All in Adventures – Superhero’s Adventure [Review]

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na…

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

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

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $20.32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape The Mystery Room Mystery Room All in Adventures builds out escape rooms in malls. The walls partitioning the games don’t reach to the ceiling. The decor is minimal and the puzzles are bolted on rather than integrated into the props. Superhero’s Adventure was full of paper-based puzzles that more or less worked and locked props, roughly on theme.

In-game: A brick facade, a newspaper vending machine, a handheld stop sign, a blue mailbox.

Going in with the right (low) expectations, the right attitude, and a fun group of friends, we found some enjoyment brute-force solving our way through all these locks. Your mileage will vary.

All in Adventures is a value question. Is this type of low budget escape room experience worth $22 for 50 minutes? If yes, go in with the right attitude and find your own fun. If you’re looking for higher production value or more meaty puzzles, look elsewhere. For just a bit more money, you could buy a lot more investment in design and gameplay from another escape room company.

While we were there, our gamemaster/ facility manager had expressed frustration that past escape room enthusiasts hit them with negative reviews, but didn’t understand that All In Adventures was striving to do something different. At the end of the day, the biggest flaw with All in Adventures isn’t their approach to game design, but that they want to be viewed as serving a different niche without labeling themselves as such.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a company attempting to target a lower quality and price point. That said, there is no way for a first time player to realize that All in Adventures is the O’Doul’s of escape rooms. Their tagline is, “Your Ultimate Escape Room Destination,” and by that standard, well… let’s just say that they are no Cutthroat Cavern.

Who is this for?

  • Walk-ins
  • Deal seekers

Why play?

  • To get your escape room fix
  • You’d rather not be shopping

Story

The intergalactic hero known as the Golden Skateboarder had stashed his spare board on Earth before taking a vacation in the cosmos. Unbeknownst to the hero on holiday, his board was disrupting Earth’s magnetic field.

We had to find the location of his skateboard and send a message, summoning the Golden Skateboarder back to Earth so that he could permanently rectify the problem.

In-game: A yellow cage labeled "flammable materials" a garbage can, an orange traffic cone, and an oversized wall decal of a screenshot from the Batman from Arkham Knight video game.

Setting

Superhero’s Adventure’s gamespace was a single room surrounded by 3-quarter height walls. Two of those walls were covered in full-sized decals.

The few props were supposed to evoke a city environment: a blue post office mailbox, a parking cone, a garbage can (filled with garbage), etc.

The set was bare-bones. It served as a container to hold the game’s locked boxes and puzzle content, while evoking a vague superhero theme.

In-game: A trunk with 20 super hero logos on the top, sealed with two combination locks.

Gameplay

All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The staff at All in Adventures were energetic, friendly, and engaging. They welcomed everyone entering their doors.

➖ All in Adventures used a call-button hint system. We could ring for help. Unfortunately, the few staff had to oversee the entire facility including the lobby and the teams in the other games. It could take a long time to get a hint, which wasn’t cool in a timed game.

➖ Because the walls weren’t floor-to-ceiling, we could hear everything going on in adjacent games. This was distracting. (We could also hear when the staff were otherwise preoccupied helping another team.)

❓ It was strange seeing a massive wall decal of a Batman: Arkham Knight press screenshot.

➖ The props were simply containers to gate the gameflow. They looked cheap. Most of the cluing was on laminated paper and not worked into the surroundings.

➖ The puzzles weren’t well thought out. Potential puzzle solutions were just that: possibilities. We never had confidence in our answers, even the ones that did pop locks. The solutions could be overly obvious or ridiculously obscure.

➖ We spent most of our time trying potential puzzle solutions in every lock in the game. Most of the locks had similar digit structures. Because the majority of props and locks weren’t logically connected to puzzles, potential solutions could go just about anywhere. Our gameplay experience felt like a giant brute force.

Superhero’s Adventure included a bonus puzzle. We applaud this effort to make sure that teams who were solving quickly got to spend more time playing. We enjoyed the puzzle. Note that it was far more complex than we’d been conditioned for, based on the rest of our experience in the room, which threw us off for quite some time.

Tips For Visiting

  • This escape room is located in The Domain.
  • Park in the adjacent garage.

Book your hour with All in Adventures’ Superhero’s Adventure, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: All in Adventures comped our tickets for this game.

