Escape Game Adventure: Operation Pizza [Book Review]

The Pizza Plot

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 18 2021

Team size: we recommend 1-family

Duration: 15-60 minutes

Price: about $10

REA Reaction

With Operation Pizza, Escape Game Adventure genuinely surprised us. This kids’ puzzle book felt noticeably more advanced when compared to the other installments in the series… and the plot was a bit more grounded.

All of that is to say that this book spoke to me. Escape Game Adventure books generally speak to my inner child… which is cool… that’s the true audience.

Cover art for Escape Game Adventure Operation Pizza shows Dooze in a chef's cap holding a fresh pizza.

This was the most challenging book in this series thus far. That doesn’t make it hard relative to other tabletop puzzle games, but in the kids category, it certainly stood out in terms of complexity. I’d recommend children start with The Mad Hacker or The Last Dragon and work their way up to this one.


We’d traveled to Naples, Italy in 1889 with our robot companion Dooz to save the creator of the margherita pizza from being poisoned by a jealous rival.

I think we can all agree that there are few people in history as important as the originator of the margherita pizza. We had to stop this evil plot.

Dooze standing beside an outdoor dining table.


The analysis in this section is about the content of Operation Pizza. To see our analysis of the structure, refer to our Escape Game Adventure Books overview.

➕ The story told in Operation Pizza was quite clever, and a little more understated that the rest of the Escape Game Adventures series. I do mean that as a compliment; it appealed to me, and not just to my inner child.

➕ There was a lot to Operation Pizza. It felt more like an escape room than the previous books in the series. It demanded a general awareness beyond what was specifically in front of us.

Illustration of a locked Italian restaurant.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, scissors

Buy your copy of Operation Pizza, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: we received a media sample for review.

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The Shining: Escape from The Overlook Hotel [Review]

“I feel you will have to deal with this matter in the harshest possible way, Mr. Torrance.” -Grady

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 18, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 100+ minutes

Price: about $29

REA Reaction

The Shining: Escape from The Overlook Hotel was a beautiful disaster.

The deck of game cards. One card is flipped, the key for Room 237.

This is only the second game that we’re reviewing that we didn’t complete… and if you’re new here, we’ve played a silly amount of escape games in every imaginable format. It simply wasn’t fun in spite of a great effort. I’m going to examine why.

Nailing The Brand

From a creative direction standpoint, The Shining: Escape from The Overlook Hotel was a triumph. It looked and read perfectly. Narratively, this was a brilliant adaptation of the film’s world.

A series of booklets that pertain to different characters.

I have to imagine that there is a brand manager out there who has this thing mounted on their wall like a trophy.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an aesthetic piece; it was a game.

A game map with a character piece.

Bad Feels & Confusion

Initially we were sucked into the beauty and cleverness of the presentation. As we explored, however, the problems became far more unnerving than the story’s horror.

I attribute most of the issues to sloppy systems. Interestingly, The Shining used the same system as Scooby-Doo: Escape from The Haunted Mansion (which we loved). The key difference between the games was theming and severity. Scooby felt playful, chaotic, and childish. The rules felt loose, like they were there to keep the game on rails. The Shining felt severe and punitive. It appeared to do everything that it could to dissuade us from exploring the world. I assume that this was intentional to create atmosphere, but there’s such a thing as too much.

Numbered envelopes from the Overlook Hotel.

In the end, we reached a point where we got stuck. All options seemed to lead nowhere. We started over, and found ourselves bound up at the exact same place. It was at that point that we decided that this wasn’t enjoyable.

Final Thoughts

The Shining: Escape from The Overlook Hotel felt like it was undertested. We’re not the best puzzlers in the world, but we’re well practiced and reasonably skilled. If we got lost in the game twice, and felt that quitting was the best option, then something still needed to be ironed out before mass production.

There’s something great here; it just needed more time in the oven. In its current state, this was raw, and I don’t recommend consuming it.

The Shining Escape From The Overlook Hotel game box, depicts a man wielding an axe with blood dripping from the blade.

