Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Trials of Bahamut [Review]

Moogles and cactuars and tonberries, oh my!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: October 20, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket early, $41 per ticket regular, $46 per ticket at the door if available

Story & setting

Based on the events of the video game Final Fantasy XIV, the primal dragon Bahamut, long thought dead, was reviving. We needed to gather the tools and knowhow to assemble a battle plan that would defeat this almighty beast. Failure would mean the end of the world.

In-game: The faux stone cavern set walls. There are ropes to guide lines and a sign that reads "Cactuar Cavern."

Trials of Bahamut was a mass escape event put on by Real Escape Games by SCRAP, the creators of many other large-scale events that we’ve reviewed such as a Legend of Zelda game. In typical SCRAP fashion, Trials of Bahamut took place in a sparsely decorated event space. The center of room was full of tables, one for each team of 6. Around the perimeter of the room, various sets represented different locations, each guarded by characters, played by actors.

Puzzles

As is typical at SCRAP mass events, much of the puzzling took place as a team around our table with pencils and paper.

As Trials of Bahamut progressed, there were opportunities to solve puzzles with the characters along the perimeter. These were more interesting and dynamic puzzles that also granted more compelling rewards.

Standouts

Each player was assigned a character class (thief, paladin, bard, ranger, black mage, white mage). Each character came with individual powers that only they could execute at specific points throughout the game. Some of these powers were the keys to individual paper puzzles; others required creatively interacting with actors. The roles kept everyone involved throughout the event and added an intriguing dynamic to the gameplay.

Post-game photo features our team holding up the signs of the character classes that each person played.

Trials of Bahamut was the most interactive SCRAP event that we’ve played (running around a stadium notwithstanding). In the past we’ve spent almost all of our time around a table, solving puzzles that could just as easily have appeared in a puzzle book. That was not the case in SCRAP’s Final Fantasy game.

Trials of Bahamut was more approachable than the previous SCRAP events that we’ve attended. Don’t get me wrong: most of the teams lost, but more than a few won or almost won.

In-game: The initial table setup. There's a book sealed shut with a padlock, a Moogle doll, and an assortment of paper puzzle components.
That Moogle was so damn adorable. He was also the team MVP.

The final puzzle sequence was smart. Our most common criticism of SCRAP events has been painfully obtuse final puzzles. While this challenging last puzzle sequence still required us to think exactly like the puzzle designer, at Trials of Bahamut, since we had been paying close attention, the steps were clear and deducible without logic leaps. This was a huge improvement on previous SCRAP mass event finales.

Most of our teammates had little or no experience with Final Fantasy and we still found Trials of Bahamut enjoyable.

There was a hilarious and morbid moment that anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy game could appreciate.

Some of the actors really went for it.

The stuffed Moogle on our team was freaking adorable. You should get one. 

Shortcomings

Trials of Bahamut suffered from long lines to meet with characters. Luckily our team got out to a quick lead and never relinquished it, so we didn’t wait on too many lines, but these really backed up. This is a common event problem. With linear progression, individual characters become bottlenecks.

Some of the character classes assigned to us were more interesting and essential than others.

While Trials of Bahamut was less paper-puzzley than previous SCRAP events, it still relied heavily on them… and some of them were pretty silly.

Trials of Bahamut began and ended with a lengthy, cringeworthy video.

SCRAP hires most of their actors and staff in each city that the game visits. We played the first instance of Trials of Bahamut in NYC and at each juncture our team was the first to approach the actors with solutions. Far too often our correct answers were rejected because the staff wasn’t quite up to speed. A little more training would go a long way.

The ending was anticlimactic. We had prepared to battle a dragon… but we only needed to submit a dragon-fighting battle plan. The conclusion had all of the drama of turning in a pop quiz.

Should I play Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut?

I’m really glad that I went to play Trials of Bahamut. This experience has given me hope that SCRAP is evolving their events, that they aren’t a one-trick pony, and that they can do something different with this rarely-explored escape game format.

I was ready to write off SCRAP’s events. Bluntly, I didn’t want to attend Trials of Bahamut. I’ve played Final Fantasy III and X, but I can’t claim that I’m a fan of the series. We attended because a friend bought the tickets, planned the evening, and invited us.

Trials of Bahamut was an engaging, intriguing, and entertaining event. We left excited that we had conquered a fair and interesting challenge. SCRAP’s escape events still have plenty of room to grow, but the next time they bring one to New York City, I will not drag my feet on booking a ticket.

We would recommend Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut, but New York City was the final stop on its tour. If it ever experiences a revival, you should check it out.

(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.)

 

ClueKeeper, that puzzle hunt app [Review]

ClueKeeper is an iOS & Android app for building and playing puzzle hunts.

ClueKeeper logo

ClueKeeper is best known as the interface for the annual international puzzle hunt, DASH (Different Area, Same Hunt) since its 6th event in 2014. It is also used by companies such as Shinteki, Palantir, and about 30-40 others to host public and private puzzle events.

