Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 2

Ya gotta dumpster dive, and then you solve away.

Location: at home

Date Played: February 20, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run, Box 2 provided more puzzles and less narrative than On the Run, Box 1. It was only recognizable as the sequel in so far as it was part of the same story. While we didn’t enjoy all the puzzles equally, we appreciated how they generally tied into the fiction.

If you are on the fence after the first box, this ones plays really differently. Try it.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles are tied to the narrative.
  • You can play at home.


After the events in On the Run, Box 1, we were following a lead in South America and exploring additional evidence in the mysterious murder of our best friend’s wife.

An assortment of documents and items from Dispatch Box 2.


Where the bulk of the Prelude involved reading a journal, this time we focused on smaller, less exposition-y pieces of evidence. We had some garbage to explore as well as other mysterious items and documents.

Most of the items in Box 2 were paper based with varying paper stock and printing style. There was one beautiful metal item. As with Box 1, we needed a web browser to access key content and interactions.

Everything helped us learn more about the conspiracy underpinning the murder.


Box 2 used the story established in Box 1 as a backdrop for a more puzzle-focused installment. This was a considerably more tangible and puzzley box to play through.

The shift in gameplay was a significant improvement over the first box.

The chapter concluded with a video that both indicated the end of the box’s puzzles and recapped everything that we were supposed to have uncovered.


Box 2 was a lot more tangible and interactive than Box 1, which was almost entirely exposition.

The puzzles felt like puzzles.

Box 2 advanced the story, while adding to the mystery.

The items and interactions seemed like they belonged in the story.


While all the puzzles came together and made sense, and we enjoyed ourselves, it also felt tedious. Most of the key interactions were process puzzles. Once we had the aha moment, we had a lot of work to grind through in order to complete the objective.

Tips for Playing

  • Box 1 items were required for resolving Box 2.
  • You will need scotch tape.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

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

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – The Mattel Edition

This is the third edition of this game to arrive in the mail.

We wrote about the first one in February 2016. It was a prototype, sent to us in the hopes that we would promote the Kickstarter. Spoiler: we did.

We wrote about the second one in October 2017. We’d backed the Kickstarter and now we could play the game that Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin had created.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment's black, white, and yellow box.

Now Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment has arrived yet again. This time, it’s manufactured by Mattel and available on Amazon for $29.99.

What’s the difference?


At $30, the new Mattel edition is $15 – $30 less expensive.

In-game: The initial opening of the box, a number of components are obscured by a piece of paper that reads, "Keep out."


The Mattel edition has a new aesthetic. It’s still playful, but its color pallet shift leans a little more brown.

In-game: a green biohazard box locked with a plastic 3 digit lock, a gold plastic warded lock, and art depciting a female werewolf.

Most noticeably, from my vantage point, the locks – combination and key – were made from plastic. Typing this, it sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. The locks work well. They don’t need to be durable; they aren’t security devices.

Mattel swapped out a few props for new items. This was for ease of manufacturing and to eliminate the destructible element.

In-game: a pad of paper and a pencil.

Puzzle Variation

A few of the puzzles in the new edition are different from the original. Some changes are minor improvements; some are a minor downgrade. Either way, nothing has changed enough that it’s worth buying a new one if you’ve already played the old one (unless you want some plastic locks).

A close up of many components, "Start your timer now!" scarwled

Should I Buy Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment?

Three editions in, we stand by both our previous reviews of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment. If you’ve already played the Kickstarter version, you’ve seen what this game has to offer. We still think that it’s the best that the play-at-home escape room market has to date.

If you haven’t played Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, it’s now available at a fraction of the price and with 2-day delivery.

Learn More About The Making of this Product

We interviewed the duo behind this game in late 2017. The creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Juliana and Ariel, gave a ton of interesting insights into the marathon that was bringing this game to market.

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

Deckscape – Test Time & The Fate of London [Product Review]

Flip this card.

