Escape City Buffalo – Body Collectors [Review]

“I choose you…”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

This was very SAW-like.

The folks behind Escape City Buffalo ran a haunt before they opened the escape room. Body Collectors drew on their experience building realistically creepy, horror experiences to deliver intense, uncomfortable, and unforgettable moments. Although at times the gameplay suffered from an over-reliance on searching in low light, Body Collectors successfully combined gameplay with a haunted house in this horror escape room.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo and you enjoy horror and escape rooms, Body Collectors is a must-play.

In-game: A torture chair behind a cage.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror hounds
  • SAW fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A memorable opening
  • Intense moments
  • Masterful horror set design

Story

Locked up in a murder lair, we needed to prove ourselves worthy of life, or we’d become the next collected bodies.

In-game: Bloodied tools and kitchen knives hanging on a wall.

Setting

This dark, gritty murder lair was unnerving. From the blood and bones to the instruments of torture, the set was unsettling. This was masterful horror set design.

In-game: a bloodied, dismembered arm on a baby scale.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors was a horror escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and in at least one instance, bravery.

A large portion of the difficulty was derived from a combination of low light and fear.

Analysis

+ Body Collectors opened with a visually impactful, intense scene.

+ The set looked great, in a scary way. It was detailed and weathered, creating a grimy, unnerving gamespace.

– Body Collectors required substantial searching in low light. It became frustrating when the escape room bottlenecked around searching. Intensity and momentum diminished quickly at some key moments.

– One prop was too worn to facilitate a puzzle properly, especially in the dim light.

+ Nearly every critical interaction came with a memorable moment.

+ Escape City Buffalo used space well to taunt us. One prop dangled in front of us the entire game.

+ One little detail added a haunting intensity to a late-game sequence.

+ Fans of the SAW movies will really like some of the homage interactions.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least one player must be able to crawl.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Courtyard [Review]

Release the hounds.

Location: Sylmar, CA

Date Played: August 26, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Courtyard took us outside the home of serial killer Edward Tandy to play a murderous game in his fenced-in courtyard. THE BASEMENT built a spectacular outdoor environment, combining nature with decrepit structures to deliver a sense of continual discovery tinged with foreboding. The set was a work of art.

While aspects of the story detracted from the rest of THE BASEMENT’s overall experience, the sets, lighting, sound, and actor delivered an intense and exciting escape room. Additionally, The Courtyard delivered a brilliant midgame puzzle sequence that we will never forget.

If you’re planning to play one game at THE BASEMENT, make it The Elevator Shaft. If you’re looking to play two (and you should), The Courtyard should be your next choice. They’re both unique and intense.

If you’re anywhere nearby and interested in horror, intensity, actor-driven gameplay, and immersive sets, you should visit The Courtyard.

In-game: heavy wooden doors chained shut.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Detailed set design
  • Outstanding actor
  • Intensity of the experience

Story

The Basement’s fourth chapter continued with us having escaped from The Study and fleeing into Edward Tandy’s mudroom. Freedom seemed so close. Unfortunately beyond the mudroom was a walled courtyard and another series of sadistic games and death traps.

Setting

We started The Courtyard in a small, dimly lit, ominous mudroom with the porch and courtyard of Tandy’s house visible in the distance.

In-game: Coats hanging in a dim, creepy mud room.

Within their facility, THE BASEMENT had constructed an outdoor space for the The Courtyard. We were walled in by the Tandy house on one side and tall fences on the others. Lily Tandy’s trailer stood prominently in the gamespace along with a few smaller structures.

In-game: an aged porch with a rocking chair.

The Courtyard’s largely outdoor set was detailed and weathered. It felt genuine. The Courtyard was dim and foreboding with the threat of hounds ever present.

In-game: a small kitchenette and table in a quaint trailer.

Gameplay

THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty in an intense environment.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the actor.

In-game: a large top-loading freezer in a decrepid mud room.

Analysis

+/- The Courtyard began with a video introduction… followed by a video introduction. It built up tension, stifled that tension, built it up again… it just droned on and on. This was unfortunate because it the intro was well acted.

+ There was a lot of depth to The Courtyard’s set. THE BASEMENT built indoor and outdoor spaces. These were detailed and convincing, instilling in us an unsettling apprehension, as intended. In-game: the heavily weathered side of Tandy's home. Window with shudders flows brightly.

