Professor Puzzle – Escape from the Grand Hotel [Review]

A beautiful hotel with spotty service.

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 27, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $#

REA Reaction

Escape from the Grand Hotel was Professor Puzzle’s first foray into tabletop escape games… and they got a lot right.

The printed materials and package design were beautiful.

The ornate and gilded box art for Escape From The Grand Hotel.

The gameplay took some clear inspiration from the ThinkFun tabletop escape games, using location envelopes and paper components to tell a puzzle-driven narrative. Their approach to answer verification was clever.

Professor Puzzle stumbled with hinting and editing. Bluntly, this game felt under-playtested. There were too many little problems that were easily fixable. The hint system was innovative, but insufficient.

There are some interesting ideas and a lot of great execution in Escape from the Grand Hotel. If you really enjoy tabletop escape games, this one had a lot to offer. However, there were too many little flaws and gaps that get amplified by the limited hint system for me to comfortably recommend this to a tabletop escape game newbie.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful game materials
  • The structure and gameflow
  • The answer mechanic
  • The opportunity to make an evening of a tabletop puzzle game

Story

The storied Grand Hotel was once the place for the rich and famous to visit. After decades of disrepair, the mysterious and wealthy Blossom family had restored the hotel to its former glory. We were invited to its grand reopening.

An invitation to the reopening of the Grand Hotel.

Setup

Escape from the Grand Hotel had an interesting structure.

The opened box reveals stacks of invitations and a map of the hotel.

Each player received an invitation. This included character information and encouraged costuming. (We didn’t really use any of this because we didn’t realize it was an option until we already had our friends over and the box open.)

The ornate white doorway card for our room.

Once we began, we unfolded the beautifully printed card stock hotel settings. We could observe what was in each space. In many, we also found additional paper items (puzzle pieces).

Our room opened up, reveals an image of a luxurious white bathroom. There is a note and a portion of a photo.

If we solved a puzzle, it would resolve to a clue to the next location within the hotel for us to visit. Sometimes this meant that we derived a room number. Other times we uncovered a more cryptic clue like the color of one of the doors or some other descriptor.

9 different folded doorways. Each with a unique aesthetic.
The various doorways to open.

If we needed a hint, we could unfold one from the location. Interestingly, the hints were usually puzzles in and of themselves… puzzles without their own hints.

At the bottom of our room is a folded segment labeled "clue inside are you sure you choose to seek help?"

Gameplay

Professor Puzzle’s Escape from the Grand Hotel was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate to high level of difficulty. If you’re comfortable with tabletop escape room puzzles, this was moderately difficult. If you aren’t comfortable with the format, the limited hinting could make this game quite challenging.

Professor Puzzle also encouraged making the game into an event by providing characters roles.

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

The instructions for the game revealed upon moving a stack of invitations.
The instructions were buried under the invitations… which really was the wrong order.

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed the structure of Escape from the Grand Hotel. Each puzzle led us to another room in the hotel. It was fun to explore the hotel in this way.

➕ The first puzzle worked well for onboarding players. It wasn’t too challenging. Through it we understood how Escape from the Grand Hotel wanted us to play it.

➕ The solution mechanism was fantastic. The idea that the puzzle solutions alluded to the next area of the game was a smart twist on the tabletop escape game format. This approach allowed Professor Puzzle to strip out artificial answer checking mechanisms and keep things in-world.

➖ We encountered some taxonomy inconsistencies within the in game instructions. The way that it referred to things sometimes shifted. This got confusing.

➕ Professor Puzzle designed a beautiful product with high quality printed materials. From the box to the game components it looked and felt great. We especially enjoyed the illustrations of the rooms in the hotel. We really loved the box.

An envelope labeled "Puzzle Solutions for emergencies only"

➖ Although the artwork was beautiful, it included a visual variance that factored into the gameplay. Cluing needed to match the artwork, or vice versa.

➕ Escape from the Grand Hotel included a variety of puzzles of different types and difficulties.

➖ In some instances, the puzzles needed additional cluing.

➖ In one instance, ambiguous wording turned the final stages of a complex puzzle into trial and error. This got old quickly.

➕ Professor Puzzle provided duplicate copies of one of the more tedious puzzles so that more players could participate.

➖ The hint for each puzzle was concealed in a pocket in each “room” we entered. Although we liked this presentation of hints, Professor Puzzle included only one hint per puzzle, which was insufficient. The hint system needed far more granularity. In some instances, the hints themselves where puzzles and they didn’t have hints for themselves.

➕ The story was hokey, but it came together well enough in the end. It worked for the game and made us smile in the end.