Location: at home

Date Played: December 2017

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

Duration: 60 – 90 minutes

Price: $16 per game

REA Reaction

The two Deckscape games were fun, portable, and repackable. Plus, it’s tough to argue with the price. The two games were also too similar and shouldn’t be played in close proximity to one another. If you’re only going to play one, make it Test Time, if only because it has a more interesting and engaging final puzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Lots of puzzles
  • Multiple paths for parallel puzzling
  • Test Time’s incredibly inventive final puzzle
  • Low price


Deckscape is currently available in two flavors:

Deckscape Test Time & The Fate of London boxes.

Test Time

In Test Time we assisted a delightfully mad scientist in regaining control of a time machine.

The Fate of London 

In The Fate of London we tracked down bombs that had been planted in the Palace of Westminster in London.


Deckscape’s structure was straightforward. We opened the box, found a deck of slightly oversized cards, and puzzled through them sequentially until the game instructed us to split the deck into multiple piles.

4 colored curtains each representing a parallel track for puzzling.

Once the decks split, we could parallel puzzle through the different decks, as long as we maintained the card sequence within each individual pile.


Deckscape delivered puzzles. Given the presentation through cards, they were heavily visual.

Deckscape Caution! introduction card explaining that cards should not be flipped unless they say so, and they should not be reorded.

Some cards were puzzles; others were puzzle components to set aside and use in conjunction with other cards.

A color mixture introduction puzzle.
Relax, this is the super simple demo puzzle.

To solve a puzzle card, we’d announce our answer and flip over the card. We kept a tally of incorrect answers. At the end of the game, incorrect answers factored into a score that dictated which ending we received. (There were a few endings for each game.)

The Deckscape score sheet with time remaining and penalties.

The hint system consisted of two cards with hints printed backwards on them. Each puzzle and component card was numbered. We could simply look up the puzzle number and then read the backwards hint.

The backside of the clue cards for Deckscape.


The low price.

It was easy to pick up the game and start playing. The first few cards in the deck walked through the basic rules and got us puzzling. Deckscape didn’t involve any prep work or software.

Deckscape The Test Time Laboratory card, and an introduction from the Doctor.

The card art was cohesive and fun. The oversizing of the cards added some heft… They just felt good.

The hint system was simple and straightforward.

Many of the puzzles were engaging and entertaining.

While the gameplay felt linear, Deckscape split the puzzles into multiple paths. This was easy to follow and kept everyone engaged.

While it was not replayable, the game could be easily reset for other people to enjoy.

The final puzzle of Test Time was fantastic and innovative.


Deckscape relied too heavy on a few types of puzzles. This repetition – both within a game and between the two – grew old quickly. We played the two games in the same week and this repetition really wore on us during the second game.

Each game contained a few puzzles that were seriously obtuse. Even when we solved them, we found ourselves rolling our eyes. It almost seemed as if the game designers knew that these puzzles were cheap because they accounted for it with a late-game mechanic. If you want to know more, read the spoiler section.

Minor Game Scoring Spoiler

At the end of each Deckscape game, we tallied up the number of incorrect answers submitted, which factored into a final score that determined which ending we’d receive. In both games, the score calculation process allowed us to disregard a certain number of incorrect answers, effectively cancelling them from the score. The allowed cancellation numbers were different between the two games. In our opinion, the number that we canceled directly correlated to the number of cheap puzzles contained within each box. These puzzles should have been improved, rather than negated in a late-game twist.


The final puzzle in The Fate of London fizzled hard. Only one person could work on it at a time. This design was both frustrating and anticlimactic.

The Deckscape tagline oversells the game: “In a Deck of cards, all of the thrills of a real Escape Room!” We found it fun, especially for the price, but temper your expectations to increase your enjoyment.

Tips for Visiting

  • If you only buy one Deckscape, make it Test Time.
  • If you buy both, I’d recommend letting some time pass before playing the second one. I think this is good advice for any of the boxed escape room series.
  • You can easily repack these games and share them with friends.

Buy your copies of Deckscape’s Test Time & The Fate of London.

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


Cycloptic Media – The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland [Review]

“Let’s keep opening packages until it makes sense.”