+ THE BASEMENT used lighting and sound to further escalate the tension in their serial killer’s game environment.

+ This escape room was designed so that most players will spend the majority of their time in the more intriguing portion of the set. If players don’t access it one way, at a set time interval, THE BASEMENT triggers a different sequence to move the team forward. We appreciated this commitment to keeping players engaged and pushing them into the more exciting parts of The Courtyard.

– One of these early sequences left a brutal red herring in its wake. We didn’t use a certain game element early on and its presence was an evergreen element of confusion that ruined some moments. This could be remedied with relative ease.

+ The actor was a pivotal part of experience. He reacted to our words, body language, and in-game interactions. He was outstanding.

In-game: an electrical device mounted to a wall.

+ The actor-player interaction design was insightful. The set kept the actor separate from the players, such that it supported the narrative premise and kept both parties safe from each other.

– The Courtyard required a substantial amount of reading in low light.

+/- The Courtyard delivered many of the longer passages both as written text and audio voiceover. This technique made the story and clue structure more accessible to larger teams. That said, there was a heavy reliance on long passages of exposition.

+ The hint mechanism made sense in the context of the experience. It fit seamlessly into the game. Because of this, however, the hint mechanism was only accessible up until a point. Once we’d solved a substantial portion of the escape room, we could not receive any hint to late-game puzzles. Some may dislike this; we found it interesting.

The Courtyard had some of the strongest puzzles offered by THE BASEMENT. There was a mid-game sequence that was especially inspired, pulling together all of the core elements of the game into a uniquely smart and screwed-up challenge.

+ We especially enjoyed another puzzle sequence that triggered a heart-pounding situation, until we puzzled our way through it.

– The final puzzle sequence took the story in an unexpected direction that made it lose credibility. It didn’t seem to belong in the world of Edward Tandy as it wasn’t grounded in reality. THE BASEMENT missed an opportunity here.

– As with The Elevator Shaft, losing teams will experience a more dramatic ending than we did when we won. Once again, I kind of wish that we had lost.

The Courtyard instilled in us a sense of discovery. The gamespace was genuine enough that we didn’t feel like anything was entirely “used.” It was ominous enough that we remained on edge. This balance kept us engaged throughout the escape room.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

All images via THE BASEMENT.

Get the F Out – The Experiment [Review]

Not what I was expecting.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 23, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Get The F Out likes to produce unusual escape games; they have done this once again with The Experiment. This latest creation was a meta escape room designed for people who love escape rooms. It screwed with our expectations, took longstanding tropes and turned them on their side, and presented a strong collection of puzzles with some genuine innovation in game design.

The Experiment fell short in the fine-tuning. Lighting and sound adjustments would make gameplay less frustrating. The story – which was interesting and thoughtful – was too difficult to understand without explanation.

Get The F Out has a gem on their hands and we’re thrilled we visited The Experiment… but it needs more polish to clarify the gameplay and story.

If you’re serious about playing escape rooms, then I’d strongly encourage you to check this one out. We don’t have that many games designed around players who know their way around an escape game.

In-game: handcuffs looped around a stair railing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Escape room enthusiasts
  • Best for players with a fair amount of experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The twist… in the story.
  • The twist… in the puzzles.
  • It’s meta.

Story

The Experiment was a study:

“Looking for all ages, male & female to participate in a psychological study of escape rooms. It will take 60 min of your time. Juice will be served.”

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lab-coated researcher and lead into The Experiment.

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Setting

The experiment staging, however, was far from your standard lab. Instead of white walls, we found ourselves aboard a ship. The Experiment was structured as an escape room.

In-game: Creepy doll heads in metal contraptions.

Gameplay

Get the F Out’s The Experiment was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and dexterity.

In-game: The Experiment teaser, reads, "The Doctor Will See You Now."

Analysis

+ From the opening moments, The Experiment thwarted expectations. We went from a humorous, in-character lab-like introduction to the high seas.

The Experiment was puzzle-dense. There was a lot of solve. It was highly varied and generally interesting.

– The Experiment had too many locks with identical digit structures. It wasn’t always clear which solution belonged where.

– We encountered misleading signage. While it did deter us from touching more fragile set pieces it also deterred us, as overly caution players, from thoroughly searching our gamespace. This mechanic punished more respectful players.

– The ambient noise of The Experiment competed with any auditory game components, including our hint system. We used walky-talkies to communicate with our gamemaster and struggled to make out our hints over the noise and the whirling fans.