➕ Professor Puzzle encourages players to make an evening of Escape from the Grand Hotel. They included invitations to mail to guests, who can come in character and in costume. This would be a fun way to make a play at-home puzzle game into a bigger event.

➖ While character roles were fun, they were not relevant to the gameplay.

➖ It wasn’t clear that those character invitations were even an option until we had started the game.

➖ Although the game can be played without destroying any of the components, it didn’t provide reset instructions. We were able to pack it up correctly referencing the solutions guide, but without instructions, we had to repack one puzzle in the solved state. 

Escape from the Grand Hotel required only the materials in the box. It did not require an app download or internet connection.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pen and paper
  • To make a larger event around this game, mail out the enclosed invitations and have your guests arrive in character and in costume. Note, that the character roles are entirely for fun and are not relevant to the gameplay.

Buy your copy of Professor Puzzle’s Escape from the Grand Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Professor Puzzle provided a sample for review. 

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Made You Think Escapes – Area 51 [Review]

.–. .-.. . .- … . / .-.. — — -.- / .- – / – …. . / .-.. .. –. …. –

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We did it, guys! We stormed Area 51!

In-game: 2 aliens presrved and mounted to the wall.

What we found within the most secretive of facilities was a baffling duality. Everything within Area 51 was extreme. Made You Think Escapes’ hits were bullseyes… and their misses landed in a different zip code.

Half of the set was incredible and half was drab (frequently olive).

Some of the puzzles and challenges were great, while others were confusing or, in one lengthy instance, aggressively frustrating. I cannot recall a puzzle that made me feel this frustrated with teammates that I love.

I’ll add that the game introduction and lobby were categorically fantastic.

Area 51 was a strange game to review. When I think back, the stuff that I liked I loved, and the things that I disliked I hated. It’s difficult for me to understand the disparity on display in this escape game.

There were some really interesting things going on in Area 51. If you’re in Colorado Springs and can take the bad with the good, then there would be something worth playing here. Just don’t hold that first puzzle or two against your teammates.

Who is this for?

  • Communicative players
  • Scenery snobs (the early game notwithstanding)
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The lobby
  • The late-game set design

Story

Due to increased extraterrestrial activity, the governments of the world had been forced to admit the existence of alien life. The US government had decided to open up Area 51 for tours to help us better understand the peaceful beings that had contacted us.

While we were visiting, a sudden attack had commenced on the facility because the aliens had learned that some of our scientists had been experimenting on their brethren.

Caught between both sides, we had to find shelter.

The entryway to Area 51 S-4. The walls are metal, and there is radio active material off to the side.

Setting

Made You Think Escapes’ Area 51 had a confounding set. The two halves felt like they were built by completely different companies.

The lobby and final room were gorgeous, detailed, and unique.

The first actual room looked like the most basic of escape rooms from a few years back. The range of build quality was striking.

In-game: A pair of camo jackets beside an american flag.

Gameplay

Made You Think Escapes’ Area 51 was a standard escape room with a split beginning and a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around communication, observation, searching, and puzzling.

In-game: Closeup of a communications panel with multiple lights and a big red button.

Analysis

➕ Made You Think Escapes had a large, open lobby from which players could enter any of their games. Each game had a different aesthetic, clearly demonstrated by its door. These doorways were enticing and exciting. We loved how this space was set up.

➕ The intro video for Area 51 was hilarious. It was thematically appropriate and had us engaged in understanding the rules.

➕ Area 51 escalated well. The early sets weren’t much to behold, but it opened up into something otherworldly.

➖ Area 51 had a brutally hard first challenge. There was practically no on-ramp. This was especially challenging considering the split-team beginning. The net effect was that right out of the gate, Area 51 felt like a frustrating slog. (It did recover later.)

➖ Made You Think Escapes gave us tools, and there were so many things we could have taken apart that weren’t supposed to be fiddled with. If you give me a Phillips-head screwdriver, the only Phillips in the experience should be intended for removal.

➖/➕ The set design was decidedly uneven. The beginning of the game was completely uninspired, but the late game looked incredible. It was difficult to fathom how such a significant disparity existed within the same escape game.

➖ There wasn’t a lot to do in Area 51. There were a few puzzley puzzles and one of these had unnecessarily confusing wording, which diminished the fun of an otherwise good puzzle.

➕ We enjoyed one cleverly clued search.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Made You Think Escapes’ Area 51, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Made You Think Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Trophy Room [Review]

“What a lovely room of death.”

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 27, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

13th Hour Escape Rooms has become northern New Jersey’s most consistently high quality escape room company. We’ve played and enjoyed 7 games from this company and awarded them with 2 Golden Lock-In Awards (2017 & 2018).