Location: at home

Date Played: December 19, 2017

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: at least a few hours and up to several weeks

Price: $56.50 for the full version; $47.50 the abridged version

REA Reaction

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland delivered interactive fiction to our home. It would be great for anyone looking to sink their teeth into a mystery, in episodic installments over a period of time. If you’re looking for more focused puzzling and gameplay, this won’t be for you.

Who is this for?

  • Crime drama fans
  • Mystery readers
  • The interactive fiction curious
  • People who want to sink their teeth into a story
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s more than just reading/watching a story unfold.
  • The puzzles have context and purpose.
  • The ending.


A mysterious stranger had contacted us about the disappearance of Julie Harrison, a high school student in Moore County, Vermont. We needed to uncover the circumstances and truth behind this event.

In-game: An assortment of newspaper clippings, cards, pamphlets, and photos from the game.


There were two options for The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland:

  • The full experience included 18 to 20 letters and packages received by mail over two months.
  • The abridged version included 18 letters and packages mailed in one box.

We received the abridged version.

An assortment of Decoder Ring packages. There are all types of packages all individually numbered.

The letters and packages contained mostly paper and a few more tangible objects. Some contents directed us to various websites as well. The printed materials were cleanly designed and more polished than many play-at-home experiences. That said, the design choices didn’t help convey story.


We opened each sealed envelope/package one at a time, in numerical order. We thoroughly investigated the contents of each one before opening another. Sometimes the packages contained puzzles or parts of puzzles. Sometimes they directed us to other interactive content. Other times they filled in more of the story.

Generally the puzzles built over multiple packages.


The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland was interactive fiction. It presented a mystery for us to solve. It was both a story and a puzzle… but it gave a lot more story than it did puzzles.

The tangible elements were most fun to explore. We especially enjoyed solving one item based on the knowledge we’d accrued about the character it had belonged to. It was a satisfying puzzle sequence.

We loved the opening puzzle. It was by far the most puzzle-y moment of the experience.

We enjoyed solving puzzles that unlocked bits of the story. These gave us feedback, so we knew we’d completed a gameplay/narrative thread.

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland told a cohesive story. The tidbits we received piecemeal all came together in the end.

The conclusion of the narrative was amusing.


While the puzzles resolved to closure, the individual packages did not. Sometimes we’d explore a new package thoroughly and learn bits of story, but not take any actions. In those instances we never knew whether we should move ahead. Had we found all there was to find?

The episodic reveals could also be frustrating in terms of gating. Sometimes we’d be waiting on a particular item that we knew was coming so that we could solve a puzzle that had already been set up. It was anticlimactic to receive an item that we knew we needed 10 packages after we’d figured out that we needed it.

A web-based interaction was delayed. We received a response more than a week after submitting answers. At that point, we were no longer engaged with that part of the story. For the abridged version, this was particularly problematic because we could choose to move ahead to other content.

The materials were middle-of-the-road, in terms of production value. They could have been more detailed. Generally speaking, the physical materials added little to the narrative or feel of the experience.

While the story came together in the end, we had to work hard to follow it through the different packages. There were too many characters to keep track of, especially since they all developed at different times, in different ways. Even when we solved plot threads, we never felt we had a handle on the overarching story. This was especially strange in light of the ending reveal.

Tips for Purchasing

  • There are two versions: The Full Experience and The Abridged Version. The Full Experience includes an extra unlockable mailing that is delivered digitally in the Abridged version. In the Full Experience, one mailing is timed based on when a certain plot thread is solved. Additionally, the Full Experience includes some personalization that the Abridged Version lacks. When deciding which version to purchase, consider these differences as well as whether you’d rather receive the content over time or in one fell swoop.
  • If you play by the rules, you will not be able to solve this game in one night.

Purchase Cycloptic Media’s The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cycloptic Media comped our tickets for this game.


Cypher House Escape – Escape the Arcade [Review]

Insert 25¢ to continue.

Location: at home

Date played: October 27, 2017

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $29.99 per box, plus $6.74 shipping for standard USPS First Class within the United States. (International shipping is also available at a higher cost, which varies by international destination.)