The Scholar Ship – Harry Potter [Review]

Harry Potter & the Prisoners of Ms Jamie.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 4-8 kids (ages 7 and up)

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $60 per group of 4 kids plus $15 for each additional kid

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key*

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Scholar Ship escape rooms were created especially for children by an educator. They are designed to help groups of kids work together to solve puzzles in a themed environment.

Harry Potter was one of the many games offered at The Scholar Ship. The game consisted of locked boxes, props, and clues, which were set up in the escape room space. These can then be swapped out for a different escape room games. Harry Potter nodded at the fandom.

In-game: winners get candy!

We were impressed by The Scholar Ship. Harry Potter was clearly crafted with care to give children the opportunity to puzzle and triumph together. If you’re a parent in Austin, we recommend you check out these escape rooms and the other educational games they offer.

If you’re an adult escape room fan, this game is not designed for you.

Who is this for?

  • Primary school children
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Designed by an educator for children
  • Adorable concept

Story

We were there to help find Colin Creevey’s stolen camera.

In-game: A wizard's broom and a cardboard cutout of a black and white cartoony detective.

Setting

The Scholar Ship is a multi-purpose learning and entertainment space for primary school-aged kids. They have VR, and room for crafts, science experiments, and whatever else Ms. Jamie cooks up.

In the back of The Scholar Ship was a room that Ms. Jamie populates with different locked boxes and puzzle components that make up her escape games. The space itself always stays the same. She adds different puzzle content and props for each game.

In-game: A silver and purple room with televisions ikea furniture, and locked boxes.

The Harry Potter books and a Quidditch broom were among the few items that marked this game as a Harry Potter experience.

Gameplay

The Scholar Ship’s Harry Potter was an escape room designed especially for groups of children. It had a moderate level of difficulty, for the intended audience.

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

Analysis

➕ The Scholar Ship escape rooms were created by an educator especially for children. The concepts, structures, and puzzle types were designed to excite and involve kids and enable them to work together.

➕ Harry Potter didn’t set us up to relive an epic moment from the book/ movie series. Instead, it set our puzzling around a minor character from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Potter fans will recognize the character and the prop at the center of our mission. It was a charming, relatable story that played into the fandom.

➕ Every aspect of the experience was designed around the needs of a group of kids. The introductory Power Point explained how to work together in an escape room and how to approach the types of locks and puzzles the group would encounter. There was even a bathroom in the escape room.

➖ We found the initial instruction from our gamemaster as to how to get started to be misleading. By following the instruction, we didn’t follow our normal play style and were needlessly tripped up.

➕/➖ Harry Potter wasn’t a permanent fixture. The Scholar Ship uses the same physical room to house all of its escape room scenarios. They swap out the locks, boxes, and puzzles for each theme. The space was purely a container for the content and didn’t have anything to do with the experience. Harry Potter was unapologetically low tech and low production. Although this design lacked the excitement we’ve come to expect from escape rooms, kids feel comfortable in the space. It’s more like a classroom puzzle game than an adventure game. Because of this design, the games can be mobile. The Scholar Ship sets up escape rooms at schools and events.

➖ We came across a few unintended red herrings, due to the nature of the multi-purposed space. These were frustrating.

Harry Potter was playful. It included some charmingly obvious red herrings – nobody will be confused – and we can imagine children delighting in these. We enjoyed them.

➖ We escaped the room… but did the story resolve? This wasn’t readily apparent. The story was more thematic.

The Scholar Ship's lobby has a Playstation VR among other things.

➕ The Scholar Ship offers more than escape rooms. It’s an activity space for children. They also offer VR, Xbox, and sciencey activities. It’s a neat place that was clearly designed with care for its target audience.

❓*The Scholar Ship takes safety seriously. The door is locked, but it’s a transparent door. Anxious kids can see out. There is always a staff member in the room with the children. The staff member has a master sheet with door combo. There are always other staff, parents, and kids on the other side of the door who could open it at any time. Parents can also watch the kids in the escape room through a security camera. We listed “Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key” because the players cannot simply walk out the door or push a button to free themselves, but The Scholar Ship does not fit neatly into our categories for traditional, adult escape rooms.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This escape room is explicitly designed for groups of children. It is not for adults or habitual escape room players.

Book your hour with The Scholar Ship’s Harry Potter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Scholar Ship comped our tickets for this game.