It’s going to come as no surprise that The Trophy Room was a fun game. This was 13th Hour’s 6th escape room set in the Hayden Family’s farm of torture, murder, and cannibalism. The facility itself was fully themed against this backdrop.

As usual, this was a challenging, puzzley game in a grimly beautiful environment.

In-game: A skeleton mounted from the ceiling, a light above its head.

We played during October, so we had the Hayden Family haunt actors doing their Tim Burton-esque, whimsically creepy antics to distract, entertain, and hint us.

The Trophy Room lacked a truly arresting moment like some of their other games have had. It’s an all-around great game. We just wanted to see something that really blew our minds.

If you’re in New Jersey, 13th Hour Escape Rooms is a must-visit company. We’d easily put The Trophy Room in the top 3 games that they have on the premises. So long as you can handle a bit of creepiness, I highly recommend taking a gander at The Trophy Room.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • Amusing interactions
  • A great creepy set

Story

John Hayden has a special room on his farm where he keeps trophies of his victims. The old murder farmer continues his search for the ultimate trophy. Would he find that individual in our group?

In-game: A plant that includes the shrunken head of a clown.

Setting

All of 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games were part of a unified setting. The Trophy Room extended the aesthetic of the Hayden farm into new areas of the “house.”

The Trophy Room was visually striking from the opening moments, as we took in the space, surrounded by tastefully mounted human skeletons. It looked great; 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ craftsmanship always does.

In-game: Two skeletons mounted to beams on the wall.

13th Hour Escape Rooms struck a creepy and intense vibe without turning full horror. Additionally, while their games all look dirty and gritty, they are kept quite clean. (This isn’t always the case in escape rooms.)

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The gritty, furniture of The Trophy Room.

Analysis

➕ The scenery looked outstanding. 13th Hour Escape Rooms built a large, rugged, weathered set. It established the mood of the experience and was fun to explore.

➕ Although we started among John Hayden’s trophies, as we played The Trophy Room we explored other areas of the Hayden farm. These unexpected sets added charm to the Hayden mystique. We enjoyed the variety within the experience.

❓ 13th Hour generally builds more around escape room logic than narrative. That is part of their charm. They’ve successfully merged thematic with escape room norms, crafting their own style in both aesthetics and gameplay. They make it work. If you’re looking for serious storytelling, however, that’s not present in their games.

➖ Although The Trophy Room had a reveal – and this was enhanced by the actors who roamed the games in October – it wasn’t on the same scale that we’ve seen from this company in the past.

➕ 13th Hour reskinned a traditional escape room puzzle for the theme of The Trophy Room. It worked well.

➖ 13th Hour Escape Rooms steered clear of a laundry list of tropes, but one that they did use should be hung up and retired.

➕/➖ The Trophy Room had many strong tech-driven reveals, but a few of them made odd use of keypads. It was difficult to map individual puzzles to their inputs.

The Trophy Room was a more intimate game than those we’ve seen most recently from 13th Hour Escape Rooms. That isn’t to say it was small, but rather that the gameplay was more accessible for a smaller group size. That said, it lacked the grandeur that impressed us in The Grand Parlor and The Great Room.

➕ Many of the puzzles in the The Trophy Room worked best with teamwork. They made use of the space and the details within it.

➕ The ending might be the final nail in the coffin for some scaredy cats. (Although 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ games aren’t scary, they are creepy enough to put some folks on edge.) We loved this conclusion. In our October playthrough, the ending was personal and playful.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • If you visit during a weekend in October, the actors roam the Hayden Family Farm, the set for all the 13th Hour Escape Rooms. They are more creepy and playful then scary. They are a fun addition to the games, if that’s your thing.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Trophy Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Escaped in Time – Sweet Dreams [Review]

The world’s turned upside down

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sweet Dreams was an adorable game with a great twist: everything was inverted.

In-game: A girl's dresser and oversized teddy bear all upside down.

Escaped in Time produced a straight forward, traditional escape room with smooth gameplay and a pair of memorable moments.

I would have loved to see a little more depth to the narrative and the interactions to truly round out this experience.

Overall, Sweet Dreams was a solid escape game in Colorado Springs. If you’re in the area and want something lighthearted and fun, check out Escaped in Time.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The room was upside down!
  • Adorable and whimsical

Story

KC, a typical 5 year old girl with a love of kittens, ponies, and unicorns, had an active imagination. Sometimes it got the better of her.

Our job was to lovingly help her through her dreams and prevent the bad thoughts from disrupting her sleep.