Story & setup

We woke up mysteriously locked in an arcade. After unlocking our wallet, we puzzled through the different games to earn our escape.

Escape the Arcade arrived in a cardboard box. It consisted of various sealed envelopes and 5 little boxes, representing arcade cabinets. We needed to open each little box on our path to escape.

In-game: An assortment of puzzles, a collection of little cardboard boxes representing arcade games behind them.

Escape the Arcade required an internet connection to listen to audio clips and enter answers for verification.


The puzzling was word-centric. We also used logic, observation, and dexterity.

The puzzles were primarily paper-based with a few more creative interactions and constructions.


Escape the Arcade was adorable. Cypher House Escape recreated an arcade out of paper and cardboard. Each puzzle was a nod to a different classic video game. Cypher House Escape even poked fun at that all too common “out of order” game. It made us smile.

We loved one unexpected interaction that we never would have thought we’d encounter in a cardboard box.

We appreciated the hint system. While the hints were prefabricated, as they have to be with at-home games, we could take hints at our own pace, and even choose to see the solution, if we felt so inclined.


One puzzle just wasn’t clear enough. We knew what we needed to do, but near as we could tell, it did not work. We eventually hacked a solution.

Sometimes we spent more time working through the instructions for how to solve something than actually solving the puzzle. We felt like the challenge wasn’t always in the right place.

Answers were easily hackable. We didn’t mind back solving to our guesses, but to avoid players jumping ahead, we recommend Cypher House Escape make the solutions less guessable.

Should I play Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade?

Escape the Arcade was a fun escape room-style play-at-home game.

It was not too hard, but the puzzles were fun and satisfying.

Cypher House Escape used paper creatively in a manner that recalled the arcade games of our youth. We really got a kick out of these.

Escape the Arcade was not as polished as some of the games we’ve seen from larger producers with bigger budgets and the execution had some flaws. It had a homemade feel… because it was so very homemade. Still, it was well made.

If you’re new to at-home escape room play, this would be a gentle entry: It was affordable. It was not a long time commitment. The hinting worked well.

If you’ve played a few of these types of at-home escape rooms and you’re looking for another, Cypher House Escape offers a lot of value with Escape the Arcade.

Buy your box of Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that we reviewed the Etsy version of Escape the Arcade. It is now also available directly from the Cypher House website. It sounds like the website version has made the hint system less clunky on mobile devices and decreased buffer time.

Full disclosure: Cypher House Escape provided a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.


Escape Game Enterprises – The Enigma Files [Review]

Puzzlegram shark.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £19 (+£2.50 Shipping) UK, €22 (+€4 Shipping) Europe, $25 (+$10 Shipping) Worldwide

Story & setup

When a great white shark washed up on the shore of South West England, investigators found several documents inside its stomach. We were called in to help investigate.

In-game: An assortment of photos, maps, and articles from Escape Game Products.

The Enigma Files was a play-at-home tabletop puzzle game. Escape Game Enterprises mailed us a collection of paper puzzles. This was about as straightforward as tabletop escape games get.


The Enigma Files contained paper puzzles. We determined which pieces connected to others in order to begin solving the puzzles. These puzzles all had at least two layers to them.

While paper-based, it played in the style of an escape room.


There was minimal setup and it was easy to get rolling. The puzzle structure was straightforward. It soon became clear how these pieces would ultimately fit together, which gave us a finite goal.

The Enigma Files had a clear objective. It was also immediately apparent when we’d solved the game.

Although entirely paper based, the puzzle components interacted in fun ways and solved cleanly. We enjoyed the more involved puzzles.

The puzzles felt well tested.


The Enigma Files was well made, but homemade. It didn’t have the polish of many of the other play-at-home games.

Some of the elements in the box seemed unnecessary. If they were puzzle pieces, we didn’t need them. If they were story elements, we didn’t get that from them.

The solution didn’t mean anything. It didn’t have any bearing on the brief staging. We were left wondering why that was the solution… and for that matter, why the setup mattered at all.

Should I play Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files?