+ Get the F Out presented two puzzle concepts we’ve never seen before in an escape room. These were brilliant.

The Experiment played with perspective on so many levels.

– There were points where we really struggled with dim lighting.

– The story arc didn’t quite work for us. We had a hard time believing the fiction and the resulting character development. It wasn’t immediately apparent, in game, how we got from point A to point B, and only began to make sense upon post-game explanation.

The Experiment was geared toward experienced escape room players. It wasn’t because of the challenging puzzles; it was to deliver a message. It was meta. Your appreciation of this will vary.

+ Get the F Out included bonus content. If you can escape the room and solve the bonus content in 60 minutes, there’s a prize. The bonus puzzle was challenging and worth solving.

+ Juice was served, as promised. It was delightful.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • All players must be able to walk up stairs to access the game.
  • It was brutally hot in the gamespace when we visited in August. Get the F Out knows this and provided bottles of water. Just be prepared.

Book your hour with Get the F Out’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Get the F Out comped our tickets for this game.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.

I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.

The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.

A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.

Analysis

+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.

– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.

+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.

+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.

– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.

– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.

+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.

+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)

– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.

– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Museum of Intrigue [Summer 2018 Review]

A day at the museum.

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date Played: September 3, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend groups of 2-4

Duration: offers 20, 40, & 60 minute games

Price: $15 (20-minute), $25 (40-minute), $29 (60-minute) per ticket or $75 per day pass

Ticketing: Private games in a shared space (see below)

REA Reaction

The Museum of Intrigue was a new, exciting, and brilliant concept: one large space housed a variety of adventures.

In this puzzle- and adventure-filled museum, a collection of unusual artifacts and exhibits and an eccentric staff of characters facilitated roughly 20 games, known as stories. Each story spanned multiple sections of the Museum of Intrigue. The space was always alive and filled with other players.

The Museum of Intrigue had an assortment of entertaining and worthy games. If they can ruggedize their build and mind a few more details, this establishment could be a masterpiece. The potential is there, and much of it has already been realized.

The open-ended artifact theft game The Heist justified the existence of Museum of Intrigue on its own… but don’t make this your first story. You’ll want to have a better handle on things before attempting it.

If you’re anywhere near Syracuse, the Museum of Intrigue is a must-visit. If you’re a serious escape room player, buy yourself a day pass. We’re already trying to figure out when we can return.

The exterior of the sunken ship in the Museum of Intrigue.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Really cool space to explore
  • Each story offers a unique challenge
  • A wealth of secrets to reveal within the gamespace
  • Impressive variety of gameplay options available
  • Fantastic actors
  • Playing our own adventures in a vibrant, shared environment

Story

The Museum of Intrigue was an immersive space that housed exhibits and actors which together facilitated roughly 20 different “stories.” Each purchasable story supplied its own narrative and goals pertaining to the museum.

Depending upon the story we selected, we were investigating a strange phenomenon, seeking a lost, stolen, or missing item, playing a game against one another, or in one unusual instance… robbing the museum in front of the staff and other guests.

The story selection display at the Museum of Intrigue.
The story selection display.

Setting

The Museum of Intrigue was a large museum-like environment containing a variety of different exhibits featuring unusual things. It almost felt like a museum of escape room themes: science lab, tomb, lost ship, rain forest, art gallery, Victorian England, and Medieval Europe, among others.

The level of detail in the set design varied heavily from exhibit to exhibit. Some were incredibly detailed and expansive.

The crypt in the Museum of Intrigue.

Additionally, there were costumed, in-character actors wandering the Museum of Intrigue facilitating games and helping players. These characters were as important to the experience as anything else in the museum.

A Museum of Intrigue mystic character posing in front of the story display.

Gameplay

Museum of Intrigue was a unique puzzle and adventure amusement with multiple games happening simultaneously as different teams explored the museum, solving their own stories.

The level of difficultly varied heavily among the stories, which ranged from simple scavenger hunting (Still Life), to competitive gameplay (Witch Hunt), to more traditional escape room-esque stories (The Lost Exhibit, The Breath of the Maya, The Wandering Knight), to a short and complex puzzle hunt (Enigma).

While stories were categorized by time commitment, this was not an escape room and gameplay was not dictated by a gameclock. We could take our time exploring, strategizing, and adventuring as we played through a story.

Visitors may purchase individual stories or a day pass to play their fill of different stories.

