Room Escape Artist Holiday Gift Guide – 2021

Welcome to our 6th annual Holiday Gift Guide.

As always, we’re presenting a unique selection of gifts for the adventurous and thoughtful nerds in your life (or you, we don’t judge). This year the REA team and our Patreon supporters shared their wonderful ideas for the gift guide too.

REA logo with a Santa hat atop.

Each year’s gift selection offers an assortment of games, puzzles, tools, and oddities. We don’t repeat gifts year-to-year, so you can always reference our past guides for more inspiration. We’ve put a lot of thought and love into each guide; they still hold up.

Escape Room Tickets

Before we dive in, I will open with a public service announcement:

The supply chain for all sorts of goods is strained. Shortages here, delays there… stuff is hard.

The good news is that escape rooms have no such shortage. I strongly encourage you to buy your friends and family admission to your favorite escape room.

2021 Gift Guide

Tabletop Escape Games

Escape From the Maze of the Minotaur, Solve Our Shirts

$35-40 (Solve Our Shirts)

Model wearing red t-shirt with the puzzles removed.

Lisa: “This is a fun evening activity that comes with its own souvenir shirt (and a high quality one!) I was repeatedly impressed by how many puzzles and surprises CU Adventures packed into this… article of clothing.” (Review)

Area 51, Break-In

$15 (Amazon)

Opened Area 51 game with side panels unfolded.

David: “Break-In’s Area 51 packed a lot into a small box by using the box as a physical structure for us to play in. I’m shocked at the low price point on this product, as it was crammed with innovation.” (Review)

The Cinderella Murders, Fairy Tale Files

$19 (Society of Curiosities)

A news paper, an illustrated character card of the Fiary Godmother, a sealed envelope, and a cup of tea.

Matthew: “The Fairy Tale Files were a delightful way to bring newer puzzlers or teens into the fold. (I played them with my mom!) Packed with satisfying yet accessible ahas, the two installments currently available embody the beautiful design, slick tech, and narrative-driven puzzling that have come to characterize all Society of Curiosities creations.” (Review coming soon)

The Initiative

$60 (Amazon)

Initiative box art depicts a character's mind filled with rooms.

Sarah W:The Initiative is a unique campaign-based cooperative strategy game with delightful escape-at-home overtones. Unlike most board games, there’s an overarching narrative that ties in with the gameplay mechanics, as well as plenty of secrets—some of which I found while writing up the review.” (Review coming soon)

Exit: Kidnapped in Fortune City

$15 (Amazon)

Exit: Kidnapped in Fortune City box depicts the old west. A sheriff's badge laying on the ground.

Kate: “This is my favorite installment from Exit: The Game to date. Kidnapped in Fortune City is a fast-paced, multi-layered adventure where you’re on a mission to rescue the kidnapped sheriff. You select your preferred path through the base game while working towards a meta puzzle at the end.” (Review)

Jigsaw Puzzles

The Mystic Maze, Magic Puzzle Company

$20 (Amazon)

Box art for The Magic Puzzle Company's The Mystic Maze 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

Cindi: The Mystic Maze was the most unusual jigsaw puzzle I’ve ever put together! With highly-detailed artwork and a thoughtful story (and surprises!), this puzzle was a joy to complete. I’ve already added Magic Puzzle Company’s Happy Isles and Sunny City to my list this year!” (Review)

The Puzzle Scoop

$10 (Amazon)

A handle with a large rectangular magnifier on the end over a collection of assembled puzzle pieces.

David: “Magnifier, flash light, and scoop… this little tool can do a lot to help the jigsaw puzzler in your life who’s eyes aren’t quite what they used to be.”

Infinite Galaxy Puzzle 2

$120 (Art of Play)

A jigsaw puzzle of the galaxy, the edge is infinite.

David: “Embrace the infinite. This puzzle of the galaxy poetically has no beginning or end. It endlessly interconnects with itself. It reminds me of the time I took astronomy in college thinking it would be fun… instead it broke my brain.”

Puzzle Books

Cantaloop

$47 (Amazon)

Cantaloop book cover depicts the main character in a mugshot with a lot of swagger.

David: “This was described to me as ‘a really good point-and-click adventure game in book form… that actually feels like a point-and-click adventure game.’ That description was dead-on. If you’ve ever enjoyed a point-and-click adventure game, do yourself a favor and play this. It’s fun, funny, and novel.” (Review)

Hinck’s Gazette

$7 per month subscription (BlueFish Games)

A copy of the Hincks Gazette being held up in front of a fireplace. The frontpage headline reads, "Talking plants now talking back. House plants sassing families all over town."

Lisa: “Ok, this isn’t really a book, but it is puzzles presented in newspaper form, and I think that should count. My life is weird, and I don’t have time to casually puzzle the way that I used to, but if David and I were to subscribe to a regular puzzle product, this would be at the top of our list.”(Review)

Tangram, Volume 1

$27 (Art of Play)

Tangram book cover has a portrait of a person cut into rings, and then twisted.

Matthew: Tangram is an art journal themed around wonder that features artists from a wide range of creative disciplines. Each volume also hides hours of puzzles, designed by yours truly! (I don’t get any additional royalties… I just want more people to play it.) The first volume is a self-contained puzzle hunt with a tactile meta sequence, and the second volume contains even harder puzzles that lead to real-life hidden treasure…”

Mechanical Puzzles

Cluebox 2: Davy Jones’ Locker

$45 (Art of Play)

Large wooden puzzle box with many ornate pieces and symbols.

Brett: “Cluebox 2: Davy Jones’ Locker is a terrific sequel to the original Cluebox. It ups both the puzzle and design aspects, with on-theme shapes and graphics leading you through a series of challenges that will make escape room players feel right at home. It packs in 60 to 90 minutes of puzzling for most players, at a very reasonable price, and is resettable so you can share it with family and friends.”

Kagen Sound Maze Boxes

$265 each (Art of Play)

Wooden puzzle box with a metal maze embedded in the top.

Brett: “Kagen Sound is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest crafters of wooden puzzle boxes. His Maze Boxes have simple but precise woodworking, with a metal maze locking them. You’ll rapidly discover the maze is trickier than it appears, though still solvable by mortals.”

Home

Midnight Ice Cream Scoop

$34 (Amazon)

Sleek, steel ice cream scoop.

Lisa: “So… we may have consumed a lot of ice cream over the past couple years… like a lot a lot. This was admittedly a decadent purchase, but it works way better than any other ice cream scoop I’ve ever owned. And everyone can have a good laugh at how, umm, suggestively shaped it is.”

Duck & Bunny Illusion Shaker Set

$48 (Art of Play)

Salt & pepper shakers that look like a duck or bunny depending upon how they are oriented.