In-game: An upside down girl's bedroom with a bed, toys, and a dollhouse.

Setting

These photos weren’t flipped; Sweet Dreams was built entirely upside down. The room looked like it belonged to a little girl. The toys, clothes, and decorations all looked the part.

As the game progressed, the additional effects reinforced the dream like nature of the experience.

If it had been right-side up, it wouldn’t have looked even remotely special. The inversion, however, made Sweet Dreams delightful.

In-game: An upside down shelf with a pair of unicorns and a flower.

Gameplay

Escaped in Time’s Sweet Dreams was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The set was adorable. Escaped in Time created a little girl’s bedroom and perfectly inverted it. It was familiar, but also entirely discoverable.

➕ Escaped in Time committed to their flip. We’ve seen upside down rooms before. While they usually fall victim to inconsistency, Sweet Dreams was entirely upended.

➕ We found unexpected enjoyment in typical escape room tasks such as searching and placing objects “on” other objects. These felt fresh again.

➖ A few of the puzzles felt like key for key puzzles, although perhaps lock for lock would be a more accurate term. These moments felt hollow. There was opportunity to do something more interesting.

➖ Although we thought one puzzle caught the story beautifully, it bottlenecked. Due to a conflation of puzzle type, room layout, tools, and gameflow, too many people ended up waiting around.

➕ Despite foreshadowing some of its best moments, we were still surprised when these dropped. Sweet Dreams had a stellar reveal.

➖ The last interaction seemed tacked on to an escape room that would have been complete without it. This interaction didn’t make sense in the context of anything that came before it. Our story had already ended.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escaped in Time’s Sweet Dreams, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaped in Time comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Puzzah! – The Curse [Review]

Puzzah Express

Location:  Broomfield, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-Family

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Curse felt like a miniature 5 Wits.

This Puzzah! location was in a mall, right by the food court. The Curse was a compact, tech-driven, family-friendly puzzle game. It was bright, colorful, and approachable.

In-game: wide angle view of the Mayan tomb, a pyramid in the middle of hte room, an large wall mounted puzzle beyond it.

The Curse looked good. It played well. It was not deep. This was a game made for a general audience; for that audience, it was great.

If you’re a diehard escape room player, play The Curse to experience something a bit different. This game had solid automation and adaptive difficulty, which was lovely to see, even if the game was not designed for me and my team.

Bring the kids and convince grandma to come too. This one is for the whole family.

Who is this for?

  • Newbies
  • Children
  • Families
  • Technophiles

Why play?

  • A vibrant family-friendly environment
  • Interesting automation and technology
  • Puzzle play that will engage a family

Story

We descended into an ancient Central American temple on contract with industrialist Victor Maragana. Our mission was to reason our way past the temple’s traps and obtain a long-lost coin.

In-game: A sun etched in the wall of the ruins.

Setting

The Curse was a compact, bright, colorful, and tech-driven Central American temple for families.

Calling it kiddie evokes a cheesiness and cheapness that wasn’t accurate. This was a solidly-constructed space that seemed designed to feel like an adventure without sending anyone home with a nightmare.

The adaptive technology was a smart touch to keep things fair and flowing for players of all ages and skills.

In-game: A large cube resting atop a pyramid in inside of bright ruins.

Gameplay

Puzzah!’s The Curse was a family-friendly escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a radio and a blacklight.

Analysis

➕ The Curse was designed for families, new players, and casual players stopping by while strolling through the mall. This 30-minute escape room was the right level of not-too-challenging for its intended audience.

➕ Aesthetically, The Curse was “ancient Aztec meets grade-school classroom.” It was thematically a Central American tomb, but it had bright colors for kids to follow to solve the puzzles. It was a bit strange, but it worked well in this context. It felt deliberately designed and looked polished.

➕ The Curse had a gentle on-ramp. It taught players how to interact with the space.

➕ The puzzles were solid. They were fun, team-based challenges. Puzzah! would present additional complexity as teams built mastery.  

➕ /➖ Puzzah! built a lot of puzzles into a small space. On the one hand, we appreciated the different ways they used the same props and input mechanisms. On the other hand, by the end of the game, the use of the same items was feeling redundant and we wanted more to interact with… or even just interplay between different props.

The Curse encouraged teamwork and sharing by design. When puzzles could only be solved by one person at a time, it even told the group that the next person should step up and take their turn at this trial. I can see this working wonders on sibling nonsense.

➖ The Curse lacked a boss fight. We wanted that final puzzle to be a more challenging, epic battle that necessitated teamwork. Also, we couldn’t actually hold the coin. When we won, we left the room empty handed. This seemed like a missed opportunity.