Zen Puzzles – Great Horned Owl [Review]

A jigsaw puzzle with a strange puzzley twist.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Piece Count: 297 pieces

Price: $95 (prices vary based on size)

Publisher: Zen Art & Design

REA Reaction

Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl was a beast of a ~300 piece puzzle. With an almost monochromatic aesthetic, a clever but cruel puzzle within the puzzle, and many similar looking pieces that fit together, but didn’t go together… this was far more challenging than I was prepared for when I opened the box on a whim.

The assembled puzzle with a fierce looking owl face.

I’m glad that I gave it a shot. It offered something unique. Once I realized what the puzzle was and adjusted my mindset, I came to enjoy the experience.

This is a pricey puzzle that would make for a great gift for the serious jigsaw puzzler in your life. It was small, but it put up a fight.

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers who want to see something strange

Why play?

  • Challenging
  • Cruel but clever twist

Story

This laser cut wooden puzzle featured a great horned owl. It included whimsy pieces in the shape of owls and critters that owls eat.

Closeup of an owl whimsy piece set within the assembled puzzle.

Gameplay

At first glance, Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl seemed like a fairly typical jigsaw puzzle. It quickly revealed a couple of layers of complexity.

Analysis

➕ Zen Puzzles added a crazy dynamic to the Great Horned Owl puzzle that I’ve never seen before. I was a bit bewildered for a few minutes while solving this puzzle. That’s a feeling that I cannot recall a jigsaw puzzle inspiring in me before.

Spoiler - The Surprise Twist

Closeup of an image showing the presence of internal edge and corner pieces.
This thing has multiple internal edge and corner pieces.
[collapse]

➖ There wasn’t enough shape variation among the pieces. Entirely too many bits with similar patterns fit snugly together.

Closeup of of a piece that fits but is incorrect.

➕ The whimsy pieces were funny and helpful. If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have enjoyed solving this puzzle.

➖ Great Horned Owl wasn’t a visually exciting puzzle, even though the image itself was quite nice when complete.

Tips For Player

  • Space requirements: a small table
  • Be careful when assembling pieces; many incorrect pieces kind of fit together
  • This puzzle was deceptively challenging and will likely take longer than most ~300 piece puzzles.

Buy your copy of Zen Art & Design’s Great Horned Owl, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you Amanda Harris & Drew Nelson for loaning us this puzzle.

Escapology Austin – Assassination Express [Review]

Whistle stop

Location:  Round Rock, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Assassination Express is unique to Escapology in Austin, TX. It is their version of the popular Escapology game Budapest Express, available at many other franchises.

In-game: A vase with roses, two wine glasses, and a bottle on a table before a window with a snow storm beyond it.

Escapology Austin created a beautiful and detailed dining car to stage this game. It was a ton of fun to explore and puzzle through. Although the aesthetics diminished in the second act, Assassination Express hurtled towards an explosive conclusion.

If you’re in Austin, we recommend Assassination Express for puzzlers and scenery aficionados alike. This would be a great first game for escape room newbies. While it won’t offer experienced players anything extraordinary, it’s still a fun playthrough with some lovely details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The introduction
  • The gorgeous train car
  • Solid puzzles

Story

We were transported to a train traversing Minnesota in 1932. Franklin D. Roosevelt was aboard on his presidential campaign… and someone trying to disrupt history had planted a bomb. We had to stop the bomb and ensure the proper flow of the time stream.

In-game: Red and gold curtains covering the wood walls and a window with a snow storm.

Setting

We entered into a beautiful old train car with wood trim, velvet curtains, and a snow squall happening outside. It was a visually striking set, especially at first glance.

In my experience, Escapology games usually have an elegant first room, and then the level of detail, square footage, and visual appeal drop off with subsequent rooms. That was true of Assassination Express. The second act’s set design wasn’t on the same level as the first.

Gameplay

Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ As time travelers, our experience started with getting to Minnesota in 1932. We weren’t prepared for the wild ride that is time travel. It was pretty great.

➕ The train looked beautiful. We loved the decor in the dining car. Escapology’s attention to detail created the world for this train trip.

➖ The second act didn’t feel as rich or detailed as the first. It also felt cramped. We lost some sense of the staging that we’d felt early on.

➕ The puzzles were solid, satisfying solves. They included both locks and more technology-driven triggers. Both worked well in the experience.

➖ Although the puzzles worked well, at times we struggled with game flow. It wasn’t always clear which puzzles were available to solve at any given time.