Escape room puzzle hunts

Over the past few years a few escape room companies have begun using ClueKeeper as a way to create outdoor walking puzzle hunts.

2015 Golden Lock-in winner Locurio has a ClueKeeper-based puzzle hunt in Seattle. So do San Francisco’s incredibly popular Palace Games and Jersey City’s Puzzle Out, among a few other escape room companies all over the world.

A wide-area puzzle game is a fantastic idea, especially for escape room companies in walking cities in temperate climates. They are fun, engaging, and don’t require an elaborate set build; your beautiful city is the set.

Standouts

ClueKeeper can facilitate a wide variety of puzzles and it works well at scale. The largest annual puzzle hunt in the world has relied on it for years… so they are clearly doing something right.

ClueKeeper can be used to create wide-area location-specific puzzle games that require walking about or location-non-specific games that can be played within the confines of a player’s own home.

Games can be created within the app. It was designed for testing and rapid iteration by incredibly talented puzzlers.

A puzzle hunt creator can build a game within ClueKeeper and then sell/distribute that game through the ClueKeeper puzzle hunt store.

ClueKeeper’s augmented reality capabilities are pretty damn cool. Gnome Invasion is a free tech demo of ClueKeeper’s augmented reality functionality available for download in-app. (Note that if you do not have access to the items that it is looking for, the app will respond to photographs.)

ClueKeeper essentially administers itself. Once the team has started a well-designed puzzle hunt, there isn’t much – if any – gamemaster support required.

The ClueKeeper team has produced a lot of documentation to help you get started and is available to provide support.

Shortcomings

When you’re using ClueKeeper, you’re using ClueKeeper. The app cannot be re-skinned or themed in any way. If you’re striving for a deeply immersive experience, you’ll have to achieve this through the environments, game flow, and storytelling. The app will not visually change.

ClueKeeper’s GPS interpretation is subject to both physics and the limitations of an individual phone’s technology. If you’re in a bunker of a building or you’re experiencing some variance, it might have a hard time placing your exact position, which could cause problems with location-specific puzzles.

Should I use ClueKeeper?

If you love puzzles, you should absolutely download ClueKeeper. Try out some of the puzzle hunts that can be played in your own home. If there’s a location-based one near you, give it a shot. Your mileage will vary from hunt to hunt.

If you’re an escape room owner with a facility in a walkable area, you should try out a few puzzle hunts and see if this is the kind of thing that would appeal to you and your clientele. We love puzzle hunts and welcome the opportunity to play creative games on the platform.

If you’re going to create a puzzle hunt on ClueKeeper, I encourage you to be creative. Make sure that no two puzzles feel the same. Edit your writing down. Make use of as much of the functionality of the app as possible.

If you want to hire someone to professionally produce a puzzle hunt for you, the folks from ClueKeeper can make recommendations.

Download it on iOS & Android, or read a bit more on ClueKeeper.com.

Major Updates to the REA Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017 … Register Today!

Come experience the best of New York City’s escape rooms and interactive entertainment with Room Escape Artist this November!

About Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

Join us November 3-4, 2017 for a tailored tour through many of New York City’s best escape rooms.

Escape Immerse Explore NYC 2017 logo

Major Updates

Thank you to our pre-sale supporters!

Based on feedback from pre-salers and other interested participants, we’ve slimmed down the event to focus on escape rooms and slashed the price in half.

What’s different?

  • We’ve cut the final day’s big event, Accomplice
  • We’ve added an additional escape room to everyone’s agenda
  • Only VIP ticket holders will have tour guides
  • The unlimited metrocard is no longer included

The Accomplice event and tour guides effectively accounted for nearly half of the ticket price.

We seriously want to host that Accomplice show, but we’re going to have to do it as a standalone sometime in the future.

Sign up today for this escape room exclusive: REA plans your day at the best escape rooms in New York City.

Lisa and David along the Hudson River, New York City in the background.
We would like to welcome you to New York City!

Escape Rooms

As part of the event, you will visit at least five escape rooms from some of the best escape room companies* in New York City including:

*Not every tour track will visit every company.

What else is included?

First Person Xperience’s RED in Long Island City is a 75-minute psychological thriller where guests are immersed in an apocalyptic story, interact with real actors and special effects, and work together to complete an objective. RED is a live action experience where your actions and decisions matter, because in this show, YOU control how the story ends!

Escape Entertainment in Herald Square will be our hosts for a morning of breakfast, networking, and escape games.

Lisa and David will be giving a talk by players for players. Lisa and David have been featured speakers at Transworld’s Escape Room Shows in Chicago in 2016 and Niagara Falls in 2017 and at Up The Game in The Netherlands in 2017. This presentation will be exclusively available to event participants.

Packages

Escape, Immerse, Explore  – $399

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a booked agenda of at least 5 escape rooms.

VIP Escape, Immerse, Explore – $549

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a guided tour of at least five escape rooms led by Lisa or David.