Matthew: “Is your dining room table lacking in wonder? Shake things up with this delightfully sculpted rendition of the classic duck/ bunny optical illusion.”

Tap Score – Water Test

$250 (Amazon)

Tap Score home water testing kit contents, includes instructions, sampling vials, chlorine test strip, and box.

David: “One of the many home improvement projects that I undertook this year was setting up a water filtration system. It turns out that there are lots of options and the one you need is based on what you need to filter out. Tap Score was by far the easiest part of this project. This simple testing system gave me so much information and made it easy to understand. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”

Flyte – Levitating Light

$349 (Art of Play)

An illuminated light bulb floating over a block of wood.

David: “These things are so cool. Every time I encounter one I always wish I owned one.”

Office

RayMay Pen Style Portable Scissors

$10 (Amazon)

David: “These are the coolest portable scissors. They shrink down to the size of a pen, and they work damn well. The blades are full tang (meaning the metal runs throughout the body), and they are a great addition to my portable puzzle solving kit (more on that kit in a future post).”

Sakura SumoGrip Retractable Eraser

$7 (Amazon) & $7 for a 3 refill pack (Amazon)

SumoGrip retractable eraser.

Lisa: “David got tired of us burning through erasers before we finished up using a pencil, so he dove down an eraser rabbit hole and emerged with this. I’ve since made him buy 3 more so I can stash them in bags and desks. The refills are also great.”

Midori Foldable Aluminium Ruler

$14 (Amazon)

Foldable, aluminum metic ruler.

David: “I’ve been looking for a small, foldable aluminum ruler… and finding a good one was strangely difficult. This one is fantastic. A while back I mostly switched to metric measurements for my projects, and I haven’t looked back. Metric makes both the measuring and math way easier. Don’t @ me.”

SENNHEISER HD 599 Open Back Headphone

$150 (Amazon)

Brown and beige headphones resting on a sound system.

David: “Between running a virtual convention and launching a podcast, I have spent way too much time wearing headphones, so much so that it was becoming painful… until I bought these headphones. I absolutely love them. The sound quality is magnificent, they fit well, but they don’t clamp down on my head. These headphones feel and sound much more expensive than they are.”

Tabletop Games

Poetry For Neanderthals

$16 (Amazon)

Poetry For Neanderthals box beside the card components, and a large inflatable club with the word "NO" painted on it.

Lisa: “I love any sort of word challenge, and this one is both unusual and fun – you can only use one syllable words. When your friends (or husband) use multisyllabic words, you get to bop them on the head with the inflatable ‘NO’ club. You can always count on Exploding Kittens to combine completely disconnected mechanics to make a hilarious game.

Wingspan

$60 for the base game, an additional $30 for the Oceana Expansion (Amazon)

Wingspan's beautifully painted box with a white, black and orange box.

David:Wingspan is a paragon of beautiful and deliberate design. This is a meaty tabletop game with so much going for it from its careful balancing, to its obsessive attention to bird details, to the elegant art and components. There are two expansions, but I strongly recommend picking up the Oceana Expansion as it adds an additional resource that helps further balance the game and open up new strategies.”

Stay Cool

$23 (Amazon)

Stay cool box, depicts an anthropomorphized bomb in distress.

David: “Hey Theresa, can you get me a quote on that game Stay Cool for the Gift Guide?”

Theresa W: “Oh absolutely. In the morning. We’re drunk playing it literally as we speak. It’s great.”

David: “Got it. Thanks.”

Tools

Hakko-CHP-170 Micro Cutter

$8 (Amazon)

Red and black micro cutters.

David: “I picked these up for snipping some plastic and light metal… and they feel great. I’ve used plenty of similar products over the years, but there is something about the shape of the handles that makes me feel considerably more in control of this tool.”

Govee Wifi Water Sensors

$54 (Amazon)

3 water sensors, a base station, and a controller phone app.

David: “Earlier this year we had a pipe burst in our home. It was exciting, to say the least. These water sensors are my new line of defense against a future water calamity. They haven’t been battle-tested yet, and I hope they never are, but for now, they stand guard.”

Books

AMORALMAN, Derek DelGaudio

$14 (Amazon)

AMORALMAN book cover by Derek Delgaudio. Book cover is an infinite copy of itself.

Lisa: “When I’m as impressed by a piece as I was by Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, I’ll always read the book. This book gave me more insight into the man behind that magic. His adventures in high stakes sleight of hand had me on edge. I literally couldn’t put it down.”

Little Billy’s Letters: An Incorrigible Inner Child’s Correspondence with the Famous, Infamous, and Just Plain Bewildered, Bill Geerhart

Used starting at $7 (Amazon)

Little Bill's Letters book cover, is written like a child wrote it.

David:Little Billy’s Letters are a collection of letters to celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and convicted murderers written by an adult, posing as child… and their actual responses to him. I impulse purchased this book in the middle of the night. It’s sort of a strange, hilarious artifact of the 90s. Strong recommend.”

Klara and the Sun: A novel

$16 (Amazon)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover is red with black lettering and features an open hand with the sun in its palm.

Lisa: “Reading a book by Kazuo Ishiguro is a lot like solving a puzzle. So much about the characters and their world mirrors our own, but as you read, you piece together the oddities to discover what’s different. His newest book Klara and the Sun: A Novel grapples with technological advancement, and also the meaning of being human.”

Stocking Stuffers

Chocolateral Puzzle Chocolate, Enigmailed

$8 per bar (Etsy)

A piece of chocolate resting on its green packaging, labeled, "Mind Dark Chocolate, The Case of the Fatal Experiment."

Lisa: “This is great chocolate, with some small puzzles on top. If I need to sell harder, then this isn’t for you.” (Review)

Bonus Chocolate

$12 (Art of Play)

A chocolate bar with elegant packaging.

Matthew: “This edible illusion is the perfect opportunity to play with your food. A clever take on how chocolate subdivides into smaller pieces, here you’re guided to rearrange those pieces into a new rectangle of the same size — with a bonus piece magically left over. The chocolate is delicious, too!”

Holiday Cards – Set of 3, PostCurious

$14 (PostCurious)

3 different winter themed holiday cards with puzzles hidden in them.

Theresa P: “These cards are beautifully illustrated and contain approachable puzzles for all to enjoy. Consider sending them to anyone on your holiday greetings list!”

Schrödinger’s Cat: A Game of Curiosity

$30 (IKantKoan)

Schrodinger's Cat a Game of Curiosity tin.

Matthew: “I’d never fully internalized the emotional dimension of Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox until I played Jessica Creane’s brilliantly simple Schrödinger’s Cat: A Game of Curiosity. This pocket-sized game made quantum physics fun, thought-provoking, and accessible.”