The Enigma Files was an escape room-style puzzle game to play at home. While the setup and solution weren’t meaningful, the puzzling was clear and satisfying.

Note that you can request hints for The Enigma Files over email. We did not try the hint system and can’t speak to its speed or efficacy. Honestly, this was a mistake on our part.

The Enigma Files was entirely paper-based. It was well made, but not as polished as many other escape room-style play-at-home games.

If you’re just getting into these types of games, there are more exciting ones on the market for less money (consider that this one is shipping from the UK).

If you enjoy this type of hour-long, at-home puzzle game and you’re looking for another one to sink your teeth into, The Enigma Files would be a good choice. You’ll likely enjoy the gameplay.

Buy your copy of Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Thank you to Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson for sharing their copy with us.


Sleuth Kings – Case 001: The Guilty [Review]

I’ll be back in 5 minutes.

Location: at home, with an internet connection

Date played: October 9, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-3

Duration: up to one month

Price: $24.95 per month

Story & setup

Sleuth Kings is a new play-at-home escape game subscription service that mixes mailed materials with online inputs.

We played the role of remote assistants to private investigator Sullivan King. King sent us a file of evidence and then we emailed with him when we’d solved pieces of the case or needed a little extra help from him.

The materials in Case 001: The Guilty were printed papers, photographs, and a rather fetching folder with Sleuth King’s logo emblazoned on the cover.

The Sleuth Kings folder of materials next to a laptop with the Room Escape Artist logo.

The internet interactions were predominantly email-based. Sullivan King was in fact… an email bot.

Surprise Chipmunk
Dun, dun, DUN!

Case 001: The Guilty had us investigating a street revolutionary who went by the moniker Dictator Sin. We had to team up with Sullivan, root-out Dictator Sin’s plans, and stop him.


Sleuth King’s puzzle game was strong with varied, challenging, and interesting puzzles driving gameplay.

After we resolved a puzzle, we would email the solution to Sullivan who would “act on the information” and provide us with followup details.


I really enjoyed the puzzle offerings of Sleuth Kings.

The conversational interface of emailing with Sullivan was a good way to narrate a story and keep everything cohesive.

The Sleuth Kings logo is slick.

Sleuth Kings delivered puzzles that weren’t in the initial packaging.


As we sent information to Sullivan, he would take time to act on it. He’d reply, something like, “The address isn’t far. Give me five or ten minutes and I’ll email you when I’m there.” Then we’d literally have to wait 5 minutes or so before receiving another email moving the story forward and giving us our next task. This shattered the game flow.

Hinting got a little awkward because Sullivan-bot could only discern three things:

  • Correct answers
  • Incorrect answers
  • Requests for help

When we were almost there, and simply inputting our answer incorrectly, it was treated as a wrong answer without any feedback that we were on the right track and simply needed a nudge.

Additionally, Sleuth Kings was constantly creating new email threads. All in, I had 19 threads through Case 001: The Guilty. It wasn’t initially clear to how this threading/ replying dynamic operated.

The many of the printed materials were a little hokey.

The story was fine, but not particularly believable.

Should I play Sleuth Kings’ Case 001: The Guilty?

If you evaluate the standouts versus shortcomings in this review purely on word count, it would be easy to think that Sleuth Kings was bad. It wasn’t. It was actually quite fun, and this was their first chapter.

Sleuth Kings has a fantastic concept and an interesting structure. It needs additional refinement to run smoothly, but it largely works.

Interaction with automated characters smartly mixed story, puzzling, and gameplay. If Sleuth Kings can refine the pacing issues and make the system a little more aware and able to identify nearly-correct answers, this would be phenomenal. Swapping from email to a chatbot, or the addition of another character who could “run errands” while the gameplay continues, could smooth over some of these issues.

Sleuth Kings is strong contender in the burgeoning subscription puzzle game market, and could make for a fantastic holiday gift for that special puzzle lover in your life.

I welcome our robotic puzzle overlords and look forward to where Sleuth Kings is heading.

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

Note that Case 001: The Guilty is no longer available. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Sleuth Kings comped our tickets for this game.


Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 1 [Review]

Box of soap opera.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2017

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

Story & setup

A package came in the mail filled with media clippings, journal, wedding invitation, wedding program, and letters. My (the collective ‘my’) best friend’s heiress wife had turned up dead on his honeymoon and he had disappeared. I (the collective ‘I’) knew that something strange was going down and had to sift through the evidence to make sense of these tragedies.

Dispatch, On The Run box. A cardboard shipping box made to look like it was covered in stamps.

Upon opening Dispatch by Breakout, the first thing that I noticed was the high quality printing of just about everything in the box. The wedding invitation was an actual invitation and newspaper clippings were on newsprint. Everything else was printed in color on quality stock.

The second thing that became immediately apparent was the volume of reading material. We played this in the car driving between New Orleans and Houston. It took us well over an hour to read everything in the box aloud.


Breakout is one of the largest escape room chains in the United States. Dispatch, however, was decidedly not a boxed escape room. I would describe it as interactive fiction. Dispatch was more like a novel, broken up between different written materials, than it was like an escape room (boxed or real life).

An assortment of papers from Dispatch, On The Run. Newspaper clippings, a journal, wedding invitation, a wedding toast, the cover of a tabloid magazine.

On The Run was the first chapter of Dispatch. It set up a lot of different mysteries that I assume will be addressed in future installments.


We had to use the information in the box as well as a web browser to explore the world that Dispatch built. There were a handful of puzzles to solve. I counted 3, but I think that you could count differently. They had to be solved sequentially.

Dispatch, or at least this first chapter, was far more focused on building a world than on puzzling.


On the Run set up an engaging story. After reading through all the written materials and poking around on the different websites they mentioned, we were invested in the characters and the mystery.

On the Run was approachable and physically compact. There weren’t any heavy objects or tiny odds and ends. The elements in the box were high quality paper products. They were legible and accessible.

Additionally, the handwriting fonts used throughout the game were easy to read. This might seem like a minor thing, but we’ve seen far too many challenging handwriting fonts.

It was clear when we reached the conclusion of the first episode. We had many more open plot threads than resolutions, but we knew we’d achieved success.

We really enjoyed the first puzzle. We didn’t find it particularly difficult, but it got us rolling and we found it amusing.


After that first puzzle, On the Run was like finding a needle in a haystack. We had tons of information to work with and little direction. The solutions ultimately relied on information that was out of the proverbial box.

There was a lot to read, which was not conducive to group gameplay. We ended up having one person read everything aloud to the group. This seemed to be the only way to reasonably engage everyone in the mystery.

While there was a lot of story to absorb, there were only a few puzzles to solve in the first box. We spent a lot of time working on just a few things.

This turned out to be a printed story and an internet hide-and-seek. We all searched the internet for information that was more or less challenging to uncover. While On the Run created a world to explore, it was much like day-to-day existence, searching through browser tabs.

A lot of the internet-based components were simply not believable. I’m no Instagram expert but that was decidedly not the Instagram profile of a sexy tabloid-stalked heiress.

The hint system was delayed. When we asked for a hint, we received it almost 24 hours later. If we’d intended to explore On the Run over a long period of time, this could have been interpreted as experiential. Since we played through the box in a single (long) car ride, by the time we had received a hint, we no longer needed it… because we’d texted a friend.

Should I play Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run?

Dispatch was interactive fiction with some puzzles. The story pulled us in enough that we wanted to see it through, even when the game was not what we thought we were getting into.

Expectations really matter here. Dispatch was absolutely not the game that we thought we were receiving from an escape room chain. It bore almost no resemblance to an escape room. That’s not a knock against it; it’s simply a description.

If you’re looking for a play-at-home escape game, there are many on the market; this is not one of them.

If an interactive novelization with a soap opera-y narrative and a few puzzles sounds like something that you could enjoy over an evening or two (or a long car ride), then Dispatch by Breakout will have plenty of drama and intrigue for you to explore. You just have to go in knowing that the few puzzles there are can be a bit obtuse.