A dinosaur fossil on the wall, and a sandpit with dinosaur bones at the Museum of Intrigue.

Analysis

+ Museum of Intrigue’s actors were phenomenal. Each had a unique look, backstory, personality, and voice. This impacted how the characters interpreted each story and their role within it. We found ourselves seeking out specific characters because of the nature of a given story. The actors accepted any premise we threw at them, no matter how far-fetched, and turned it into a part of the story. This was exceptionally well executed.

A Museum of Intrigue character posing in an antique carriage.

+ The space felt alive. We played while other groups were busy having their own adventures. If someone was in our way (or vice-versa), it was a momentary obstacle that never hindered our experience. The other players piqued our curiosity about the other available stories.

+ The Museum of Intrigue was a brilliant concept. It was smart to build one massive set and fill it with a couple dozen games. They packed so much variety into the gamespace. Additionally, the games could be readily swapped without requiring the company to rebuild entirely new gamespace.

A close up of the ship in the Museum of Intrigue's heavily weathered texture.

+/- A large portion of the set looked beautiful with an incredible level of detail and weathering. At the same time, some of the set looked lackluster. The shifts in quality happened from object to object. I could stand in one place in the museum, look at three different items and see three different levels of build quality ranging from incredible to meh.

The Museum of Intrigue's art gallery with paintings and sculptures on display.

+ The Museum of Intrigue’s stories had us exploring every inch of the space. We picked up on details while doing one story that eventually helped us solve a later one. We loved this.

A view into the Museum of Intrigue's ship, it's filled with nautical artifacts.

– Because of the depth of exploration required for these stories, we often found ourselves looking behind or inside of set pieces where we’d find unpainted wood and exposed wires. The lack of finish broke immersion (and also made it easier for disrespectful players to break components). The nature of these games demanded that every inch be designed or entirely obscured.

– Some of the interactions lacked robustness in their build. Given the throughput model, robust builds were crucial. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it seemed like every hour or two I noticed a staff member hot-fixing something.

Machinery in the lab exhibit at the Museum of Intrigue.

+ There was something for just about everyone: scavenger hunt-style games, pure puzzling, code breaking, competitive play, and others. We had a ton of fun with many different types of stories.

– Some of the stories that we tried (Enigma and Witch Hunt, for example) felt incomplete. In these instances, we felt there was an issue with game flow or a missing game mechanic.

The Museum of Intrigue intern character looking overwhelmed next to a table of props.

– Museum of Intrigue lacked some details that would enhance the player experience and add polish including:

  • an overarching story or meta mystery for the entire facility.
  • a means of keeping track of what stories an individual or team has completed. (We suggest a passport or a stamp card like at Boda Borg.)
  • a better system for hiding some of the props that the actors bring into individual games. (Most were lying out on a table near the front desk.)
  • an elegant way to signal when a game was closed or otherwise out of service. (This was indicated with a piece of red masking tape. “Exhibit closed” or “coming soon” signs would have made the operation look more clean and professional.)

A view into the Museum of Intrigue's attic, a storage space filled with assorted items.

The Heist story was pure genius. The open-ended adventure of artifact-stealing was amazing. This story took advantage of things that escape rooms cannot by making the open set, the other patrons, and the staff into randomized obstacles that could chaotically help or hinder.

+ The Museum of Intrigue was a joyous adventure. I want to go back! I cannot wait to play the rest of the stories and I’m looking forward to their continued iterations on this concept.

Tips for Visiting

  • Serious escape room players should consider a day pass. You will want to play more than one game.
  • If you are paying per story, take your time and enjoy the entire game. There’s no reason to rush.
  • Parking: Destiny Mall has ample parking, Museum of Intrigue is located on the third floor next to the AMC Movie Theater
  • Food: Destiny Mall is loaded with food options. Take your pick. Or head into downtown Syracuse and visit Funk N’ Waffles.
  • Accessibility: Destiny Mall is equipped with elevators. Feel free to discuss other accessibility questions with the staff at the Museum of Intrigue. They will likely be able to accommodate most accessibility requirements.

Book your session with Museum of Intrigue, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Museum of Intrigue comped our tickets for this experience.

Hatch Escapes – Lab Rat [Review]

Human race.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Lab Rat created a world for us to explore. They built a fiction, presented a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and thrust us into it with scaled-up set design and fully justified gameplay.