ParadigmQ – Film Noir: The Black Box Mystery [Review]

Outfox some wise guys.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 23, 2021

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-75 minutes

Price: about $60 per box

REA Reaction

Film Noir: The Black Box Mystery is a tabletop game for escape room players, by an escape room company. It combined a mailed box with a digital interface, and the two paired well together, delivering a high quality tabletop product.

The puzzles solved relatively quickly, with satisfying aha moments. They were approachable and attainable for newer puzzlers, but still enjoyable for more experienced players.

Closeup of game components. Everything is in black & white. There's a magnifying glass, and film reel.

I like tight, deliberately designed puzzle games that run 60-90 minutes. I value intentionality and games that also respect my time. I recommend Film Noir: The Black Box Mystery. That said, I need to address the price point of $60.

At $60, Film Noir: The Black Box Mystery is fairly expensive when compared with similar mostly paper-based tabletop escape rooms. For your money you’re getting a refined product that feels professionally designed, but it’s not a keepsake and you cannot easily repack this game. (You destroy most of the components over the course of normal play.)

At half the price, this would be a must-play. At its current price, it’s a strong recommend if you are in a position where you won’t miss the money. Deal hunters should look elsewhere.

Who is this for?

  • Detectives
  • Escape room players looking for at-home puzzles
  • Film noir fans
  • Any experience level
  • Great for less experienced puzzlers

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles that solve pretty quickly
  • High quality, styled video scenes
  • A fun aesthetic
  • To support an escape room business


Our friend Tracey had been investigating a big case… until he ended up dead. Now this box had arrived and it held the clues we needed to figure out what had transpired.

Film Noir Black Box Mystery box.
Continue reading “ParadigmQ – Film Noir: The Black Box Mystery [Review]”

The Magic Puzzle Company – The Happy Isles [Review]

Let’s make some happy little islands.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 9, 2020

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

The Happy Isles was a work of sublime genius.

In addition to all of the things that The Magic Puzzle company has done right, they achieved something extra in The Happy Isles. The art was intimidating from a jigsaw puzzling standpoint, but the way it was drawn made it feel subtly solvable. Little details gave away so much information. It was brilliant.

Box art for The Magic Puzzle Company's The Happy Isles 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

I highly recommend The Happy Isles. That said, I’d encourage you to solve The Mystic Maze first. They do similarly brilliant things, but I feel confident that The Mystic Maze is the stronger starting place.

When you’re finished with The Mystic Maze, have The Happy Isles waiting for you. Solve them both. They’re great.

Continue reading “The Magic Puzzle Company – The Happy Isles [Review]”

We Were Here [Review]

Keep Talking and Nobody Freezes

Developer & Publisher: Total Mayhem Games

Dates Played: January 2021

Platform: PC & Mac on Steam, XBox One

Duration: about two hours

Price: Free on Steam, $5 on Xbox One

REA Reaction

Despite the fact that We Were Here didn’t break any ground in either the cooperative or video game escape room arena, it was a very good example of both. I came away from the experience generally satisfied and interested in trying the two follow-up games.

This was a two-person only, cooperative, first-person POV escape room game. My teammate was Hivemind Writer Theresa Piazza. An escape room veteran, she was an excellent partner as this experience was all about communication. Because we were in completely separate digital locations, we had to constantly describe our surroundings through an in-game walkie-talkie, providing information that would help the other person advance.

It’s clear to me that Total Mayhem Games understands escape rooms and how to keep players engaged. The look and feel was polished, but in the end, lacked a certain specialness that would have elevated it to a “must-play” recommendation. The ending, in particular, was a bit baffling.

That said, it was time well spent thanks to the atmospheric environment, the moments of tension, and the communication skills of my teammate.

Who is this for?

  • Escape room teammates who miss live two-person escape rooms
  • Fans of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • Streamers looking for something to entertain and engage their audience

Why play?

  • The cooperative escape room concept translates well to this medium
  • This first one is free! (on Steam)


I played one of two members of an Antarctic expedition. We had followed footprints through the snow to a mysterious estate. Once inside, we were knocked out by an unknown figure and separated into two locations. My role was “Librarian” and Theresa’s role was “Explorer.” Our goal: help each other escape.

Continue reading “We Were Here [Review]”