For the Little Ones

5-Minute Mystery The Museum of Everything

$23 (Amazon)

5 Minute Mystery Box, depicts an animal detective.

Sarah M: “This fast-paced game methodically introduces kids to close observation, strategic deduction, and racing a clock. The basic mechanics are simple: search for hidden clues, get information, and eliminate suspects. However, the variety of crimes to solve allows this game to be as easy or as challenging as you want. It’s adaptable to kids as young as 5, targeted to kids between 8-10, and still appealing enough for adults to join in. And, if that’s not enough, there’s also a toy cryptex!”

Roller Coaster Challenge, ThinkFun

$32 (Amazon)

Roller Coaster Challenge box beside the puzzle components.

Sarah M: “This 3-dimensional physics puzzler exercises your brain differently than many spatial reasoning products. Given a partial blueprint of a coaster and a specific set of materials to use, it’s your job to design a route that keeps the coaster on track. When you solve a challenge, you get the satisfaction of watching a mini-coaster glide through your creation! The 40 puzzles will entertain ages 6-10, but even grown-ups can have fun creating their own designs. And maybe the biggest selling point? There’s a LOOP-DE-LOOP…and it works!”

Hoakes Island: A Fiendish Puzzle Adventure

$18 (Art of Play)

Hoakes Island - A Fiendish Puzzle Adventure book cover, has an assortment of animals and rides.

Brett: Hoakes Island is a beautifully designed and produced book that tasks the reader with using the diary of Henry Hoakes to solve a mystery and save the island. Rita the Anteater is your guide to the adventure, sending you on a journey through newspaper clippings, letters, and a map of the island.”

ROKR 3D Assembly Puzzle DIY Wooden Music Box

$19 (Amazon)

A wooden robot with a glowing heart.

Lee-Fay: “My 9 year old loves this. It’s a music box plus the robot is adorb.”

Something Special

LEGO Ideas Typewriter

$200 (Amazon)

A beautiful typewriter made from legos.

David: “This typewriter is a LEGO kit, and it’s magnificent. This was born out of the community-driven LEGO IDEAS site… which reminds me… if you haven’t taken a couple minutes to throw your support behind these LEGO IDEAS projects, you really should:

These ideas are so damn cool and they should exist, just like this LEGO typewriter. “

Endless Spring

£600 (Grand Illusion)

David: “It’s a lot of money to commit to a prank… but let’s be real, anyone who says, ‘money can’t buy happiness’ hasn’t seen this.”

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon, Etsy, or Art of Play 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.

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, Etsy, or Art of Play 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.

Room Escape Lover’s Holiday Buyer’s Guide – 2019

Update: You can find even more ideas in our 2020 Holiday Buyer’s Guide!

‘Tis the season to bepuzzle your family and friends. We’re here to help.

Room Escape Artist Holiday Buyer's Guide 2019 masthead, features the REA logo with a Santa hat.

Every year we assemble a unique list of puzzles, tools, and other items that we think escape room lovers would love to give or receive.

This year’s list contains the most expensive item we’ve ever listed… as well as the spiciest item. (These aren’t the same item.) Enjoy!

Puzzles

We’ve got all manner of puzzles for you, broken out into categories for your convenience.

Tabletop Escape Games

We play and review a lot of tabletop puzzle games every year. We separate the great from the rest so that you don’t have to.

These were our 5 standouts (in no particular order) that put their own twist on the medium.

EXIT The Game- The Catacombs of Horror

$21.50 – Amazon

Exit: The Game Catacombs of Horror box art featuring a skull, and lit candle.

The folks behind the EXIT The Game series have been cranking out tabletop escape games for a few years. Catacombs of Horror is decidedly the crown jewel in the current collection. We loved this double-length tabletop puzzle experience.

Escape Room in a Box: Flashback

$20 – Amazon

The Flashback box art.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment was the early gold standard in tabletop escape games. The women behind that game have released its sequel, Flashback. Predictably, it was fantastic.

Doctor Esker’s Notebook

$15 – Amazon

The small card deck sized box for Doctor Esker's Notebook.

Looks can be deceiving. Doctor Esker’s Notebook didn’t look like much, but it had some brilliant puzzling. We highly recommend this little deck of cards. We also have the sequel, Son of Esker, waiting on our to-play pile. We can’t vouch for the sequel yet, but we are excited to give it a go.

Ravensburger Escape Puzzle

Witches Kitchen – $16 – Amazon

Space Observatory – $20 – Amazon

The cover of Ravensburger Escape Puzzle, Witch's Kitchen.

Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzles are part jigsaw puzzle and part tabletop escape game. Players first solve a 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. Then they solve the puzzles embedded within the image to ultimately resolve a meta-puzzle. The Escape Puzzle twist added more purpose to the jigsaw assembly. Our favorites were Space Observatory, which was a more challenging jigsaw but an easier escape puzzle, and Witch’s Kitchen, which looked great and played evenly across all types of puzzles.

The Escape Game – Escape from Iron Gate

$44 – Amazon

Escape Iron Gate's box featuring a prison and labeled, "The prison break party game."

The Escape Game put a new twist on the tabletop escape room format with Escape from Iron Gate. This competitive escape game pitted us against each other in a quest to puzzle, act, draw, and trade our way out of prison the quickest. It’s easy to learn and accessible to non-gamers… but don’t underestimate its strategic depth.

Jigsaw-ish Puzzles

3D Rubber Ducky Puzzle

$11.50 – Amazon

A 3D crystal jigsaw puzzle of a rubber ducky.

I honestly thought this was going to be garbage, but I was wrong. These 3D puzzles are surprisingly satisfying and solid. They offer a lot of different designs, but I went with the Rubber Ducky… it was the one.

Infinite Earth Puzzle

$120 – Nervous System

A laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzle of the eather that has no beginning or end.

We’ve reviewed a few Nervous System puzzles and this Infinite Earth Puzzle looks like it might be their coolest product yet.

Puzzle Video Games

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening [Switch]

$49 – Amazon

Link climbing a mountain to a massive egg.

Nintendo has done a full remake of this classic. Whether you’ve played the original or never heard of it, I highly recommend it.

I Expect You to Die

$25 – Schell Games

This is a killer James Bond-meets-escape-room VR game. Room Escape Artist’s puzzle video game reviewer Steve Ewing loved it.

Puzzle Books

This year’s selection of books is different from those we’ve featured in the past. We’ve been branching out.

Puzzle Snacks

$8 – Amazon

Cover of Puzzle Snacks, "More than 100 clever bite-sized puzzle for every solver" by Eric Berlin.

Puzzle Snacks was an inspired idea for a book. It’s a collection of word puzzles deliberately designed for quick solving. They don’t require any crossword puzzler wizardry, nor do they necessitate an extensive vocabulary. They are straightforward, fun, and clever. We ate them up.