Tips For Visiting

  • Puzzah! Broomfield is located in the FlatIron Crossing Mall. Puzzah! Broomfield is at the South Entrance just beside Old Navy, right next to the food court.

Book your hour with Puzzah!’s The Curse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Puzzah! comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms – Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery [Review]

Puzzle me this.

Location:  Fort Collins, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery was a sprawling frenzy of puzzles and adventure.

The massive gamespace had been designed by a scenic painter who took the opportunity to give each of the many chambers a unique look and feel.

In-game: A long hallway with a door painted like a jigsaw puzzle at the end of it.

In a lot of ways, this was a traditional lock-and-key escape room. It was, however, exceptionally big, and made smart use of the large space. Additionally, instead of complex puzzles, we encountered wave after wave of quicker solves.

Our knocks against Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery were mostly centered on low lighting and an ending that didn’t adequately pull together this delightful experience.

Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms imbued their first escape game with an undeniable energy that we couldn’t get enough of. We absolutely recommend Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery if you’re near Fort Collins.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • High-energy, puzzle-driven gameplay
  • Great scenic painting
  • A massive, sprawling set

Story

Over the generations, puzzle shrines dedicated to an ancient, mischievous trickster spirit known by many different names to different cultures had been found all over the world.

One such shrine to “The Puzzler” had been uncovered beneath a building in Fort Collins, Colorado.

In-game: closeup of a door pained with an eye and two ravens.

Setting

Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery was physically massive with tons of different chambers to explore.

From a construction and technology standpoint, this experience was fairly typical. The folks behind Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms, however, have a background in scenic paining, which they put to wonderful use. Each of the many chambers had a decidedly different look and feel.

In-game: closeup of a gray door pained like a jigsaw puzzle and chained shut.

Gameplay

Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms’ Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: closeup of a doorway chained with a padlock.

Analysis

➕ Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery was a sprawling gamespace. It was exciting to continually open up more of the environment. Behind every door, there was more adventure.

➕ Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery had a solid on-ramp. It taught us how to interact with the space before it set us loose in it.

➕ The set looked good. It was varied. Each space felt different, by design. We also enjoyed the soundtrack, especially the frenzied music.

➖ The setting was overly dim. We needed portable light sources for much of the solving. We often didn’t have enough of them, so the game became a dance of passing the lights to each other and through the different gamespaces. Some spotlit workspaces would have been a huge help.

➕ Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms built a puzzley game. There was a lot to solve, but the puzzles were largely quick hits. As soon as we had the “aha” moment, we’d be moving forward again. This made for a high-energy experience.

➖ It’s possible for this game to bind up on itself and bottleneck. We experienced some of this when one dexterity puzzle in a small space was taking us a bit too long and there wasn’t anything else for the rest of the team to do.

➖ The final puzzle was a letdown. Although the staging was great, the puzzle didn’t make any sense. Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery would have benefited from a final boss battle that pulled the experience together.

➕ There was a prize hidden in Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery!

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms’ Puzzlers’ Secret Chamber of Mystery, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Legendary Adventures Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The VOID – Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire [Review]

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 9, 2019

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: from $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was a technological step up for THE VOID from the Ghostbusters game that we experienced a few years back. The tech felt better and there was more and stronger physical feedback. Plus, it was Star Wars… and Star Wars is the cultural equivalent of comfort food.

The cover art for Star Wars Secrets of the Empire. A team of stormtroopers on a skiff above a molten planet.

The big catch with THE VOID was the price point. At $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay it was a big ask.

I loved a lot of what was going on in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire; I highly recommend it to Star Wars fans. It drops you in that familiar world and just feels right. At the same time, I left really wishing that I was playing as a Jedi, not a Rebel in stormtrooper armor.

THE VOID did a lot of really smart things when they designed this game and it worked damn well. If you think that you want to play it, and you can afford to do so, I absolutely recommend it.

Who is this for?

  • Star Wars fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You love Star Wars
  • It’s an engaging high quality VR shooter
  • Fantastic immersive detailing

Story

Spies for the Rebellion had reported that an item vital to the war effort had been uncovered by the Empire on the molten planet Mustafar. Our mission was to recover the item from the Imperial installation in a stolen ship, disguised as stormtroopers.