Particulars

The event begins on Friday, November 3rd at 5pm. The Friday evening event is in Long Island City, Queens, a short subway ride from Times Square (NOT on Long Island). Note that booking times on Friday evening will vary. You will have the opportunity to request an earlier or later booking time.

The event will wrap up on Saturday evening after a busy day of escape rooms.

Attendees will receive exclusive discount coupons to book their own escape rooms while they are in town.

Also Included

After you purchase your tickets, you’ll receive additional information about:

  • tour customization survey
  • discounted accommodations
  • travel and parking recommendations
  • discounted rates for booking additional escape rooms

FAQ

Are you guys selling out?

Between legal, insurance, food and the cost of sending people to all of the games… this is not an overwhelmingly profitable endeavor. If we were looking to sell out, we’d do something unethical like consult, or design games… and review them on our own site.

We’re hosting this event because we want to bring this community to New York City and share a few of the games we love with you.

Why New York City?

We live here. This city has outstanding escape rooms. We want to show them off!

Why November?

It’s not winter. It’s not summer. And the escape room conferences were back in May.

Why these particular companies?

We selected them because they showcase some of the best in escape rooms and immersive games.

How will we get from game to game?

Walking, subway, or taxi/uber/lyft. Your tour agenda will recommend how to get around.

Can I choose my teammates?

The escape room tours will be groups of 4 or 6. You may select a buddy or put together a full group.

I don’t have a team. Will that be a problem?

Not at all. We’ll put you in a group with other escape room enthusiasts from far and wide.

I’ve played most of the games from these companies. Can I still participate?

Contact us. There might be an opportunity. We’ll try to make it work.

Will I get to choose which escape rooms I play?

No, but you’ll fill out a survey and based on that we’ll put you into games that we think you’ll love. You’ll find out your escape room agenda far enough in advance that you can book additional games for yourself during the rest of your time in New York City.

I’m an escape room owner/employee and/or immersive experience designer. Can I participate?

Yes!

I have nothing to do with the escape room industry. I just want to play all the games! Can I participate?

Yes!

What should I do about airfare and hotels?

Your ticket does not cover travel or lodging. However, we will send you recommended hotel accommodations and information about travel to NYC after you purchase a ticket.

Are meals included in the ticket price?

The ticket includes brunch at Escape Entertainment on Saturday. Saturday’s escape room tour will have a meal break where you can purchase food.

I can’t make it that weekend. Will you run this again?

If it goes well, we’ll consider running it again in New York or elsewhere.

Can I buy a ticket for someone under 18?

Unfortunately, no.

How long have you been planning this?

A very long time. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something great here.

Can I sponsor this event?

Contact us about sponsorship opportunities. We are not accepting escape room companies as sponsors.

What if I have other questions?

Contact us.

We look forward to seeing you in New York this November!

 

Presale Signup! REA Exclusive Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

This announcement is now out of date. This has all of the updates.

*****

This has been in the works for a really, really long time… and it’s finally happening!

Come experience the best of New York City’s escape rooms and interactive entertainment with Room Escape Artist this November!

If you don’t need to hear any more… sign up for the presale.

About Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

Join us November 3-5, 2017 for this first of its kind high-end escape room and immersive experience tour.

Escape Immerse Explore NYC 2017 logo

During our weekend-long event, we will be taking participants on a largely personalized journey through some of New York City’s most interesting escape rooms and immersive games. 

Escape Rooms

As part of the event, you will visit at least four escape rooms from some of the best escape room companies* in New York City including, but not limited to:

Your escape room tour will be led by an experienced escape room player who knows how to get around New York City.

We worry about the logistics of this city and you escape the rooms!

*Not every tour will visit every company.

Group Events

First Person Xperience’s RED in Long Island City is a 75-minute psychological thriller where guests are immersed in an apocalyptic story, interact with real actors and special effects, and work together to complete an objective. RED is a live action experience where your actions and decisions matter, because in this show, YOU control how the story ends!

Escape Entertainment in Herald Square will be our hosts for a morning of breakfast, networking, and escape games.

Lisa and David will be giving a talk by players for players. Lisa and David have been featured speakers at Transworld’s Escape Room Shows in Chicago in 2016 and Niagara Falls in 2017 and at Up The Game in The Netherlands in 2017. This presentation will be exclusively available to event participants.

In Accomplice’s The Cabinet of Curiosities, only available for large group bookings, guests enter a mythical establishment like no other, with an upscale carnivalesque steampunk atmosphere and inventive games and puzzles, led by a colorful crew of misfits called the Curiosities. In this immersive party, you are also invited to participate in a hunt to uncover a secret moonshine recipe, sure to make your morning all the more extraordinary. That is, of course, if you succeed!

Packages

Escape, Immerse, Explore  – $829

This includes RED, Networking at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk, a guided
tour with at least four escape rooms, and The Cabinet of Curiosities.