Ship of Theseus

$22.50 – Amazon

Ship of Theseus title page.

Created by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, Ship of Theseus is an immersive novel with layers of storytelling. The other day, Room Escape Artist correspondent Sarah Willson published her review that was months in the making. All I can say is, I wish that I had the time to dive into the deep end on this one. I’m glad she did.

Cain’s Jawbone

$15 – Amazon

The box art for Cain's Jawbone depicts a library with a deadman on the floor and a person in the shadows outside of the window.

If Ship of Theseus isn’t puzzley enough for you… Try Cain’s Jawbone. This is an 85-year-old puzzle that was recently reprinted. It’s an intensely cool concept and I’ll likely never be able to solve the copy that I own.

Bletchley Park Puzzles

$7 – Amazon

The elegant black, white, and blue Sudoku Puzzle book.

When I was looking for a Sudoku book, the Bletchey Park Puzzle Books caught my eye, not because they are special from a puzzling standpoint, but because the cover art was simple and understated. Most puzzle books of this style have loud covers that look like they were designed by a 6-year-old who just learned about WordArt.

Bletchey Park Puzzle Books also offers other titles including Logic, Cryptic Crosswords, Math Puzzles, and of course Code Breaking.

Home

Triforce Alarm Clock

$30 – Amazon

A golden triangle assembled from 4 smaller triangers. The centerpiece has an alarm display.

It’s dangerous to wake up alone! Take this.

Chocolate Key Mold

$6 – Amazon

4 antique lever keys in a clear mold.

Lisa and I love dessert… a lot. We like making desserts and we especially enjoy consuming them. Chocolate key molds bring together a few of our favorite things. We’re guessing that there might be a few other folks who feel the same way.

Morse Code Doormat

$19 – Etsy

Morse code welcome mat reads, -.- -. --- -.-. -.-, -.- -. --- -.-. -.-.

When we moved into our house, we commissioned the creation of this doormat… and now it’s for sale on Etsy for all to enjoy.

Tabletop Games

Ex Libris

$42 – Amazon

The cover of Ex Libris depicting a strange magical library.

Ex Libris is a competitive tabletop game where everyone is a wizard librarian working to assemble the most impressive and best organized collection of magical books. If that description is speaking to you, then you probably need to buy this game.

Throw Throw Burrito

$33 – Amazon

The cover of throw throw burrito depicts two cartoonish burritos.

A card game meets dodge ball… but with foam burritos. Created by Elan Lee and Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), this is a delightful and funny game. Lisa beta tested this back before the Kickstarter.

What’s That Smell?

$17 – Amazon

Whats That Smell's box in the bag.

I hate this game. If there’s someone in your life that you aren’t fond of, but are stuck with, and you need to get them a present, this is the low key, passive-aggressive gift you’re looking for. For a good time, read my review.

Tools

Wera Screwdriver

$32 – Amazon

A Wera screw driver with extendable neck, and 6 bits that store in the handle.

I’ve long wanted a lightweight, full-sized screwdriver with interchangeable bits that is also easy to toss into a bag. It turns out that penetration tester (and quite possibly the most interesting person on the internet) Deviant Ollam found the solution.

I freaking love this screwdriver. It lives in my bag now. I’ve already bought a second one to give to a friend. I have a feeling that I’ll be giving these things as gifts pretty often.

Klein Tools Non-Contact Voltage Tester

$10 – Amazon

A Klein NCVT-1 Voltage Tester

We bought our first house this year and I’ve been learning to do a little electrical work. This tool is a lifesaver. Sure, you can do it with a multimeter, but why bother when the non-contact voltage tester is so effortless?

Klein Tools Outlet Tester

$11 – Amazon

A Klein RT210 outlet tester.

This little guy plugs into an AC outlet and immediately checks its functionality. This is one of the most efficient tools I’ve ever used. If I had to use a multimeter to check every outlet in the house, it would have taken so much more time and effort.

Gerber 7-in-1 Shard Keychain Solid State Tool

$7 – Amazon

A gerber shard with a bottle opener, pry tool and, cutting tool.

I’ve been carrying this simple multitool on my keychain for a little over a year. It’s not a comprehensive tool, but it’s great for quick, reactionary situations… and it’s TSA friendly.

Paasche MIL-Set Double Action Siphon Feed Airbrush

$65 – Amazon

An airbrush kit.

Earlier this year I asked Justin Nevins, the creator of the one true Cryptex, what his favorite tool was. His answer was an airbrush, which surprised me. He suggested this Paasche brush and followed it up by saying, “I swap out the plastic bottles for glass. I like this brand over Testors’ because of the metal components.”

It’s also worth noting that it requires an air compressor.

RECON

$300 Early Bird – Room Escape Artist

RECON - Reality Escape Convention logo features a penrose triangle and and a blue eye.

We’re producing an escape room convention on August 23 & 24, 2020 in Boston. The escape room creator in your life (which may be you) should absolutely attend. We’re doing the hard work and believe that we’re building something special.

Stocking Stuffers

NY Times Crossword Puzzle Calendar

$13 – Amazon

Box for the NY Times daily crossword calendar, depicts a crossword grid.

Shhh… I’m getting this for Lisa. Don’t tell her.

Secret Aardvark – Habanero Sauce

$9 – Amazon

Bottle of Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce

Hot sauce habit intensifies.

I love me some hot sauce. I’m not competitive about it, nor am I a masochist. I just love me some spice and the flavor of habanero peppers. Secret Aardvark is a flavorful, medium-heat hot sauce with no calories, carbs, or sugar. I put it on basically everything that isn’t a dessert.

Why is this on here? I love it. Also, it’s “secret” aardvark. It’s totally on-brand for us.

Hoberman Switch

$14 – Amazon

A blue ball with unusual cuts n the side. One the inside you can see purple coloration.

Created by artist/ engineer/ architect Chuck Hoberman, the Hoberman Switch is far more interesting than a fidget toy. When you toss this ball in the air, its outside flips inside and the color changes.

Frixon Highlighters

$8 – Amazon

6 flourscent highlighters in a package with Japanese writing.

Last year we shared Frixion pens in our Holiday Buyer’s Guide. Since then, we’ve learned of Frixion highlighters… which are pretty great, although admittedly less versatile than the pens.

Hanayama Harmony Cast Puzzle

$8 – Amazon

A tangled musical note and the treble clef symbol.

I’m not the biggest fan of entanglement puzzles, but this one was special. The aesthetic offers something more than just two pieces of metal twisted together. It’s also a satisfying solve.

For Real Little Ones

Lock Latch Board

$17 – Amazon

A child's latch board with a keyed lock, a gate latch, a combination lock, and a briefcase lock.