Hatch Escapes produced an intense, joyous, and funny escape room that managed to be outlandish and grounded at the same time. It was quite a feat.

While we didn’t love the middle of the game as much as the opening and closing, this was the kind of game that shifted how we think about escape room storytelling.

Lab Rat is a must-play. It’s worth traveling far to test your human intelligence in this lab.

In-game: A sign that reads, "Keeps test humans alive. For a while."

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fun scenario
  • Scaled set design
  • A sense of exploration
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

In Lab Rat, we were the “lab humans” in a facility where giant rats tested human intelligence, or lack thereof. If we could complete the a series of tests and puzzles, the presiding rat scientist would be able to write his dissertation. If we couldn’t prove our intelligence and deliver him a passing grade, we’d end up in the chipper.

In-game: a massive hamster water dispenser, lit purple.

Setting

We were locked in a cage for lab humans with food, water, and our exercise wheel. Outside the cage we had access to a maze, created by the rats out of cardboard boxes and the like. The scale of the set punctuated our role reversal into the test subjects. We were tiny; cereal boxes, pencils, and toys were huge.

In-game: a food bowl with letters and symbols printed on it in a large cage. Beside it is a gigantic box of "Fruity Kibble."

Gameplay

Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, making connections, and communicating.

In-game: a large hamster wheel in a cage.

Analysis

+ Hatch Escapes built a phenomenal set for Lab Rat. The scale brought the escape room scenario to life. The maze made the set feel expansive and delivered a sense of exploration. The representations of the supposed construction materials were funny and supported the backstory. From the initial moments of Lab Rat the set upped our energy level.

+ Hatch Escapes provided backstory through entertaining video cutscenes. Since our time paused during these interludes, we could enjoy the videos without feeling a competing urge to solve the puzzles in those moments. Hatch Escapes incorporated video into the set with a thoughtful layout so that it never felt out of place.

+ We enjoyed one puzzle sequence that wasn’t as it had originally appeared and jabbed at human intelligence. It was amusing.

In-game: A box cover for "Grand Theft Otter"

+ Hatch Escapes used light, sound, and motion to bring the team together for a triggered event. This wasn’t even a puzzle, but it was a moment of joy, wonder, and anticipation that everyone enjoyed together.

– At one point, Lab Rat transitioned to a segment that didn’t live up to the rest of the experience. The gamespace felt a little out of place. The clue structure felt choppy; we could sense ghost puzzles haunting the space. While we appreciated the contrast between this space and the rest of the experience, we left unsure how to connect this segment to the larger whole.

+/- Lab Rat included a humorous late-game segment in an entirely unexpected gamespace, providing an unorthodox and surprisingly entertaining challenge. The gamespace operated a seamless transition to stage this segment. As players, however, we approached this unusual gameplay cautiously and could have benefited from more in-game cluing to get us rolling. Finicky tech also contributed to our hangups moving through this sequence.

+ Hatch Escapes incorporated a concept we’ve been waiting to see for… I don’t even know how long. It worked beautifully in the lab human scenario.

– One pivotal prop felt underused. It had intrigued us from the initial moments of the escape room, but when it came full circle in the culminating sequence, it didn’t deliver on the intrigue. It was one of the weaker puzzles in the Lab Rat in a moment that begged for something stronger.

+ Hatch Escapes presented Lab Rat as a theater piece. From the cutscene videos to the final credits, it was delivered as a narrative-driven, interactive piece of art. Authorship and credit is so often missing from escape rooms. We appreciated this delivery of escape room through the lens of another storytelling medium.

+ Hatch Escapes did a great job with story structure. Our tale had a beginning, middle, and end, complete with character development. Few have pulled this off and Hatch Escapes did it with style.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • At least one person needs to be comfortable climbing a ladder.

Book your hour with Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Hatch Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

iDventure – Unfinished Case of Holmes [Review]

Holmes could have solved this one.

Location: at home

Date Played: January, 2018

Team size: up to 5 people; we recommend 2

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: $20

REA Reaction

Unfinished Case of Holmes was a paper-based play-at-home puzzle game with a companion app that facilitated story, hint, and player progression.

While the app wasn’t fully translated into English and the hint system left something to be desired, this affordable game offered a variety of puzzles and some fun twists on more common puzzle types.

Unfinished Case of Holmes wasn’t a must-play, but if you’re into puzzle games, it would absolutely be worth a play through . Give this one a shot on a rainy day.