VIP Escape, Immerse, Explore – $999

This includes RED, Networking at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk, a tour
with at least four escape rooms led by Lisa or David, and The Cabinet of Curiosities.

With this ticket, you will have either Lisa or David as your tour guide. (Only 12 available!)

Particulars

The event begins on Friday, November 3rd at 5pm. The Friday evening event is in Long Island City, Queens, a short subway ride from Times Square (NOT on Long Island). Note that booking times on Friday evening will vary. You are welcome to request an earlier or later booking time.

The event will wrap up at 1pm on Sunday, November 5th. At the conclusion of the event, you will be near Times Square.

Presale

By signing up for the presale, we will send you a PayPal invoice to purchase your tickets before they are sold to the public. I’m in!

After purchasing tickets

After purchasing tickets, you’ll receive the link to a short survey about your experience with New York’s escape rooms. You’ll also receive additional information about:

  • Recommended accommodations
  • Traveling to New York City
  • Discount codes for additional escape rooms with some of the participating companies for the week before and after the tour

FAQ

Why New York City?

We live here. This city has outstanding escape rooms. We want to show them off!

Why November?

It’s not winter. It’s not summer. And the escape room conferences were back in May.

Why these particular companies?

We selected them because they showcase some of the best in escape rooms and immersive games.

How will we get from game to game?

It will be a combination of walking and subway. Because New York. So you need to be relatively mobile to participate. You don’t need to know anything about New York. You’ll have a guide.

Can I choose my teammates?

The escape room tours will be groups of 4 or 6. You may select a buddy or put together a full group.

I don’t have a team. Will that be a problem?

Not at all. We’ll put you in a group with other escape room enthusiasts from far and wide.

I’ve played most of the games from these companies. Can I still participate?

Contact us. There might be an opportunity. We’ll try to make it work.

Will I get to choose which escape rooms I play?

No, but you’ll fill out a survey and based on that we’ll put you into games that we think will work well for you. You’ll find out your tour schedule far enough in advance that you can book additional games for yourself before or after the weekend.

I’m an escape room owner/employee and/or immersive experience designer. Can I participate?

Yes!

I have nothing to do with the escape room industry. I just want to play all the games! Can I participate?

Yes!

What should I do about airfare and hotels?

Your ticket does not cover travel or lodging. However, we will send you recommended hotel accommodations and information about travel to NYC after you purchase a ticket.

Are meals included in the ticket price?

The ticket includes brunch at Escape Entertainment on Saturday and brunch as part of The Cabinet of Curiosities on Sunday. Saturday’s escape room tour will have a meal break where you can purchase food.

I can’t make it that weekend. Will you run this again?

If it goes well, we’ll consider running it again in New York or elsewhere.

Why can’t I purchase tickets right now?

We are hammering out a few final details. If you sign up for presale, you’ll get to purchase your tickets very soon.

Can I buy a ticket for someone under 18?

Contact us.

How many tickets are available?

There are 50 tickets available. They will go to the first 50 people who either sign up for presale or purchase them when ticketing opens.

That’s an expensive ticket…

We know. It includes 4 escape rooms, 2 immersive games, 2 meals, an unlimited metro card, a tour guide, a talk, and a mystery… and we’re taking care of all the logistics. Plus, New York is expensive. You know, it’s a pretty good deal!

How long have you been planning this?

A very long time. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something great here.

Can I sponsor this event?

Contact us about sponsorship opportunities.

What if I have other questions?

Contact us.

We look forward to seeing you in New York this November!

Sign up for presale now!

Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(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).

Eric’s Puzzle Party 17 and Team EMBU

This past weekend, Lisa and I had the honor of attending Eric’s Puzzle Party (EPP) 17 in Auburn, Alabama. This annual puzzle hunt event hosted by Eric Harshbarger was an 11-hour team-based puzzling competition.

In total, there were 28 puzzles. To complete the hunt, we had to find clues hidden all over Auburn.

The puzzles were considerably more involved and challenging than what you’d find in an escape room.

I’m incredibly proud to report that our team walked away from competition with a victory.

Image of an eagle biting the EPP 17 Trophy.
WAR EMBU!

A few of our favorite puzzles

This EPP was held on April 1 and all of the puzzles were themed on pranks and bad jokes.

The 21 puzzles that made up the main game are all available on Eric’s website. Lisa and I supported the solving of quite a few of these, but the bulk of them were deciphered by our teammates. This being our first major in-person puzzle hunt, we needed some time to find our place on our team.

My favorite of the original 21 puzzles (which it seems many disliked) was the sphere assembly puzzle, “Having a Ball.” (Unfortunately it’s one of the few that you cannot play from home.)

Having a Ball sphere assembled.