Help your tiny humans enjoy themselves and build fine motor skills while training them for escape room greatness.

I’m not naming names or anything, but if your kid can effectively use a briefcase lock, they might be a more useful teammate than some of the adults that I’ve played escape rooms with.

Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

$13 – Amazon

Cover art of "Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover," depicts an illustrated anthromorphic Mars rover.

This book is as beautiful as it is adorable. Child me would have made my mom read it to me until she had it memorized.

Escape Room Tickets

Amanda, Drew, David, & Lisa post-game at Escape From the 6. Each is wearing costumes and props from their games.

This is your annual reminder that a gift certificate to a favorite local escape room is a great gift.

Take a look at our escape room directory or regional recommendations guides to find something fun.

Something Special

Custom Secret Message Ring

$600 – Erica Weiner

A stack of three rings in silver, gold, and rose gold. Each has a different arrangement of stones on the band.

Erica Weiner makes delightful custom jewelry. These rings add an extra layer of intrigue because the gems are used as a cipher to hide a message.

Hobbit Hole

$2,390 or $3,270 (depending upon size) – Etsy

A Hobbit Hole home open with small furniture inside.

This is pretty much the greatest material gift that one could give.

Is it too expensive? Maybe… if you don’t love your kids.

Past Holiday Buyer’s Guides

We still stand by our previous holiday buyer’s guides. They are worth exploring:

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon, Etsy, or Art of Play 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.

Room Escape Lover’s 2018 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

Update: Check out our 2019 and 2020 Holiday Buyer’s Guides too for new ideas! Commence the commerce!
Room Escape Artist Holiday Buyer's Guide 2018 masthead, features the REA logo with a Santa hat.
It’s that time of year where we express to one another how much we care by buying creative gifts. If you have a puzzler in your life (or you’re looking to treat yourself), we’ve done the creativity for you. In each category we’ve included gifts spanning a range of prices. We even included a couple of aspirationally priced items. This year’s holiday buyer’s guide is unique from the previous guides we published in 2017 & 2016.

Tabletop Escape Games

In-game: a beautiful, intricate laser engraved/ laser cut wooden puzzle box.

TALE OF ORD

$165 (ships internationally) If you’re looking for a big puzzle game that requires commitment, Tale of Ord is one of our favorite tabletop puzzle games. The puzzles are challenging and numerous. The writing is about as good as we’ve seen from the play-at-home puzzle game genre. (Full Review)
The back of one of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes. Sealed and with the illustration of a letter emerging from an envelope.

Cryptogram Puzzle Post

£7.50 per single issue, £20.00 per seasonal (three issues) subscription, £70.00 per annual (twelve issues) subscription (ships internationally) These monthly puzzle mailings are loaded with gorgeous art and unusual puzzles. Buy them for the challenges. Keep them because they are freaking beautiful. (Full Review)
Unlock! The Adventures of Oz box art features Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow waling the Yellow Brick Road.

Unlock! – The Adventures of Oz

$14 (22 CAD) (£25) Over the course of many installments, Unlock! has shifted from a card-based re-creation of escape rooms to a narrative-driven puzzle adventure series. In our opinion, The Adventures of Oz is the pinnacle of this series. This shouldn’t be your first Unlock! game (that honor should go to Squeek & Sausage), but if you’re comfortable with the series and its mechanics, you should head off to see the wizard. (Full Review)
Sunken Treasure's box art features a sunken tall ship.

Exit: The Game – The Sunken Treasure

$10 (19.50 CAD) (£13) We’ve played a whole bunch of new installments in the Exit: The Game series of destructible tabletop escape games. Of the batch, The Sunken Treasure has been one of our favorites. It’s by far the best installment for players new to the series. (Full Review)
Deckscape The Test Time Laboratory card, and an introduction from the Doctor.

Deckscape – Test Time

$14 (26 CAD) (£11) We’re fans of Deckscape’s card-based play-at-home escape games. Test Time was our favorite. (Full Review)

Home

Umbra Magnetic Key Holder with keys and mail in it.

Umbra – Magnetic Key/ Mail Organizer

$15 (19 CAD) (£15) This magnetic key and mail organizer has been a fantastic addition to our home. It looks great and it’s highly functional.

Indiana Jones Holy Grail

$25 If you give this re-creation of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Holy Grail to someone and they respond with anything other than “You chose wisely,” then you should just end that relationship.
A beautiful glass hourglass with copper ballbearings inside as sand.

The Marc Newson Hourglass For HODINKEE

$12,000 This handblown hourglass is filled with 1,249,996 tiny ball bearings and measures 10 minutes. It’s beautiful and expensive. We can’t afford it, but if you buy it, we’d love to see it in person.

Tabletop Games

Forbidden Island's box with an assortment of cards, location tiles, and pieces.

Forbidden Island

$18 (20 CAD) (£17) This is a collaborative treasure hunt where 2 to 4 players with unique abilities attempt to obtain 4 sacred items from a sinking item. Each game takes about 30 minutes to play and it feels like a constantly shifting group puzzle. It’s easy to learn and easy to teach. I’ve been playing it fairly regularly for over 5 years.
The futuristic box for Gizmos.

Gizmos

$30 (46 CAD) This is a recent find for us and we’re pretty obsessed with it. Gizmos is a competitive game for 2 to 4 players, where everyone is trying to build more effective chain reaction machines that earn points and resources. It’s competitive, but not in-your-face competitive. Plus, it has a super fun marble dispenser.
Haunted House box for Betrayal.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

$33 (60 CAD) (£32) This hour-long game for 3 to 6 players starts out collaborative until someone triggers the haunting… and then a defector is revealed and the game changes profoundly. With more than 50 different defector scenarios and a procedurally generated game map, there is a ton of replay crammed into this box. While it pulls from horror tropes, it’s not a scary game. If you’d prefer a different theme, however, you can play the equally great Dungeons & Dragons-themed Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. Finally… if you already know and love this game, Betrayal Legacy looks amazing.
The D&D-esque box of Gloomhaven, depicting a scene with fantasy knights and rogues.

Gloomhaven

$140 (275 CAD) (£158) Gloomhaven is a collaborative tactical combat adventuring game in a persistent world with more than 100 missions for 1 to 4 players. Each mission takes 60 to 120 minutes to complete. The game is loaded with hidden content. It’s like Dungeons & Dragons, but more boardgamey. This is a big game for people who like tabletop gaming. If you’re springing for Gloomhaven, you may also want to consider the Broken Token organizers. I’m not really into custom box organization, but this is one of the few games that warrants it.
A beautiful wooden chess set with the 2019 CES Innovation Award badge.

