Escape the Crate – Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum [Review]

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📦 ⚓ 📦 ⚔️

Location: at home

Date played: July 7, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In the second and third chapters from Escape the Crate, we continued to chase our villain through time to stop him from altering history by retrieving the anachronistic objects that he had left behind.

The second chapter, Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, brought us to 1718 at the Blockade of Charles Town aboard Blackbeard’s ship.

Opened Escape the Queen Anne's Revenge crate shows brig bars with writing on them. Through the bars the ship's masts are visible.

The third chapter, Escape the Colosseum, took us back to a gladiator fight in Ancient Rome.

Escape the Colosseum opened, depicts a schedule of spectacles, a magnifying glass, and a picture of the Colosseum.

In each episode, our mission as time traveling agents was to retrieve the anachronism so that our present time would exist as it should.

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that delivers a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we continue to build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chase this time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

Similarly to Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, in these subsequent chapters, Escape the Crate designed puzzles themed on the relevant historical era and location.

We needed to observe carefully and “unlock” sealed envelopes that represented different containers or rooms in each episode’s “set,” Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Colosseum, respectively. The puzzle structure mimicked a physical escape room.

While most of the puzzling was paper-based, each episode incorporated a few more interactive challenges.

Standouts

We appreciated Escape the Crate’s commitment to the historical setting of each episode. Both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum involved thematically appropriate ciphers (although the Roman game did this better)… If you know anything about ciphers, you’ll know what to expect from Escape the Colosseum.

Escape the Crate augmented the contents of each crate with a web interface. The website provided the “locks,” hints, and narrative audio clips. It was intuitive to use – on both desktop and mobile – and didn’t detract from the game components on our table.

Overall, Escape the Crate provided generally entertaining and satisfying puzzles.

These two Escape the Crate episodes were not cookie-cutter. Each chapter included significant puzzle design or gameplay components that were unique to that episode. In Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, one puzzle actually created the semblance of physical space. Escape the Colosseum introduced a new type of gameplay that we hadn’t seen in either tabletop or real life escape rooms.

Escape the Queen Anne’s RevengeEscape the Colosseum, and their first chapter, Escape the Confederate Spymistress, were each individual stories with narrative and episodic resolution. In addition to being entertaining and satisfying as self-contained escape rooms, they each teased the upcoming episode. Each chapter felt like a part of a larger time-traveling adventure.

Shortcomings

A critical component of Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge did not work as planned for us. Our speculation is that the box was shipped to us when it was cold and dry and we didn’t play it until it was hot and humid… We think that things may have expanded a bit. This key component became stuck and after taking a few hints that didn’t help, we resorted to “outside tools” and a bit more than “finger strength” to “solve the problem.”

A plastic bottle with a mangled mouth. A pair of wirecutters and pliers sit beside it.
It was neither pretty nor proper, but it worked.

Escape the Colosseum had a few structural flaws that caused frustration. An observant player with knowledge of ciphers can easily jump ahead, skipping other puzzles, and create a time paradox of sorts within the game. We did this and ended up having to backtrack after realizing that we’d broken the order of the game.

Additionally, while Escape the Colosseum introduced a new and exciting game mechanic, in practicality it was frustrating. It needed improved clueing and a better web interface to support it. This design mechanism had a ton of potential, but it wasn’t quite ready for primetime at the Colosseum.

While both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum made strides in production quality, they still felt too homemade. Escape the Crate episodes would benefit from additional attention in print design and production, which could improve the quality of many game elements without a ton more effort.

Should I play Escape the Crate’s Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum?

We continue to be impressed by Escape the Crate’s subscription model. Their episodic at-home escape rooms work as stand-alone games and fit into a larger adventure. Furthermore, they continue to output new episodes on the promised delivery timeline. So far each chapter has included an innovative design element.

Because they continue to innovate and output at this rate, however, each episode included moments that could have used more testing and refinement.

In terms of production, Escape the Crate episodes are not polished compared to most other mass market at-home escape rooms available from larger companies. That said, they’ve designed a gameplay structure that works, complete with locking, story delivery, and hinting. In our opinion, that’s the crux of an escape room, and the folks from Escape the Crate continue to make a fun product at a fast pace and affordable price.

We recommend Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum for an hour (each) of educational, family-friendly puzzle entertainment in your own home.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum are now “retired” games that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Escape the Crate – Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress [Review]

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The Civil War delivered to our door.

Location: at home

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In a Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego-esque history-changing puzzle adventure, our mysterious dispatchers learned that an equally enigmatic villain was attempting to alter history. We were sent back to 1861 in order to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln from occurring 4 years earlier than it was supposed to happen.

In order to accomplish our mission, we had to seek out the home of Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, rummage through her belongings, and uncover the dastardly plans to murder President Lincoln and his family.

Many of the game's props and components staged. There are ciphers, grids, flags, maps, and photos.
Image via Escape The Crate

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that plans to deliver a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we would build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chased this time time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Escape the Confederate Spymistress was somewhere between a Puzzled Pint event and an escape room.

The puzzling was well-themed on US Civil War history, offering a series of challenges based on events, concepts, and people from the era. These puzzles started off simple and grew in complexity.

The escape room vibe came from a reliance on searching, keen observation, and the “locks” that we opened via the Escape the Crate website.

Standouts

Escape The Crate’s use of US Civil War spy history was a great choice for the game’s setting.

The audio recordings successfully delivered instructions and story while reducing the volume of reading.

The puzzling and flow were generally strong and kept Escape the Confederate Spymistress entertaining.

I like the idea of a subscription service that has players retain key components for future use, thereby reducing the cost associated with each subsequent package while increasing the volume of tools at the players’ disposal.

Shortcomings

Two puzzles could have used a little more playtesting; they were both almost smooth. One in particular was lacking a critical piece of clue structure. Having essentially solved it, we had to go through all of the hints on that puzzle and when we found out what we weren’t doing, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes.

I really wish that the website with the digital locks wasn’t case sensitive. I can’t think of a good reason why it needed to be.

Escape the Confederate Spymistress doesn’t look at all impressive. Aesthetically, it has all of the charm of a pile of paper puzzle prototypes in beta testing.

It would be possible to repack Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress for replay, but you would have to carefully unpack everything and not destroy any components while playing. Additionally, the reusable items would need to be retrieved prior to playing the next game. Thus it is essentially a one-and-done game.

Should I play Escape The Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress?

Depending upon what you value, Escape The Crate will be either great or terrible.

If you’re willing to forgo aesthetics and beauty in favor of a tabletop escape room with fairly strong puzzles and you like the subscription model, then Escape the Crate is a wonderful choice. It’s smart and family-friendly.

The low-key approach to component design might actually make for a sustainable subscription model.

However, if this description sounds like a box of ugly puzzles printed on paper that can’t really be shared with more people than the ones sitting at your table when you play… that’s not an inaccurate interpretation of Escape the Crate either.

This is a value judgment.

For what it’s worth, we received a free reviewer copy of Chapter 1, but have since subscribed at full price. We had a good time and want to see where this goes.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Confederate Spymistress is now a “retired” game that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Escape the Crate provided us a free reviewer’s copy of Chapter 1. We have since purchased a subscription. 

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)