Having a Ball

I adore mechanical puzzles and this 3D printed sphere was a great challenge. One of the highlights of the day was when I went to have the puzzle “graded” by Eric. I decided in that moment to take it apart and quickly reassemble it for a higher value victory. I sat down in a big chair in the coffee shop that he used as his base. I was deeply focused, trying to not completely wreck my sphere while improving upon it. A young woman sat down next to me and started interrogating me about what I was working on, why I was working on it, and if she could play. I did my best to be kind and answer her questions… but I desperately wanted her to leave me and my focus alone. Fortunately, everything worked out and I got the thing back together at a higher value.

Finding the Toy box 

After solving the 21 main puzzles, we worked on the metapuzzle (a puzzle that was built from little bits of information pulled from the puzzles of the main game). This culminated in us searching a wooded park for a toy box filled with the second set of puzzles (for those who could find it).

Searching for this box felt like looking for a hidden immunity idol in Survivor. We were wandering down a trail looking for “three oak trees.” Running through the woods in the middle of a day of heavy puzzling was good fun. Plus we had a silly mishap on our end while working with our incredibly talented rival for first place, the ImPEACHables. They got to witness our only major stumble of the day, which is too difficult to explain if you weren’t there. Fortunately it didn’t set us back more than about 15 minutes.

The Toy box puzzles

These were our favorite puzzles of the day. They are not available on Eric’s website. With his permission, however, I am posting two of them. They are, in my opinion, magnificent.

All that I will say is that if you solve them, you will know that you succeeded. If you solve them, reach out. I’d happily fill you in on the context.

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Team EMBU (with a silent b)

Rex Miller, one of our earliest readers, assembled team EMBU. Rex brought us onto an incredible team of puzzle hunters, including Rich and Jonathan from the world famous ClueKeeper platform.

Team EMBU puzzling at EPP 17.

In addition to being a fun and brilliant bunch, under Rex’s leadership our team was highly organized and staggeringly efficient. After the dust settled, we learned that we jumped out to an early lead solving 7 of the initial 21 puzzles before any other team had completed any of them.

Early on, Lisa and I were a little intimidated by the experience and insane speed of our teammates. We were simply trying to make ourselves useful. After we both had a few solves under our belts, we captured the majority of the clues hidden around Auburn, and had become truly functional teammates.

There were a couple dozen clues hidden around Auburn. Our group worked hard to gather them all, which took some doing, considering that none of us were from Auburn. In fact, more than half of our team hadn’t even set foot in Alabama prior to this puzzle hunt.

We knew in the moment that we were doing well, but we truly didn’t realize just how great we had done until the scores came in at the end.

EPP 17 score graph shows EMBU decisively in the lead throughout the entire competiton.

I’m not just saying that because we decisively won. We truly weren’t sure. We even prepared for the incredibly unlikely tiebreaker challenge.

That said… I think that Rex knew we had won.

Last thoughts

This was the first and last time that Team EMBU will compete at EPP. We won’t be able to remain a team based on the rules for team structure at EPP.

Team EMBU victory photo in the Auburn University Student Center. The team is gathered around the war eagle holding trophies.

Puzzling with this particular group of people was a joy. It was intense. It was fun. And it was hilarious.

Wrecking puzzles and escape rooms across Alabama and Georgia with this crew was one of the most delightful experiences that I have had in my puzzling career and I am going to treasure the memory of this weekend. Yes, there is an escape room company in Auburn; get excited for the forthcoming reviews.

I had heard a lot of great things about Eric’s Puzzle Party prior to attending. Someone had described it to me as “the best kept secret in puzzling.” Based on what I saw, I think it’s true. EPP offered a high quality and exceptionally fair puzzle hunt. Eric’s care and attention to detail were on display from the opening moments of the hunt through to his closing, detailed walkthrough at the end of the day.

This puzzle hunt was one cohesive vision. That was truly impressive.

Thank you to Eric and all of the people who helped him organize this event.

Thank you to our teammates.

Thank you Rex. We wouldn’t have even heard of EPP without you. We’re thrilled that you asked us to be a part of your team.

I hope that we can return next year with a new team.

One last time:

WAR EMBU!

Club Drosselmeyer, Behind the Scenes with Kellian Adams

We attended night one of Club Drosselmeyer, Boston’s two-night World War II-themed mass-puzzling, swing-dancing, and immersive performance event, and had a swell time.

The event was so massive, detailed, and incredible that we asked its creator, Kellian Adams, to talk about the intricacies of show.

We were most surprised to learn about how the show changed on night two.

In-game image of a the ornate Club Drosselmeyer stage witha swing band and a floor full of people dancing.

How did you develop the concept for Club Drosselmeyer?

I had always wanted to build an interactive game-based theater piece. I was at a ballet showcase when it occurred to me that The Nutcracker might be the perfect piece to experiment with because

  • It’s modular.
  • Interesting characters move around.
  • The basic storyline connects but isn’t too tight.
  • It’s a well-known story.
  • It lends itself to some great music and visuals.
  • It would have to be performed around the holidays.

The holiday connection was key for an experimental piece because people have more tolerance for playing along with magic and the unexpected during the holidays (as well as spending money on tickets and getting dressed up!).