Square Off Automated Chess Board

$369 This elegant-looking chess board moves your opponent’s pieces using magic (or a computer-controlled electromagnet). It’s crazy how smooth it is. You can play against the game’s AI or against any other Square Off owner in the world. Use the code ARTIST20 to receive 20% off.

Tools

A stubby small screw driver.

Klein – 6 in 1 Mini Screwdriver

$11 I keep this little tool in easy reach. This has been another great upgrade to our home. More often than not, if I need a screwdriver for a casual repair, this thing can handle the job. It can also fit into tight spaces.
A dremel 3000, its box, and a few attachments.

Dremel 3000 Rotary Tool

$59 (111 CAD) (£70) My Dremel is one of my go-to tools. I use it for everything. If you like to make things, you can almost certainly find an attachment that will improve your process.
A glowforge 3d laser printer.

Glowforge

$3,995 There is no tool that I would love to own more than a good laser cutter. The Glowforge is the one that I’d buy if we had the space, ventilation, and money.

DIY Crafty Puzzles

A geometric papercraft tyrannosaurus rex bust.

PAPERRAZ Dinosaur Trophy Head Papercraft Puzzle

$38 (71 CAD) These things are just nifty looking. There’s something about the geometry of them that has stuck with me from the first time I encountered one over a year ago. Plus… dinosaur!
Front of the completed Treasure Box bears the UGears logo.

U Gears – Treasure Box

$45 (75 CAD) (£42) U Gears models combine puzzle, art, and engineering in one project. We built the Treasure Box, but they have a ton of amazing products. Read our review first to make sure that you have the right tools on-hand. (You don’t need many, but you really need them.)  (Full Review)

Puzzles

The Dog Pile & Cat Stax boxes.

Brainwright – Cat Stax & Dog Pile

$10-13 (18 CAD Cats & 19 CAD Dogs) (£15 Cats & £15 Dogs) These cat and dog packing puzzles are adorable. They start you off easy, slowly ramping up the difficulty. Whether you’re looking to learn packing puzzles, already enjoy them… or just want the cute dog and cat figures, these are a good buy. (Full Review)
4 different nut and bolt puzzles.

Trick Bolts

$20 Purchased as a pair, each well-crafted bolt hides a different trick. The goal is to remove the nut, but you’ll find it isn’t trivial. Small, sturdy, and easy to carry around, you’ll always have a puzzle handy.
2 Rubik's cubs with funny looking headset power chargers on them.

Smart Rubik’s Cube

$42 (£39) This looks like a normal Rubik’s Cube with cute headphones, right? The “headphones” are actually a removable charging connector. Why do you need to charge a Rubik’s Cube? This one can transmit the entire state of the cube via Bluetooth to your phone, allowing it to show you how to solve it, or play several different cube-based games. It also has a pleasant clicky-but-smooth feel.
Two hands holding a heart shaped wooden box.

Heart CaseSold out 💔

$104 Pluredo makes some terrific hand-crafted wooden puzzles. This one, a “sequential discovery” puzzle, reveals tools as you progress. You’ll need to use the tools to open the final compartment. It’s not too difficult, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.
3 bolts protruding from an elegant block of wood labeled, "Mr Puzzle Australia"

3 Wise Bolts

$138 This is another sequential discovery puzzle, where each bolt reveals new tools that you can use to get further into the puzzle. It’s a little more expensive and a lot harder. Don’t expect to solve this in a single sitting.

Jigsaw Puzzles

A 1000 piece Harry Potter flying keys puzzle, depicts the book's hero's riding broomsticks and trying to catch flying keys.

New York Puzzle Company Harry Potter Puzzles

~$20 (~30 CAD) (~£20) The New York Puzzle Company makes beautiful traditional cardboard jigsaw puzzles. Their pieces have unusual shapes and their print quality is great. Their Harry Potter puzzle line is a perfect choice for the puzzling Potterhead in your life. Our favorite is the 1,000 piece Flying Keys puzzle… naturally.
Geode puzzle mostly assembled.

Nervous System – Geode Puzzle

$60 Small but mighty. This intricate little laser-cut wooden puzzle was far more complex and interesting than its piece count suggested. (Full Review)

Video Games

In-game: a beautiful multicolored series of circular repeating patterns surrounding an eye.

Gorogoa

$5 on iOS, $15 on Windows & Nintendo Switch Gorogoa is a novel, gorgeous, and innovative puzzle game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It may be a short game, but it’s mighty. (Full Review)
In-game, and array of basic puzzles that build in complexity.
A series of starter puzzles.

The Witness

$9.99 on iOS, $13.60 on Android, $39.99 on Xbox & Steam The Witness is one of the great puzzle games of our time. It’s a deep exploration of one puzzle type that sublimely guides you from novice to master with a difficulty curve that teaches you, while still making you be smart. (Full Review)

Books

Multi-colored cover of the atlas obscura explorer's guide for the world's most adventurous kid.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

$13 (24 CAD) (£12) We’re big fans of Atlas Obscura. Whenever we travel, we try to sneak in some strange sites. This book is made to help kids feel more connected to the world and more comfortable traveling. It’s fun and quirky.
Cover for Y the last man volume 1, features Yorick and Ampersand.

Y The Last Man Volume 1

$19 (34 CAD) (£16) This 5-volume graphic novel series from 2002 by Brian K. Vaughan is still one of my favorite stories. It explores a world where only two animals with a Y chromosome survive a sudden calamity. It’s the kind of setup that could have turned gross or terrible quickly, but is heartfelt and intriguing. It’s also one of those rare series that stuck the landing. That last issue was haunting.
The Art of Game Design book.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Second Edition

$59 (72 CAD) (£47) Whether you’re an escape room designer already or you’re aspiring to be one, if you are designing games, this is a must-read.

Stocking Stuffers

An assortment of 10 different color FriXion pens in the package.

Pilot – FriXion Ball Erasable Gel Ink Pens

$11 (25 CAD) (£8) These heat-activated erasable pens are amazing! We use them whenever we’re puzzling. They erase well and don’t leave any eraser dust behind. (Full Review)
A metal and plastic toy that looks like a lollipop, it fans out into different shapes controlled by magnets.

Lollipopter

$25 (40 CAD) (£25) All hail the king of the fidget toys. This thing is just cool. It has no practical purpose or challenge to it. It’s just immensely satisfying to fiddle with.
A candle made to look like the bust of Toht, the vile Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Melting Toht Candle

$35 (52 CAD) (£25) Set fire to a Nazi to relive one of the more satisfying villain deaths in cinematic history from the comfort of your own home.

Escape Rooms

Post game green screen photo the team on the bridge of the boat being rescued.
Here’s your annual reminder to purchase a gift certificate from a local escape room company. It’s the perfect gift.

Apparel

Legends of the Hidden Temple T-shirts

$13 (17 CAD) (£19) You either grew up with this and think these shirts are awesome… or you have no idea what I’m talking about. (More Details)
A black shirt with the white outline of a black cube.