This is not really my go-to type of game, but I am pretty curious where this story will go and what they will do with it as Breakout refines their storytelling.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

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

Journal29 [Review]

They were here before…

Location: at home

Date played: Summer 2017

Team size: 1 -¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Price: $16 per copy

Story & setup

A top secret excavation yielded no interesting results until the team suddenly vanished on the 29th day leaving behind no evidence of their existence except for a mysterious and cryptic journal.

Created by Dimitris Chassapakis, Journal29 was a puzzle book with a narrative experienced entirely through puzzles and illustration.

The Journal29 book, a pencil, and a iPhone with the Journal29 website open.
All that you need to play.
Playing Journal29 required the book, a pencil (seriously, don’t try this with a pen), and a computer or smartphone.

Every 2 pages of Journal29 contained a URL / QR code and puzzle. When we thought we had a solution to a puzzle, we visited the URL, submitted our answer, and the page either told us we were wrong… or rewarded us with a “key” word. The keys from the puzzles would ultimately be plugged into subsequent puzzles.


Journal29 contained 63 individual puzzles. Each one was unique. If a particular method of solving worked once, it would not work again. In the book’s own words, Journal29 required us to “write, draw, search, fold, combine, and more.”


While some of the puzzle types were familiar, many were remarkably inventive.

The mix of puzzles was fantastic. These included both simple ones and mindbogglers.

The first 8 puzzles built a elegant on-ramp for the rest of the book.

The website was simple and effective.

The key system was smart. If we solved a puzzle based on incomplete information (we didn’t have one of the necessary keys) and then backsolved that key, it did not spoil the puzzle that was meant to yield the backsolved key. We simply had the key to an unsolved puzzle… not the solution to the puzzle. (I’m looking at you puzzle #28. One day I’ll figure out what the hell you are.)

We loved how some puzzles daisy-chained via keys. This meant that certain portions of the book would bind up until we made progress on an earlier puzzle. In the meantime, however, we had other puzzle tracks and puzzles that required no keys. Because of this design decision, we could be woefully stuck in one segment and simply move on to different puzzles. We’d periodically revisit the puzzle we were stuck on until we had a breakthrough. As a result, every time we sat down with Journal29, we made some progress.

Journal29 was low commitment. It lasted us a few weeks of on again, off again puzzling.

I liked the geometric aesthetic of Journal29’s illustrations.


The handwriting font used in Journal29 was occasionally difficult to read. This led to transcription errors when we jotted down keys, which later resulted in frustration in the form of unsolvable puzzles.

The QR codes were worthless. It was easier to type into the URL bar to jump between puzzles. This was important because after the first 8 puzzles, we stopped solving them linearly. Also… QR codes are a silly, ugly, and insecure feature for people trapped in 2013.

A few puzzles in Journal29 got a little weird. They all ultimately had reasonable and clear solutions, but it was a grind to get through some of them.

The story was present, but not so compelling.

I really, truly wish that the answer website had accepted minor variations on puzzle solutions. There were times where we derived an answer along the lines of 123-456-7890, but it had to be entered as 1234567890. We lost a lot of time and built up a lot of frustration over minor variance in solution formats.

Journal29 had no built-in hint system. The Journal29 forum, however, did have spoiler discussions for each puzzle. I used this twice and the experience was mediocre because the discussions were unstructured, often giving me more detail than I wanted or requiring me to dig deep because some of the comments were more confusing than the puzzles. Both times that I used the forums, I learned that I had a key transcription error. I wish that the Journal29 simply had a structured and predictable help website; it would have been a better experience.

Should I play Journal29?

If you’re a puzzler, Journal29 is a fantastic purchase. It was more intriguing than a normal puzzle book. It was deeper, more challenging, and more entertaining than a 60-minute at-home escape room.

We’ve been traveling more than normal these past few months and we carried Journal29 with us. We’d pull it out on a train and solve a puzzle or two or focus on it for hours during a flight delay. It was lightweight and low tech. Because most of the puzzles solved with “ah-ha!” moments rather than grinding process puzzling, we could experience it casually.