THE VOID in the middle of the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The architecture is massive and imposing. It looks like you're inside of a whale.
Image via THE VOID

Setting

Upon arrival at our start time, we were ushered into a briefing room, given the story, and then brought into a gear room where we suited up. The kit included a:

  • VR headset with a visor and earphones
  • haptic vest that vibrated when our avatar was shot, shaken, or otherwise impacted by something in the game world
  • a blaster
A group putting on their VOID gear.
Image via THE VOID

Once we put on all of the gear and tightened all of the straps, we were brought into the game.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was beautifully rendered and felt familiar in all of the right ways. We were free to walk about the world without cables or cords restricting us. If a wall was in the game, it was there in real life. If a chair was in the game, it was present in real life.

The world was further accented by scents, blowing fans, and other real-life stimuli that pulled the game purely out of the digital realm.

Gameplay

The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was an approachable VR shooter experience.

Core gameplay revolved around taking in the world, shooting bad guys, and one puzzle.

A group suiting up, wearing the full VOID gear set.
Image via THE VOID

Analysis

➕ The gear was comfortable, balanced, and easy to put on and take off. Additionally, this was the first time that I was able to put on a VR headset and not once think about how to position my glasses. It just worked. I actually forgot about this entirely and only remembered when I was taking a look at my old review of THE VOID’s Ghostbusters experience where my glasses were a problem.

➕ It was Star Wars. I knew what I was getting into. There was a look, a feel, and a sound to the world and storytelling that just pushed the right nostalgic buttons. If you are or ever were into Star Wars, then there will be something here for you.

➕ The addition of physical sensations was wonderful. It added a tactile depth that is often missing from VR experiences.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There was a light puzzle. It was a thing. My teammates Dani and Bill from Escape this Podcast (we loved being on their show!) solved it, but we all agreed that I had more fun shooting stormtroopers while they solved it.

➖ There was a minute or so early in the experience where the world just seemed to freeze. My teammates and I could move, see one another, and speak, but the cut scene we were watching felt paused. I don’t know what happened, but I doubt that it was supposed to go down that way. The saving grace was that it wasn’t during a combat sequence or at a climactic moment.

➖ Maybe it’s just me, but my Star Wars fantasies never involved dressing as a stormtrooper. I know that it solves a lot of avatar problems. I’m also aware that it’s supported canonically by the Death Star scenes in A New Hope. And having players clutch a rifle with two hands is a lot safer than having them flailing about with a lightsaber. I see the pragmatism, thought, and cleverness in all of this.

None of that changes the fact that my inner 9-year-old wants to be a damn Jedi when he’s inside of a Star Wars game… especially at $2.66 per minute.

❓ $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay was expensive. I’m glad that I played, but I can also empathize with anyone who rejects it on price alone; Lisa sat this one out for that very reason.

➕ You can’t really ask for an easier, more picturesque location than the center of the World Trade Center Oculus. It was lovely getting off the train and being at the venue. We tend to find Immersive experiences hidden in strange, difficult to find locations. This was a lovely change of pace.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s NYC; take mass transit. THE VOID is sitting dead center in the middle of one of the city’s largest transit hubs.
  • Food: There are food options in the mall, but I recommend taking a short walk to The Wooly Public.
  • Accessibility: Check the “Accessibility” category in THE VOID’s FAQ.
  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim, Glendale, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Plano, New York (all US), Edmonton, Mississauga, Toronto (all Canada), and Genting (Malaysia).

Book your session with The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escapes – Lunar Escape [Review]

Hit way above its weight class.

Location:  Aurora, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $76 per team for teams of 2 to $184 per team for teams of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Lunar Escape was a fun game that could be transformed into something spectacular with a bit more investment. The puzzles and gameplay were buckets of fun. The set and set pieces’ construction left a lot to be desired.

In-game: Closeup of a maze.

Mission Escape (no relation to Mission Escape Games) has a talent for puzzle and game design. If they level up their presentation, they could build some truly special experiences.

So long as your enjoyment of an escape room isn’t tied directly to set design, we strongly recommend Lunar Escape if you’re in the area; it plays far better than most escape games.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Great early game reveals
  • Some clever, weird, layered puzzles
  • There wasn’t much searching at all
  • A phenomenal final act

Story

A curse had been cast on the earth so that it only received light from the moon. We had to break the curse by completing the Magic Circle.

In-game: a gray-scale clock depicting the Earth

Setting

Lunar Escape had a smart, dramatic dark opening. As the set began to reveal itself, it quickly became clear that most of the set construction was aggressively subpar.

There were bright spots, but overall, looking closely at most items didn’t improve the experience… and there were some set pieces that you didn’t have to look at closely to get a sense that construction wasn’t Mission Escapes’ strong suit.

In-game: Two locked compartments built into a bench surrounded by old shag carpet.

Lunar Escape was fun in spite of its build… and honestly… that was impressive in its own right.

Gameplay

Mission Escapes‘ Lunar Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling.