The Unfinished Case of HOLMES's components fanned out.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s affordable
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

Sherlock Holmes had left this case unsolved. We stepped in to investigate a mysterious death.

In-game: A colorful Aboriginal mask over a text about the myth of the Rainbow Serpent.

Setup

Unfinished Case of Holmes included a collection of paper-based puzzles and an app interface.

In-game: An assortment of unusual items paper.

Gameplay

Unfinished Case of Holmes solved linearly, guided by an app.

For each puzzle, the app delivered narrative context and informed us which puzzle components to rely on. We could also take hints through the app. The puzzles came together through the printed components we’d received in the mail.

In-game: A folder with a piece of paper with a matrix of clock faces, and an envelope labeled, "Level 3."

Analysis

+ iDventure printed on quality paper stock.

+ Each individual component was deliberately designed.

+ There was a good variety of interesting and challenging puzzles. Although primarily paper based, iDventure created interactive pieces. Unfinished Case of Holmes didn’t feel like homework worksheets.

+ The puzzles offered more depth than we’ve come to expect from paper-based play-at-home games. We appreciated the layered challenges that we could sink our teeth into, but still solve, as a series, in one play through.

– Although the puzzles were complex, if we got far enough, the solutions were brute-forceable. We could narrow down possible solutions and guess a few times until we found the right answer. (The app punished hints, but not incorrect guesses.)

– The punitive hint system wasn’t adaptive enough. At one point, we needed to take three hints before we received any helpful information. (The first two only gave us information we’d already deduced.) The app deducted time for each of these three hints, which felt unnecessarily punitive, especially since we’d figured so much out on our own.

– Some of the app’s interface had not been translated into English (which isn’t an issue if you read German).

Unfinished Case of Holmes was an affordable, worthy opponent.

Tips for Playing

  • For the Amazon version, iDventure sells two modes for Unfinished Case of Holmes: Expert and Standard. According to their website, “expert mode is with less tips and suitable for people with more experience with Escape Room games.”
  • iDventure also offers a downloadable version that requires more set up time.
  • We played the Amazon version in Expert mode.
  • For any version, you will need to download the app (available for IOS and Android) and have an internet connection.

Purchase iDventure’s Unfinished Case of Holmes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(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.)

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story

💵💵💵💵💵💵🚽

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 4-11; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: from $40 per ticket for teams of 4 to $30 per ticket for teams of 11

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Stash House told an exciting, humorous, and memorable crime story through experiential design and puzzles. From the moment we arrived, we entered a fully realized world that almost entirely nailed the details.

When we started tackling the gameplay, we found a traditional escape room presented on a grand scale and filled with layers of puzzling that fit with the narrative and were justified through internal logic.

If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles and are fine with the adult themes of drug use and drug distribution and some light sexual themes, Stash House is a must play.

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who think that Stringer Bell is one of TV’s greatest characters

Why play?

  • Immersive storytelling and cohesive world from start to finish
  • Strong puzzles
  • Fantastic small-group puzzling moments
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our meeting with local entrepreneur Ray Jones had taken a turn for the shady when Jones revealed to us that he was conscripting us into his organization. He had turned a seemingly normal Los Angeles apartment into a test to prove our smarts and knowledge of his products. With each challenge we would earn a baggie of coke. If we could finish his test and flush all of the drugs down the toilet before the police arrived, we’d have a place in his operation. If we failed, we were the police’s problem.

In-game: a large Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics poster hanging on the wall.
Accurate.

Setting

Stash House was built as a nice, functional, and large apartment. It looked and felt like a place where a human with an identifiable personality lived. It was larger than our actual apartment. If they installed a shower, I’d live there.

There were secrets, of course, but spoiling them would do a disservice to the player experience.

In-game: the lobby/ lounge of Stash House.

Gameplay

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with an amusing character via text message.

In-game: a dining table in an apartment.

Analysis

+ The introduction to the escape room was so smart. It was entertaining and justified the game, established stakes, and made it clear why we needed to succeed.

+ Stash House established clear goals and provided a means of tracking progress that never felt like a scoreboard or some other artificial game construct.

+ Stash House felt like a fully realized world. It maintained its internal logic throughout the entire experience. As a result, we bought into some story elements that weren’t grounded in reality, but absolutely worked within this fiction.

+ The puzzles were great. Many were layered and structured such that we built mastery over the course of completion.