I recommend Journal29 for small groups of people who spend a lot of time together. As a couple, it was fantastic. We could easily share the book and it was always remarkable when Lisa easily saw a path forward that was completely invisible to me (and vice-versa). If I was going to attempt this book with 3 or 4 people, I’d consider purchasing a second copy just to make sure that everyone could participate.

It is possible to solve Journal29 without destroying it, but you’d have to work very hard and probably photocopy many of the pages to do so. Jorunal29 was designed for destruction and that was absolutely fine with us.

Grab your copy of Journal29, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Amanda Harris for giving us a fresh copy of Journal29. You’ve brought us hours of entertainment.

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


Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – Revisited

Back in the old, innocent days of February 2016, Lisa and and I were a month away from our wedding when we received a message from Julianna and Ariel, the creators of Escape Room In A Box. They asked, and I’m paraphrasing:

“We’re about to launch a play-at-home escape room on Kickstarter. Will you promote it?”

Now we were not sold on this and thought it seemed like a pretty terrible idea. We’d seen our share of bad escape rooms and the last thing that we wanted to do was blindly promote a pile of garbage, so we responded:

“Nope, we won’t promote it… but we would review it if you could get one to us.”

We thought that would be the end of the discussion, but Julianna and Ariel said “sure” and overnighted the game to us.

We gathered our regular team, plus a newbie (as we generally try to include fresh eyes). While everyone was skeptical at the beginning, no one was at the conclusion. This was the review that I wrote then (in our old, non-standardized format):

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment [Review]

Revisiting The Werewolf Experiment

Some 20 months later we gathered a new group of escape room lovers, cooked them risotto, baked them cookies, and watched them play the Kickstarter First Edition of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment.

In-game: The stop warning, time will begin as soon as the panel is lifted.

While The Werewolf Experiment was our first attempt at a tabletop escape game, this new group of players had seen many of the at-home escape rooms on the market. We worried it wouldn’t hold up, but they had a great time.

Assorted illustrations and the box tied off with rope.

I’m happy to report that we’re able to let that old review stand with a few additions:

  • The packaging in the Kickstarter edition was dramatically improved from the prototype that we played.
  • The art, illustration, and general presentation of the Kickstarter edition were cohesive and massively improved. (I don’t really remember any in-game art in the prototype.)
  • I didn’t know enough about at-home escape room games to comment on the hint system at the time. Now I can add that the hint system is easy to use and a lot less annoying than most of the tabletop escape game hint systems.
  • We also called out that many of the puzzles were paper based and felt a little homework-y. While I think that style of puzzle is more acceptable in a tabletop game than a real life escape room, I also think that those puzzle types will stand out even more nearly 2 years later.
  • We found a minor typo in the hint & answer booklets.
  • This game still has some of the most brilliant escape room-y moments in all of tabletop escape games.

In-game: 2 locked tins, and one locked antidote bag.


Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Mattel Edition

This November, the retail version of The Werewolf Experiment will hit store shelves as the game was picked up by Mattel.

Box art for Mattel's Escape Room in a Box.

The new edition will cost $29.99 and we will run a test group through it as well.

Kickstarter lateness

Some closing thoughts on the nature of Kickstarter:

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment shipped roughly 7 months late and some folks have expressed resentment to Lisa and me over this. Not directed at us, but in our direction.

I’d like to take a moment to praise Julianna and Ariel for shipping within a year of their expected ship date and handling their Kickstarter with professionalism and grace. They kept in regular contact with their backers and focused on delivering a quality product. They did just that.

Lateness and Kickstarter go together like steel toilets and hidden keys. I backed something in November of 2014 and it was supposed to ship in March of 2015… and in October 2017, the dude is still working on it.

Backing something on Kickstarter is like paying someone in advance to keep a pinky swear. When a Kickstarter ships within a year of its expected date and turns out to be what was promised in the initial description, that’s a win.

While we’re on the subject of Kickstarter, have a look at our analysis of escape room crowdfunding efforts:

Should you Crowdfund an Escape Room? A Data-Driven Look