Rusty Lake Apparel

$17.50 I love this creepy mobile escape room-style video game series. It has long deserved a post… stay tuned. If you or your loved ones are Rusties… may I suggest the Cube shirt? You know what to do.

For Kids

A scratch programming demo featuring an animated cat.

Scratch

Free! Coding is fun and a critical literacy now and in the future. Scratch is a free programming language for children to create stories, animations, and games. It’s a straightforward, unintimidating way to learn how to create with code. To kickstart your kid, check out the book, Coding Games in Scratch: A Step-by-Step Visual Guide to Building Your Own Computer Games.
Puzzle your kids logo

Puzzle Your Kids

Free/$3 per month This is an email subscription from Eric Berlin, the creator of the wonderful Winston Breen book series. He delivers a weekly paper puzzle (in PDF format) designed for younger puzzlers (but often still interesting for adults). It has both free and paid tiers.
A clear sphere filled with colorful ramps and mazes.

Perplexus

$17 (25 CAD) (£23) Perplexus is a dexterity puzzle where a player attempts to navigate a silver ball through 100+ obstacles. It’s fun and challenging. I’ve seen these things in quite a few escape room lobbies, but it turns out that they are huge with kids. Perplexus comes in a number of different flavors including the Epic and Star Wars: Death Star editions.
Playmobile Haunted House includes dracula in a coffin, dr frankenstein, and frankenstein's monster.

Playmobil

Starting at ~$20 (~29 CAD) (~£43) Lisa grew up with Playmobil. She had an entire town of people. They provided her with an endless outlet for creativity in play (and inadvertently, a career). Today, Playmobil offers Explorers of the Hidden Temple and Haunted House play sets, among many others. They are so escape room-y, it’s not even funny. Get your kids hooked on adventure while they’re young.
Two kids reaching under the Klask table to play it.

Klask: The Magnetic Game of Skill

$38 (68 CAD) (£40) It’s like air hockey, but with magnets and a few added obstacles. Plus, it doesn’t take up an entire room.
The orange Curiosity Box featuring an adorable octopus logo.

The Curiosity Box

From $49.90 per quarter for a quarterly plan to $45.90 per quarter for an annual plan This box is delivered quarterly with 9 science toys, puzzles, books, and games designed to entertain and educate a knowledge-hungry kid.

Charity

Direct Relief's orange logo.

Direct Relief

“Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.” Direct Relief on Charity Navigator
Charity Navigator: Your Guide To Intelligent Giving's compass logo.

Give & Give Smart

Regardless of the organization you plan to donate to, please take a few minutes to research the way that the non-profit operates. Charity Navigator evaluates non-profits based on their financial responsibility and transparency. I’m not going to name names, but I can guarantee that Charity Navigator will change the way you look at some of the best known non-profits.

Past Buyers Guides

Our past guides still have great stuff in them… 2017 2016

Thank You

Thank you to our friends Brett, Max, Paula, and John for their wonderful suggestions for this holiday buyer’s guide. If you purchase via our Amazon links or use our discount codes, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We truly appreciate your support.

Room Escape Lover’s 2017 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

Update: Looking for more ideas? Try the 2018 and 2019 and 2020 Holiday Buyer’s Guides.

Now US-, Canada- & UK-friendly!

REA logo wearing a Santa hat.

‘Tis the season for gift giving… and stressing over finding great gifts. We’re here to help you find the perfect gift for your escape-rooming, puzzle-loving friends and family.

We’re not repeating anything from last year, so check out our first 2016 Holiday Buyer’s Guide for additional inspiration. 

Tabletop escape games

Let’s start with the obvious…

Escape-Room-Photo

Escape Room in a Box

(Amazon US)

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment was the first tabletop escape room we played… and gun to our heads, probably still our favorite. It was just as much fun when we revisited it this year when the Kickstarter shipped. A new version is now available for purchase just in time for the holidays!

Unlock Box Art

Unlock!

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Unlock! Escape Adventure is a card-based at-home escape game series with 3 games currently available. In terms of dollars for gameplay, these are a great deal… Plus, you won’t destroy them at all while playing the game! Read our full review.

In-game: A mess of cards, the decoder wheel, images of the cabin's rooms, and a book that reads,

Exit: The Game

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Exit: The Game is series of tabletop escape games with 3 games currently available in English (more in German). Again, in terms entertainment value for your money, these are a great deal… But go in knowing that you’re going to destroy this game while playing it. Read our full review.

Journal29 1

Journal 29

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Journal 29 is an intriguing puzzle book with a narrative experienced entirely through puzzles and illustration. It is deeper, more challenging, and more entertaining than your average puzzle book… but it ain’t a cakewalk. This thing will fight you. It’s a wonderful companion for a flight delay. Trust me, I know. Read our full review.

Many of the game's props and components staged. There are ciphers, grids, flags, maps, and photos.

Subscription – Escape The Crate

Among the current selection of at-home subscription games, we recommend Escape the Crate. In each episode, we chase the villain through time to stop him from altering history. Escape the Crate games are not polished (they look like prototypes); however they make up for it with innovative mechanics and consistent quality of gameplay.Read our reviews of Chapter 1 and then Chapters 2 and 3.

Home

A strange clock made of many gears and bicycle chains.

Needlessly Complex Clocks

Lisa and I don’t own one of these, but oh my, do we want the Dual Chain Planetary. If you’d like to spend lavishly on us this holiday season, this is at the top of our “we absolutely don’t need it, but we want it” list.

A while ceramic cup with black 1s and 0s imprinted all over.

inaeent ceramics

This Etsy shop has dozens of beautiful, strange, and unique bowls, plates, and cups. I love the Binary Wine or Tea Cup.

A chain standing upright, magically floating a bottle of wine.

Magic chain wine bottle holder

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This simple illusion proudly floats a wine bottle in our dining room. It’s amusing. Note that it doesn’t like wide-mouthed bottles. 

Tabletop games

These are a few collaborative games that escape room players will love:

Pandemic Legacy Seasons 1 / Season 2

(Season 1 – Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

(Season 2 – Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Pandemic is one of the great collaborative tabletop games. Pandemic Legacy turns it into an ongoing, episodic experience that permanently evolves, damages, and changes the board with each successive episode. It’s gaming with consequences.

Mysterium box art.

Mysterium

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This social game of deduction has one player facilitating as a ghost giving signs and the rest of the group playing as psychic detectives. It’s like Clue and Dixit had a much prettier and considerably more fun baby.

Arkham Horror the Card Game box art.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This Lovecraftian horror game is intense. It plays out over multiple campaigns and it’s shockingly challenging. If your character dies, they are gone for good. I grew so attached to my character that when he nearly perished at the end of an episode, I couldn’t sit still.