In-game: closeup of a red on/ off switch.

Analysis

➕ Lunar Escape opened dramatically, in darkness. It used lighting as gating, which was elegant, unusual, and safe.

➕ There was essentially no searching. The escape game showed you where to focus.

➖ The build quality was sub-par. Although much of this was obscured by darkness, as we interacted with the set, we could tell that Mission Escapes had a long way to go in construction.

➕ We enjoyed one simple escape room trope executed about as smoothly as we’ve experienced it.

Lunar Escape stalled when we had inadequate tools and the challenge became the execution. In two instances, we knew how to solve the puzzle, but we struggled to succeed at it due to construction or prop quality.

➕ In Lunar Escape, we built mastery through solving, which enabled us to solve a more complex, layered puzzle late in the game. This felt fantastic.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Mission Escape is on the third floor, Suite 390.
  • Lunar Escape is also available is Mission Escapes’ Seattle location.

Book your hour with Mission Escapes‘ Lunar Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

BerlingsBeard & Wildrence – The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch [Review]

The eye of the beholder

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: up to 16

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: from $40 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign co-produced by Wildrence and BerlingsBeard. It was aimed at teaching new players the ropes. As someone who had played D&D only twice before, and most certainly didn’t yet grasp all the mechanics, I was the target audience.

A stuffed Beholder on a table.

We played the 9th chapter in an ongoing campaign… so we slayed a dragon.

Dungeon master Ken Breese was phenomenal. He made sure everything ran smoothly and all players, at all experience levels, had a good time. He was in control of the experience, but we felt like we had agency.

I had a wonderful time.

If I were to take up D&D – and I would, if I had more time – I would want a consistent group of players/ characters who could form relationships and tell a more coherent story. $40 makes sense for an introductory lesson or 3 with a skilled dungeon master, but if I were going to play a full campaign, $400 per player feels like a lot. And that’s the thing: I would want a full campaign.

The game map, characters, dice, buildings, and a white dragon strewn about the map.

The physical space of The Wildrence is fantastic in so many contexts, but it didn’t contribute enough to the experience to merit the price.

Ken was amazing. Our session was delightful. I am so happy that we went because I feel like I left a more confident D&D player. It was absolutely worth it one time. The question is: does that price point prevent a community from forming? My gut is that, for most, it does. And what I want out of my social gaming is connection.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • The D&D curious
  • D&D players without a party

Why play?

  • Smooth onboarding to the world of D&D
  • An outstanding professional Dungeon Master
  • To have your moment of glory

Story

We played the 9th chapter in a weekly D&D campaign hosted by BerlingsBeard and taking place at Wildrence. Players could buy tickets to a single session or multiple sessions. We played only a single session, but as the 9th chapter of a 10 chapter campaign, it was pretty badass journey.

We were adventurers on a quest to slay a dragon that was terrorizing a town.

The game map covered in dice with our chraacter models in the town.

Setting

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was co-produced by Wildrence and BerlingsBeard.

Our adventuring took place at Wildrence, the home of many New York City immersive productions. They’d staged The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch around a table in the kitchen area of the multi-purpose immersive stage.

Upon arrival, we each selected a pre-made character card. When we first sat down at the table, the dungeon master introduced the world and took us through our character cards, helping us round out the details of our desires and personalities.

The leather-covered table provided ambiance. Atop the table there were dice, maps, character figures, buildings, and a $^%*@#$%&*ing dragon. Our Dungeon Master triggered light and audio cues as we played.

The game map with our characters in buildings, and a dragon approaching.

Gameplay

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was a game of D&D. The dungeon master built a world for us to explore and play within. He was decidedly in control of the main story beats; it was up to us to decide how we reacted and what implications that had for the world and the other characters in it.

Core gameplay revolved around exploring, imagining, storytelling, and rolling dice.

Closeup of two drink tokens.

Analysis

➕ The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch made D&D accessible for new players. Starting out, D&D can feel intimidating. There’s an entire world of information to learn in order to play the game. This experience was set up to minimize confusion and get new players rolling quickly.

➕ We had an assortment of pre-made characters to choose from, presented on cards. The cards gave us enough information that we could start playing without becoming overwhelmed. We didn’t need to understand everything on the character cards right off the bat either. It would be explained as it became relevant to play. We could also embellish these characters and make them our own.

➕ Ken Breese was a skilled dungeon master. At the onset, he asked us each questions to get us thinking about the characters we’d chosen, who they were, and what motivated their decisions. He helped us get to know our characters and their roles in the world.

