzzle box.

Brett: “If you are looking for something high-end, this puzzle box has hours of play value. With more than 100 different configurations, taking from 6 to 115 moves to open, you won’t soon run out of challenges. Made by Kagen Sound, one of the best puzzle craftspeople out there, it is also a beautifully precise piece of woodworking.”

Cluvens Scorpion Computer Cockpit

$3,299 (monitors and computer not included)

An elaborate scorpion shaped work station. It looks like it would be used by a villain in a cyberpunk story.

David: “Every year I explore the internet in search of something completely bonkers for the person who has everything. I keep imagining how funny it would have been running RECON from something this ridiculously super villainous.”

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Box One Presented By Neil Patrick Harris [Hivemind Review]

Box One is a tabletop escape game presented By Neil Patrick Harris.

Hand holding a gold Box One challenge coin over the game's box art.

Format

Style of Play: tabletop escape game

Required Equipment: an internet-connected device

Recommended Team Size: 1

Play Time: While active playtime was under 2 hours, you will not be starting and finishing this game in a single evening; don’t try.

Price: about $29.99

Description

Box One is a tabletop escape-room-esque experience that describes itself as “an ever-evolving game of trivia, codes, puzzles, and discovery – only from the mind of Neil Patrick Harris.” It was explicitly designed for a single player to enjoy on their own, but there is nothing about the game that prevents more players, beyond designer’s intent (which ain’t nothing). Saying much more than that about its structure will spoil things that ought not be spoiled.

Red, black,and gold, with NPH's eye peering through a keyhole Box One packaging

Deep Discounts on Escape Room Tabletop Games

Amazon is currently running an up to 40% discount off of a surprising number of some of our favorite tabletop escape games, as well as our favorite tabletop collaborative games.

Here are a few deals you should consider:

Tabletop Escape Games

Collaborative Tabletop Games

  • Gloomhaven – we’re in the middle of this beast and it’s a commitment, but incredible, and $85 is remarkably inexpensive for this game
  • Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, & Forbidden Sky – I love this series of easy-to-learn, quick-to-play, challenging-to-master games. They require escape-room-esque teamwork, and the components are gorgeous.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Society of Curiosities – Mystery Subscription Box: Madok’s Lost Treasure [Review]

Historical Detective Story

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 10, 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $19.50 per month, or save on individual boxes with a quarterly or annual subscription

REA Reaction

I am a huge proponent of game designers packing a little less into their games, but really getting what’s in there right. It felt like Society of Curiosities was coming from a similar school of thought.

Madok’s Lost Treasure didn’t have a ton of components, but everything that we received in the mail looked and felt right. When we interacted with digital components, they looked and felt natural. This is rare. Usually there’s some junky afterthought prop or a website that can’t even pass as a parody of a website.

A wax sealed letter and a gold coin.

When it came to gameplay, Madok’s Lost Treasure was different. We initially approached it like a tabletop escape room, looking for puzzles to solve, but as we worked through the game’s materials, it slowly became clear to us that we needed to think about things not as puzzlers, but more like researchers. The gameplay was largely in exploring the nuances of the world and applying the game world’s logic to itself. Once we shifted our mindset, we had a great time.

Our biggest knock against Madok’s Lost Treasure was that we felt like it needed to do more to guide us into its style of play.

Society of Curiosities is what I’m hoping to find from a subscription series: fewer high quality, detailed components, deliberately crafted worlds, and smart gameplay.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • ARG fans
  • Prop collectors

Why play?

  • Beautiful props
  • Strong world building
  • Detail-focused problem solving

Story

We received a collection of documents – both old and new – in the mail, along with a single goal. Solve an ancient mystery and figure out where to send our field team to recover the lost treasure of famed pirate Captain Edus Madok.

Continue reading “Society of Curiosities – Mystery Subscription Box: Madok’s Lost Treasure [Review]”

Introducing REA Swag – Where the Real Money From the Blog is Made

Many have asked… and so we’re finally bringing you proper Room Escape Artist swag.

Come! Walk this way, take a look. We put the website’s name on everything!

Merchandising! Merchandising! where the real money from the blog is made.

REA-the T-shirt

Lisa in a white REA t-shirt.

Until today, there were only 4 REA t-shirts in existence. Now anyone can have one! All of our t-shirts are made with premium materials – because – comfort.

  • Unisex/ Men’s cut t-shirts are in sizes ranging from S to 3XL and are available at $24
  • Men’s cuts are available in black & smoke
  • Women’s cut t-shirts are in sizes ranging from S to 2XL and are available at $24
  • Women’s cuts are available in black & white

REA-the Hoodie

Lisa in the REA hoodie in Autumn

For years we’ve wanted to have REA hoodies… and now we do, and they are super cuddly.

David in the REA hoodie in Autumn

The material feels fantastically soft. It is not a baggy or loose hoodie, so select your size appropriately.

  • Unisex/ Men’s and Women’s cut hoodies are both available at $51
  • Sizes range from XS to 2XL

REA-the Coffee Mug

Lisa looking lovingly into a REA coffee mug while wearing a REA hoodie on an autumn day.

Our coffee mugs come in two sizes. Your choice depends upon your commitment to caffeine:

  • 11oz – $14
  • 15oz – $15

REA-the Sticker

REA sticker on a laptop.

Stickers are available in the multiple sizes, and come printed with either a solid white or clear border:

  • 2 inch – $5
  • 3 inch – $6
  • 4 inch – $8
  • 5 inch – $9

REA-the Notebook

Lisa in a REA shirt taking notes in a REA notebook.

If you’ve ever played an escape room with us, you know that Lisa takes lots of notes in a notebook. We have volumes of notes in our escape room notebooks… and now we have spiral-bound REA notebooks for all to enjoy.

REA-the Magnet

REA magnet holding up a postcard from Meow Wolf

Magnets are available in the multiple sizes:

  • 3 inch – $8
  • 4 inch – $10
  • 6 inch – $12

REA-the Flamethrower!

Yogurt from Spaceballs firing a flamethrower with the REA logo.
The kids love this one.

Support & Fulfillment

Everything is printed on-demand and fulfilled by Threadless.

If there’s something you’d like to buy that you don’t see, feel free to ask and we’ll see what we can do.

We are planning to expand REA merch in different ways over time. Our blessing and curse has always been more ideas than time… and we like to take the time to do things right.

Finally, all of the profits will go towards helping us run and improve the website. As with the merch, we have bigger and better website plans for the future.

Thank you for supporting us. Whether you’re reading our content, backing us on Patreon, or buying our swag, we truly appreciate you.