What were your inspirations?

When I decided that The Nutcracker would be the base for the show, I pulled from a lot of my favorite movies. Casablanca was the main one: I had always wondered what it would be like to be a patron of Rick’s Cafe Americain, where there are all sorts of intrigues happening around you, but you might not be aware of any of them. I designed my main character, Drosselmeyer, as the club owner, which tied directly to Rick, especially where he had his perch up above everyone.

Each character has a fairly involved backstory. For example, mother Ginger – aka Ginger Lamarr – was Hedy Lamarr. Phylo Farnesworth is the inventor of the television and I took his dance team from the movie College Swing. Fritz was modeled after this fabulously devious playboy named Washington Porter Jr. Rhett the Rat was modeled after “King” Solomon, a Boston mob boss in the 30’s. You can see all of our character inspirations on Pinterest.

How much autonomy did each of the performers have?

The performers had a lot of autonomy in developing their characters and the storyline. I built out the structure of the story and they filled in the blanks.

Alice, Clara, and Phylo, for example, delved into radar and so that became a major part of the storyline, which hadn’t been part of my original vision. Also, many of the performers wanted to address the ethical question of whether we should use artificial intelligence, so we did.

The hat idea was from the actor who played the character Beta. One of my favorite parts of the whole show was him wearing a lampshade. He came up with the idea of handing out “research notes” folded into hats. They were detailed enough that many players tried to crack the codes and solve the notes, except there was nothing there!

What were your other favorite moments?

I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces when they came in on Sunday night. I don’t think they had any idea what they had signed up for, but then they walked in and the space looked beautiful: the band was playing, everybody was dressed up, and it was magical. It was so wonderful to watch everyone transition into “Dross mode!”

My other favorite moment happened during a dress rehearsal. A few people came up to me (as the character Kit) and said “WE KNOW WHO THE NUTCRACKER IS!!” Then they pointed at Beta, who at that moment was wearing a lampshade on his head and jumping up and down on the dance floor. In character I asked “that guy?” They looked at me, kind of dumbstruck and followed up with a defensive “well—he’s just a prototype…” and it was this amazing, hilarious moment where they were explaining to me the story that I wrote, and making excuses for it.

I also LOVED the waltz scene. It was a wonderful, magical moment to see everyone spinning in the snow!

Which aspects of the piece were most successful?

I was really proud that the whole “different levels of engagement” thing worked. I genuinely felt like there was something for everybody to do.

I took a lot of different activities that I love, but that can be really intimidating for other people, and arranged them in a way that I think was less intimidating than they expected. I’ve heard the usual comments to these activities SO MANY times…

  • Puzzles… “I’m not smart enough.”
  • Talking to characters… “I’m shy, that’s so awkward.”
  • Getting dressed vintage… “I don’t have anything fancy.”
  • Swing music… “I can’t dance.”

I think when they all appeared together there was at least one aspect of the show that almost everyone could engage with at some level. If none of them were even mildly appealing, you could still just sit in a beautiful time-travel club, watch the floor shows, listen to the incredible, original music of a really good swing band, drink martinis, and hang out with your friends.

What were the biggest challenges to bringing this piece to the stage?

The uncertainty of it was really hard for the cast members.

I deliberately chose my dancer friends rather than auditioning actors because I knew I didn’t want Club Drosselmeyer to be a traditional theater piece, and I didn’t want lots of professional theater people on board telling me I was doing everything wrong (because I was absolutely doing everything wrong). Also with friends, I was hoping they’d be better with the uncertainty of building something nobody had ever seen before when there wasn’t any proof that this method would work. (Nobody I knew of had done it, so I didn’t have much to point to.)

I also didn’t start with a written script, since there were a lot of moving parts. I sort of twisted myself (and my story) in knots trying to incorporate everyone’s ideas and keep them feeling good about their characters. We ended up with some serious story holes as a result. Next time I would write the whole thing out and hand it to them as a finished “script” and go from there. I would also hold auditions for some of the roles.

Pre-show image of the tables set and the band warming up. The room looks beautiful and elegant.

Were there any notable differences in player behavior between night one and night two?

There was a MASSIVE difference in the players between night one and night two.

Night one was a Sunday. At 7:00 everyone was at the door, dressed to impress and ready to play. I met people at the door in character as Kit Hollingsworth so I felt the definite buzz of electricity as everybody came in.

Night two was a Friday. At 7:00 I was at the door and … crickets. People arrived slowly, harried and distracted, and a lot of them weren’t dressed as nicely as they had been on Sunday. Many had been stuck in traffic and were grabbing really quick dinners. In general, they had a harder time transitioning into the right mood.

People also drank a lot more on Friday than they had on Sunday, probably because they didn’t have to go to work the next day.

How did you change the event from night one to night two?

First, we added line management. We added an extra person to “interview” people in the Drosselmeyer line and make sure they wanted to actually be there.