This game also has a boatload of expansions with more on the way. I’ve played them all and I love them.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB box art.
This box is far smaller than it appears.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This last one isn’t collaborative, but it’s a fantastic, inexpensive, compact, and quick 2-player head-to-head game that has both players vying for political dominance in a surprisingly well-researched and thought-out card game.

I love small games that don’t require long rule readings. This is a great casual game that anyone can learn.

Puzzles

A silver metal loop made of two interlocking pieces.

Cast Loop

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

This puzzle isn’t a killer, but the trick is clever. No matter how many times I solve it, I love the feel of it. Note that this puzzle is best presented in two pieces. It’s trivial to solve if someone hands it to you completed. 

A cast metal diamond of silver and black materials. They snugly fit together.

Cast Diamond

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

The Cast Diamond is another puzzle that won’t break your brain. It’s just a joy to solve and feels so satisfying. Note that this puzzle is best presented in two pieces. It’s trivial to solve if someone hands it to you completed. 

A bronze cast metal layer cake puzzle.

Cast Cake

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

You want something hard? Try separating this layer cake into 4 pieces. I’ll wait.

This thing took me forever to figure out and I’m not ashamed to say so. It’s tough.

Rubik's Triamid assembled but color jumbled.

Rubik’s Triamid

(Amazon US, Amazon UK)

I wrote a full review of this long forgotten puzzle that captured my imagination as a child.

A multi colored ball made of up of tiny gears.

Gear Ball

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

I am terrible at Rubik’s Cube-type puzzles and have zero chance of solving this thing. Ever. However, this crazy ball of gears is so psychologically satisfying to manipulate that it doesn’t matter.

It’s absolutely purchasable as the thinking person’s fidget spinner.

The art for the Harry Potter Flying keys 1000 piece puzzle.

New York Puzzle Company – Harry Potter Flying Keys

(Amazon US, Amazon UK)

At 1,000 pieces, Harry Potter Flying Keys (and yes, it’s licensed) is the perfect jigsaw puzzle for escape room lovers. It’s beautiful. The New York Puzzle Company produces high quality puzzles (we reviewed a different one earlier this year).

They have many more puzzles to choose from if you’re looking for something different.

I am Lion, Wolf, Panda, & Horse

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

These animal head jigsaw puzzles are beasts to solve. They have irregular edges, large swaths of repeating patterns, consistent coloration, and unusual piece shapes. They range from 550-700 pieces.

“I am” is a pun because if you want to have a prayer of solving these, begin with the animal’s eyes.

If you love difficult jigsaw puzzles, this is a must-buy… but know that you’re playing on hard mode.

Tools

Sugru

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

It molds like silly putty and hardens into rubber. It’s insulated against electricity and it’s heat- and cold- resistant. This was one of the first things that we published about on Room Escape Artist over 3 years ago… so like 5 people have seen that post. I use it all of the time to repair and customize things around our home.

Fun fact: I once brought Sugru to a humanitarian crisis and fixed a whole bunch of things around a UN field office with it.

3M SandBlaster ultra flexible sanding sheets logo.

Sandblaster Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Hey escape room owners! I sure hate picking up splinters while playing escape rooms. This especially flexible sandpaper is fantastic for smoothing over all sorts of nooks and crannies. I am a big fan… and no, I’m not kidding… I think sandpaper is fantastic.

Video Games

Nintendo Switch+ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(Nintendo Switch – Amazon US, Amazon UK)

(Zelda– Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Breath of the Wild is a modern masterpiece and a brilliant display of adventure puzzle game design. Hopefully Nintendo makes enough Switches available this holiday season. If you can get your hands on one, you will not regret the time you spend exploring Hyrule.

A hand holding the tiny Super Nintendo Classic in the palm of a hand.

Super Nintendo Classic

My brother procured an SNES Classic for me and ever since our Escape Room Tour of NYC ended, I’ve been enjoying some of my all-time favorite video games once again. Mega Man X, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are three of the finest examples of game design out there.

There is so much to learn from and enjoy about these games.

The catch: These things are maddeningly hard to acquire at the moment, but if you get one, you win Christmas. I’m pretty sure that’s how this works. 

Books

The three installments of the End Game series. The gold covered first volume is on top of the pile.

Endgame Series

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Endgame is The Hunger Games for puzzle lovers. For anyone who enjoys dystopian teenager fiction and puzzles, this trilogy offers both. The first person to solve the puzzle in the first book Endgame: The Calling won $500k in gold. It’s a crazy hard puzzle.

Break Out book cover features an Apple II with Oregon Trail's load screen.

Break Out – How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

If you’re interested in the history of game design, the early PC gaming era is a treasure trove of stories and learning. Break Out chronicles the creation of many classic Apple II games. I loved the Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego chapters.

The cover art for the first volume of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Winston Breen is a puzzle-loving teenager. In this story, Lisa puzzled along with Winston as he got swept up in a treasure hunt. The book presents puzzles within an entertaining narrative. (Full review forthcoming.)

Movie

Movie cover for Raiders! depicts the 3 main characters dressed in their costumes.

Raiders! : The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

(Amazon US)

This documentary tells the insane story of a group of teens in the 1980s who decided to recreate Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark shot-for-shot. It took them years and thus their ages change from shot to shot. They almost killed themselves creating this. It’s a hell of a story.

The intensity and ingenuity demonstrated in this film reminds me of some of the most interesting escape room companies that I’ve encountered. It’s also streaming on Netflix at the moment.

Stocking stuffers

3 in 1 flip book cover

Flip book!

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Ok, I was skeptical too, but this thing is mesmerizing, beautiful, and so damn cool.

Packaging for 4 different gear ties. Art illustrates the flexibility and versatility of the product.

Nite Ize Reusable Rubber Twist Tie

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

We’re always on the move, electronics in tow. These reusable rubber twist ties are perfect for securing the cords for our phones and earbuds.

A quirky PowerCurl neatly wrapping a MacBook power cable.

Quirky PowerCurl

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

For our laptops, we swear by the Quirky PowerCurl for taming our Macbook power cables. Be sure to get the right size for your power cable. 

Escape room

Escape Again logo stylized.

This one might seem obvious… but you can give the gift of an escape room.

I recommend, however, that you plan out the entire excursion instead of buying a gift certificate. It’s better to provide the full experience rather than a gift card that’s likely to get lost.

Kids

Cover art. Young Pedro standing in front of a castle made of puzzles.

Pedro and the Puzzle Palace

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

I found Pedro and the Puzzle Palace in a local bookstore earlier this year, on a shelf promoting local authors. In this adorable picture book Pedro learns core values through puzzles. This is for real, little ones.