➕ Our dungeon master had a plan for this chapter, the 9th of a campaign, but he made it seem like our actions resulted in the effects. He emphasized fun over all else. For instance, he made sure that everyone had their epic moment, even fuzzing the rules a little to accomplish this. (David knew that he was being handed his epic moment, but this wasn’t evident to me, as someone with almost no D&D experience.)

❓ Our Dungeon Master came in with a solid plan. We had a quest to accomplish and he made sure we saw it through. I liked this. It spoke to my need to get things done. However, I can see others preferring a more freeform style of dungeon mastering with more world exploration rather than storytelling.

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch enhanced the experience with maps and figures, which was neat. The tangibles really helped me grasp what was happening.

➖ As a stage, The Wildrence didn’t add much. The game was set in the kitchen. Although the Dungeon Master controlled the Hue lights and sound cues, and staged the game with some leather on the table, that was about as much as the space offered. This experience would have been equally as engaging around just about any other table.

❓ Drink tokens were on sale: $15 for 2 drinks. The price was expensive by most standards… but not really by NYC standards.

➖/➕ The characters were uneven. One of the 4 people in our group had attended previous chapters of The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch. She’d developed a character who was overpowered, compared to our new characters. She had magical weapons! We appreciate that players can book into a single session or many sessions, playing as often as they’d like, and using the campaign as an opportunity to truly learn D&D, as she’d done over the weeks. That said, it made for some overtly imbalanced gameplay dynamics.

➕ Our Dungeon Master kept the experience energetic and engaging.

Tips For Visiting

  • A few of our favorite restaurants in the area include Russ & Daughters CafeVanessa’s Dumpling House, and Mission Chinese Food.
  • By subway, take the F to East Broadway. Street parking can be challenging in this neighborhood.
  • Wildrence is located down a flight of stairs.
  • Wildrence is hosting a D&D-themed open house on November 12 and their next D&D campaign will be a mini 3-session holiday campaign on November 19, November 26, and December 3.

Book your session with The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch comped our tickets for this game.

Q The Live Escape Experience – The Conjuror [Review]

Odd Duck Immersive

Location:  Loveland, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019,

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

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $24.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Conjuror was an actor-enhanced escape room. It was teed up to us as more immersive theater than escape room, but that didn’t feel like accurate expectation setting.

This was a solid escape room, with a dramatic (and slightly over-the-top) character overseeing the experience. He was a delight. Additionally, there was one fantastic recurring set piece. It was pretty much worth playing the game for these two things alone.

In-game: a series of glass vials beside a crow.

The puzzle design itself was fine – maybe a little dated – but it got the job done.

One last thing… and this recurred in both games we played at Q The Live Escape Experience. They needed to get a cleaning crew into their games. Both games were unacceptably dusty.

All in all, there aren’t that many escape rooms with a theatrical bent to them and this was a solid one. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then you should check out The Conjuror.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The seance table
  • A strong introduction
  • The actor interactions

Story

We had tickets to see Malveaux the Magnificent conduct a seance, piercing the veil between life and death to commune with the spirits.

In-game: a white table clothed table in a dim seance parlour.

Setting

Billed as a hybrid of immersive theater and escape room, The Conjuror opened with a humorous scripted introduction. From there, we found ourselves in a magical study/ seance chamber. The centerpiece of the game was the seance table, which was quite cool.

The room had a grim, Addams Family vibe. While the game was fairly new, it was pretty damn dusty.

In-game: an assortment of magical items including a skull, and a hand labeled "Poison Ivy."

Gameplay

Q The Live Escape Experience’s The Conjuror was a standard escape room with a theatrical bent and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The Conjuror started with a performance. The actor was engaging and talented. He established a character in the opening act, which set up the rest of the experience.

❓ Although The Conjuror opened with an actor, the experience was an escape room, not immersive theater (as it was framed for us). For the majority of the time, we solved puzzles towards accomplishing a mission. Although it had dramatic flourishes, and allowed character banter, it was an escape room through and through. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but setting expectations is important.

➕ Q The Live Escape Experience kept the character involved throughout the experience. He was amusing. We could choose how much to engage with him. This was fun.

➕ The Conjuror wove narrative and puzzles together. The puzzles were justified and made sense in the space.

➖ The puzzles felt dated. They were largely search based and not all well clued. One seemed like it almost required a hint. There were opportunities to make the puzzles more interesting.

➕ That seance table!

➖ The gamespace was filthy. David didn’t set foot in particular area of the gamespace because his allergies were already acting up, and that section would surely have aggravated them more.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Q The Live Escape Experience’s The Conjuror , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Q The Live Escape Experience comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.