Second, we asked the performers to soften their characters and be more forthcoming with information, even if their character would “never” do that. There was this line between pretending, where you try to get as close to your character’s authentic response as possible, and performing, where you acknowledge there’s more to it. We had to remind ourselves that it was theater and our goals were for people to learn the story and have fun.

And finally, we didn’t change the ending, but the audience did.

We experienced the cheery ending on night one (because we chose it). Can you talk about the ending on night two and the reaction to it?

The teams were looking for blueprints, in order to bring these to one of the characters and trigger the ending of the show. On night two, the winning team decided to hand the blueprints over to the bad guy.

We actually had two groups get to the blueprints at the same time, but the group that wanted to give the blueprints to Drosselmeyer (the good guy) had one number in their combination wrong, so the other team got them instead and gave them to Rhett (the bad guy).

When other teams realized what was happening, a lot of them tried really hard to keep the bad ending from occurring. They tried to negotiate with the winning team. Then another team tried to negotiate directly with Rhett to get the papers back. Afterward, the actor who played Rhett told me after that he was really concerned they were going to physically restrain him and take the papers back.

The bad ending was really dark. When Rhett walked out, we pulled up the house lights and played Springtime For Hitler over the loudspeaker. No curtain call. Just awkward house lights and silence.

I wanted to create something where people felt that they had agency. I also didn’t want to theater-coat any of it and make the bad ending fun or cheerful or pithy. Choosing to give technology to Nazis is bad and I think we should let it be bad. I got many emails and asides from people telling me they thought it was an unkind ending, but it was 2016 and I didn’t really feel like giving people a happy ending if they didn’t choose it. Some people were upset and said that because they hadn’t chosen the ending – it had been chosen for them – they shouldn’t have had to suffer through it, but things don’t really work that way. Others said that they weren’t even part of the puzzling – they were just drinking and hanging out and then this terrible thing happened, to which I was thinking: EXACTLY. I wrote a lot about this in a blog post.

I don’t think I would do it like that again, but I’m glad that we did it once. That’s where theater and games diverge, right? I never could have done that with a show.

What surprised you most about how the event played out?

We were surprised how crowded the space was and how long people had to wait in line to speak with key characters. We expected some amount of waiting but not to the extent that it happened, so we got that under control the second night.

We were also surprised that people found it hard to engage with the story. They were confused and didn’t quite know what to do. We had three characters whose job it was to pull people in and we had a full “instructions” sheet, but it wasn’t enough. Next time I want to have a “briefing room” where – out of character – we help the audience figure out how to engage.

I was also surprised that people were so upset about the “bad ending” the second night. I did build a ton of story and nuance in there; it was a pretty dark commentary on 1939 and 2016. On the night of, people just looked confused, like it was a mistake. The people who chose the bad ending literally said “wheee! We’re glad he’s dead! Being bad is fun!” Everyone else was just like “oh well.” Later on they expressed that they were upset and even outraged. I wasn’t expecting the “slow burn” on that ending.  

In-show: The bad ending two characters have been shot and a reporter is photographing them.

How did you manage to put on so much spectacle with tickets as affordable as they were?

It’s hard to overstate how helpful it was working with Oberon and the American Repertory Theater. The pricing for the space was really reasonable and they helped with EVERYTHING from staging to lights to sound. This was a risk for them because they didn’t entirely understand what we were doing. I got this wonderful email from them afterwards where they said “we took a crazy risk and it paid out in spades!!” I’m saving that email forever! A bunch of people in the Oberon staff said it was one of the coolest, most unique, and beautiful shows they’d seen in that space.

Also, I design everything based on my resources. We had a lot of dancers and musicians and friends to abuse. Just about everybody worked for us under cost. Hooray for friends!!

Do you have any advice for creating this type of piece that you’d like to share with our readers?

Stay infinitely flexible. Give good people what they need to build good things and just keep your eye on the ball. I’m just so proud of how my team made this crazy idea into something special.

Use your resources. Club Drosselmeyer worked because I had a swing band, singers, dancers, and people who knew how to dress like it was 1939. If I’d had to find these people or have other people create this environment, it would have been much more difficult.

What was it like seeing the entire piece come together?

AMAZING!!!! Day of, I looked at the set and the band and the dancers working on things and I was like “this is exactly what was in my head… and now it exists.” It was a surreal experience. It was both totally natural because it had been hanging out in my head for such a long time and totally unnatural because I’m aware that imaginary things don’t usually exist in real life.

Should we expect a sequel?

ABSOLUTELY!! The story will have to be completely different. I think there will be some new acts and new characters. I think it will have to be 1940… and that brings a whole new set of challenges. Germany just marched into France so we’ve got the French Underground and there are spies everywhere!

Club Drosselmeyer - Cast photo on the stage

What’s next for the team behind Club Drosselmeyer?

We’re buzzing along with our Edventure Builder games and we just released updates to a game we built with the Boston Children’s Museum at lxbgame.com.