+ Even Stash House’s process puzzles were engaging. They used either satisfying mechanisms or humor to counterbalance the repetition.

– One puzzle dragged and didn’t lend itself to group solving. Another late game puzzle obscured critical information and slowed momentum at the wrong time.

+ The humor in Stash House served the narrative.

– Some of the humor required a lot of reading in dim light.

+ The hint system worked as a game-balancing tool. It could provide puzzle assistance, story, nuance, and humor all at once. It could be easily adjusted to any given team’s needs and it never felt overbearing.

? Some of Stash House’s finest moments happened in confined spaces for small groups. This meant that seeing one segment meant missing other great puzzles and interactions. I could see some players choosing to play Stash House again, at least in part.

– The “grill” in Stash House wasn’t even close to looking like a grill. I’m no expert on the subject… but my brother is.

+ We don’t often get excited to play in an apartment setting; it usually feels like a copout. That was not the case with Stash House. There was depth to this environment. It was large and interesting. It had secrets.

– One segment of the gamespace felt underdeveloped.

+ Stash House was a 90-minute escape room that filled the entire 90 minutes with intrigue. It never dragged.

+ The conclusion was brilliant.

In-game: a glowing set of lights that read "STASHHOUSE"

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • You need to be able to climb stairs to fully enjoy this game.
  • For decadent desserts, we recommend Milk Tavern.

Book your hour with Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story comped our tickets for this game.

Palace Games – The Edison Escape Room [Review]

💡34,000

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 20, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Palace Games succeeded in blurring the lines between real life and video game.

The Edison Escape Room was a brilliant display of technology in escape room design. The detailed set was phenomenal. The gameplay ranged from well-executed standard puzzles to wholly unorthodox challenges in the physical environment, all of which leaned into teamwork. Palace Games stitched these elements together with technology that brightened each element individually and energized the interconnected experience. The Edison Escape Room was as impressive as it was fun.

This escape room was a commitment. At 100 minutes there might have even have been too many challenges. A few too many of these felt like the final puzzle leading to an unnecessary anti-climax. Palace Games packed a lot of different twists into The Edison Room. 

Palace Games’ latest creation is a wonder of the escape room world.

It is worth traveling a distance to visit The Edison Escape Room.

In-game: an incandescent lightbulb labeled

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technology fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Radiant set design
  • Dramatic reveals
  • Unusual teamwork mechanics
  • The room reacts to the players
  • Incredible feat of technology in escape room design

Story

Thomas Edison had maintained a secret study in the Palace of Fine Arts during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. When the Palace Games team unearthed a telegram confirming the existence of this study, they did indeed uncover the space.

This study hid a secret: Since Edison had deemed his children unsuitable heirs to his businesses, he had crafted a series of challenges into his study in an attempt to find an acceptable heir. If we could solve all his challenges, we could earn the right to lead Edison’s businesses.

In-game: Promotional image of Edison's 1915 World's Fair Tower of Jewels, rainbow iridescent tower.

Setting

Edison maintained a small wall-papered study with a wooden desk, phonograph, and some wall hangings. A display of lightbulbs featured prominently on one wall. It was cozy and welcoming.

This classic study was a facade. The more exciting and dramatic elements of his challenges were yet to come, if we were bright enough to enter his lab.

In-game: an old phonograph on Edison's desk.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room began as a standard escape room and evolved to deliver highly interactive atypical sequences.

The Edison Escape Room offered a high level of difficulty. This difficultly, however, was adaptive. If a team wasn’t up to the level of challenge, the room would adjust to the give the players a better experience.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and working together.

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

Analysis

+ The Edison Escape Room delivered phenomenal reveals. It was exciting, dramatic, and invigorating.

+ The set was delightful. There was always more to take in. A close look illuminated disguised jokes and puns. I spent a few minutes puzzling through these humorous tidbits that were entirely irrelevant to the larger puzzle game. I enjoyed every second of this time.

+ The puzzle design encouraged both parallel puzzling and group solves. The branching came back together repeatedly in interactive and entertaining group challenges.

In-game: A period appropriate Periodic Table of the Elements.

+ We enjoyed so many of the puzzles in The Edison Escape Room. These included more typical escape room style puzzles as well as more atypical, interactive group maneuvering.

– One of the late-game puzzles felt under-clued. Witnessing it play-out, we liked the concept, but it seemed as if the game was dragging us through it rather lighting a path of clues that we could follow.