I’m most excited about a modular escape room for middle schoolers that I’m brainstorming with the Teacher’s Education Resource Center… I don’t want to say too much about it other than that I really really hope it happens.

We’re also building something for this summer likely called the “society for historical inaccuracies.” It will be an interactive mystery tour around Boston, helping people stay abreast of all the things that never happened in Boston fictional history. I’d like to say we’re making history. Up.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

2017 New York Puzzle Party Announcement

Come join us at the 2017 New York Puzzle Party!

Colorful filtered image of a collection of physical puzzles. Many wooden puzzle boxes, cubes, puzzles locks, and entanglements.

Puzzlers of all types are welcome to bring puzzles, meet each other, and share a love of puzzling.

There will also be talks on a variety puzzle topics. We will be speaking about at-home room escape games.

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, February 18, 2017
  • Time: 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Location: Manhattan*
  • Entry cost: $5

At this event last year, we met Rod Kimball, author of Path Puzzles, learned about puzzle locks (and handled some incredible such works of art!), and listened to a talk about testing a puzzle app at the DMV, among other things.

This is an opportunity to purchase puzzles, see interesting creations, and meet new people. We hope to see you there.

*If you would like to attend, please fill out this form in order to RSVP to the event organizer and then obtain the location details.

Club Drosselmeyer [Puzzle Event Review]

Aces!

Location: Cambridge, MA

Date played: December 11, 2016

Price: $45 – 80 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a 1939 nightclub, attendees had the opportunity to explore dance, take in a variety of performing acts, and puzzle through a story of espionage and intrigue.

The band was incredible. The venue was awesome. The dancers were on fire. The characters were engaging… and damn near the entire audience was decked out in full costume.

About last night #clubdrosselmeyer

A post shared by Kelly Hansen (@keltastic) on

This puzzling event was so much more than a couple of hundred people sitting around tables solving their way through a manila envelope of puzzles. It was a living, breathing, and occasionally chaotic mystery. No one, not even the actors, knew exactly how the evening would unfold.

Lisa and David in costume swing dancing.
A shot of us swing dancing, courtesy of our friend Denise Kuehner.

Puzzles

The puzzles weren’t delivered to the tables; we had to earn them by interacting with the various non-player characters (NPCs). They would send us on quests to gain bits of information or give us things that we had to solve. While some puzzles were straightforward, others involved less-than-usual interactions with the cast.

Every puzzle advanced the story, even if it only added a little depth to a character.

Standouts

The band and Lindy hoppers were of particular note. Both fit beautifully into spectacle of the evening. Let’s be real; in 2016, a swing band and a gaggle of folks Lindy hopping with style and skill isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

The setting was amazing.

The audience looked awesome. We were shocked to see so many people fully commit to the evening. My hat is off to everyone in attendance. Such a classy bunch.

The actors were exceptional at improvising with us. We didn’t see anyone break character.

#snowball #💗 #❄️

A post shared by Annaliese Rittershaus Brauman (@vonvalkyrie) on

The puzzling and live action roleplaying were strong. Our team was split into puzzlers and interacters. Lisa and I spent most of the evening playing with the characters, unraveling the interpersonal mysteries, and dancing. Lisa solved two puzzles and I only got around to solving the last one. There was a lot to do.

Attendees who wanted to dance could pretty much go the entire night doing nothing but dancing.

Attendees who wanted to puzzle could puzzle the night away (if they teamed up with some folks who would handle the NPC interactions).

Attendees who wanted to passively watch everything unfold could simply enjoy that.

Shortcomings

We attended opening night and there were a few places where Club Drosselmeyer felt like a public beta test:

  • A lot of players seemed to struggle getting started and finding their place in the narrative.
  • There were moments when we became confused, and therefore baffled the actors a little bit because they didn’t understand what we weren’t getting (and no one was breaking character, us included).
  • One particular character was a bit too necessary and popular. A line formed to interact with him and that slowed the game’s pace and progression.
  • The area around our table was consumed by people waiting on line to meet with the aforementioned popular character.

The stage acting at the end felt very forced. It was cute, but it wasn’t compelling.

The VIP ticket designation didn’t matter. At any ticket level, audience members made their experience what they wanted.

Club Drosselmeyer’s run is only two shows. The final show is tomorrow night (December 16, 2016).

Should I play Club Drosselmeyer?

Club Drosselmeyer was more than I could have ever hoped for from a puzzling event and I couldn’t help but go in with high expectations.

Puzzling, swing dancing, and interactive theater are three of my favorite things.

We worked hard throughout Club Drosselmeyer and left exhausted. It was worth every ounce of effort. Our team was the only one to unravel the main storyline and thus I got to choose the path that the ending would take.

If you’re going tonight, dress up, become a character, team up, and play hard. There are plots and subplots to explore (many of which went unexplored on opening night). There’s more than one evening’s worth of fun at Club Drosselmeyer. I wish I could go back.

Club Drosselmeyer is sold out… as it should be.