+/- The Edison Escape Room provided audible feedback to confirm that we’d correctly solved a puzzle. Some of the choices of confirmation tone seemed oddly out of place and immersion-breaking in an experienced grounded in 1915… even when they were amusing.

In-game: a grid of incandescent light bulbs all labeled with different words.

+ Palace Games intertwined gamespace and puzzle seamlessly; for much of the escape room these were interconnected on a level far beyond what we’ve come to expect from escape room design.

+ The gamespace responded to our actions. Furthermore, it adapted to the team’s ability. It was impressive.

+ The Edison Escape Room encouraged us to build mastery of the gamespace and the props within. We welcomed Palace Games’ unambiguous approach to prop reuse. It furthered our engagement with the gamespace. The props were enticing and we were eager to see them recalled and reimagined as the game progressed.

-The Edison Escape Room didn’t need to be 100 minutes long. Some of the late-game content became overly repetitive. On multiple different occasions, we thought we’d solved the final puzzle… and then Edison tossed us another challenge. Considering how much time we spend in escape rooms, it’s strange to say that this was too much escape room, but by the end, that’s how we felt. The energy of the space dimmed.

– The final puzzle – the actual final puzzle – wasn’t as climactic as some of the culminating puzzles that came before it. This contributed to the petering out.

In-game: An old 6 lever Winchester lock.

+ The technology driving The Edison Escape Room was impressive. We were in awe that it worked. While we don’t believe escape rooms need technology to be great, Palace Games incorporated this technology brilliantly to bring the elements of escape room design together.

+ The Edison Escape Room provided a continual sense of new discovery. In a gamespace as elaborate and interesting as this, discovery was invigorating. This was a ton of fun. I still can’t believe that this thing exists.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive to the back of The Palace of Fine Arts. There is parking.
  • For food we recommend Super Duper Burgers.
  • Accessibility: If you have mobility concerns, speak with Palace Games about adaptations to accommodate for these. The Edison Escape Room is highly adaptable.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro – Murfree’s Manor [Review]

Grandma’s got a cool clock.

Location: Murfreesboro, TN

Date Played: July 26, 2018

Team size: 4-#; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro stepped it up in their latest creation, Murfree’s Manor. This puzzle-centric company leaned into their strengths and produced a wonderful collection of themed mental challenges in an environment that truly captured the vibe of a Midwestern grandmother’s home. They snuck in a few surprises that added drama to an otherwise low-key theme.

If you’re anywhere nearby and love a strong puzzle game, give Murfree’s Manor a shot.

In-game: A view through a dark wood passthrough with pink walls into an old living room.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A strikingly believable set
  • Strong puzzle-centric design
  • The clock

Story

In-game: The front door of a home and a flier for an estate sale.

Setting

Murfree’s Manor looked convincingly like a midwestern grandma’s home. The furniture, woodwork, and color palette were decades out of date. It all came together in one homey and buyable package.

Murfree’s Manor nailed the aesthetic that it needed to pull off this theme and hid quite a bit of detail that honestly surprised us.

In-game: An old kitchen and dinette. The refrigerator has letter magnets arranged as "REA."

Gameplay

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro’s Murfree’s Manor was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: an old record player beside a strange and ornate wooden grandfather clock.

Analysis

Murfree’s Manor nailed the grandma aesthetic with the decor.

+ That grandfather clock. It continued to impress us throughout the escape game.

+ The gamespace felt much larger than it was. Considering the layout and the distinctly decorated rooms, Murfree’s Manor felt far more expansive than it should have given the square footage.

– There was a backstory, but the story didn’t have much bearing on the puzzles or gameplay. It also didn’t make a ton of sense as a premise for the experience.

+ Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro created some honestly challenging puzzles out of simple cupboard odds and ends.

– We encountered a number of combination locks with similar digit structures. We recommend additional cluing between locks and puzzles so that players don’t have to run all over the house trying combinations.

– We played Murfree’s Manor before it was officially open, but one reveal was already wearing poorly.

+ The layered final puzzle sequence was varied, tangible, and exciting. It was a fantastic conclusion.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking out front.
  • We enjoyed the muffins (and other delicacies) at Mimi’s Cafe.
  • To fully enjoy Murfree’s Manor, you need to be comfortable climbing stairs with an irregular rise. As long as a couple of teammates can climb the stairs, you’ll be able to play.

Book your hour with Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro’s Murfree’s Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro comped our tickets for this game.