➖ We encountered a search-focused puzzle that was more frustrating than fun.

Assassination Express had a satisfying culminating solve.

Escapology Austin's steampunk lobby filled with large leather couches and ottomans.

➕ Escapology has some of the nicest lobbies in the business. Escapology Austin was no exception.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Escapology has a comfortable, spacious lobby.

Book your hour with Escapology Austin’s Assassination Express, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapology Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Project Panic – End of the Line [Review]

Tickets please.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As a New Yorker, Project Panic’s End of the Line is kind of what I think non-New Yorkers think New York is: a subway with criminal gangs ruling everything.

In-game: An authentic turn style before a subway car.

End of the Line captured the subway aesthetic. It was a fun set to explore. While we enjoyed many of the puzzles, we wished Project Panic had instilled them with more narrative and purpose.

End of the Line was a puzzle-forward escape room within an exciting set. If this sounds like your kind of ride, check it out next time you’re in Austin.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Fun set
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

As investigators for the subway agency, we had been dispatched to look into rumors that a notorious gang was using the old station and lines as a hideout.

Setting

End of the Line was Project Panic’s take on a subway escape game. We entered through a turnstile, puzzled on the subway platform, and worked our way through a train car.

The environments were all reasonably convincing and hit enough of the right notes to feel pretty great.

In-game: A subway platform with a train.

Gameplay

Project Panic’s End of the Line was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ End of the Line flowed well. The puzzles progressed, taking us from one gamespace to the next.

➖ At times, the puzzles bottlenecked, with nothing for other players to do but wait for their teammates to complete something… at least there were seats on the subway.

➕ The gamespaces were interesting and generally well designed. We were excited to step into each new gamespace and we enjoyed the various subway props.

➖ A big generator switch that didn’t trigger anything was a missed opportunity.

➕ / ➖ We enjoyed most of the puzzles. They were thematic and made use of the decor and the props. They weren’t connected to each other, however, and didn’t help us feel a narrative.

➖ The mission switched in the middle of the experience… but we didn’t notice. We would have moved along solving puzzles if our gamemaster hadn’t interrupted to deliver the story notes. While we appreciate this choice in game design, the mission switch needed to be more readily apparent.

➖/➕ The final puzzle didn’t make sense in the context of the experience. Although it was a good puzzle and made use of a fun prop, it also didn’t feel like a finale.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a tiny parking lot next to Project Panic, but that is for the adjacent business. Project Panic’s parking lot is around the back. It’s probably best to check with Project Panic to make sure you’ve found the correct place to park.
  • Project Panic and Austin Panic Room are two locations for the same company.

Book your hour with Project Panic’s End of the Line, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Project Panic comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Room San Antonio- Western Bank Heist [Review]

Hold up

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A] Push To Release

REA Reaction

Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist looked gorgeous. It was a beautiful and detailed game space.

The experience, however, felt hollow. The gameplay wasn’t dynamic, logical, or interesting. On multiple occasions, this game was barely clued. In one instance, I considered changing the code on one of the locks because doing so would have fixed the worst puzzle in this game. All it would have taken was swapping two digits to something that actually made sense. I didn’t do it… but Escape The Room absolutely should.

Escape the Room San Antonio built an amazing stage for a dramatic heist. With minimal tweaks in puzzle design and gameplay, they could make this adventure truly outstanding.

In its current form, we can only recommend Western Bank Heist for its scenery. Our playthrough was irritating.

In-game: A cashier standing behind a barred window in an elegant wooden bank.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs

Why play?

  • The gorgeous set
  • To see one of the silliest puzzle solutions that we’ve encountered in years

Story

Our gang saddled up to rob a bank.

In-game: Post office boxes.

Setting

Escape The Room’s Western Bank Heist had a fantastic look that struck our entire team the moment we set foot in the room. The dark wood, white paint, and gold embellishments felt both strange and right.

Additionally, Escape The Room had added a few new effects to modernize this game and they were a smart addition.

In-game: A sign that reads, "Deposit Slips" surrounded by intricate woodwork, above it is a beautiful gold ceiling.

Gameplay

Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The difficulty stemmed from unrefined puzzles.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: An intricate clock hanging on the wall.

Analysis

➕ This holdup took place in a spacious and detailed bank set. With its substantial wooden set pieces, built into the architecture, it looked and felt like the stage for a bit of prairie mischief.

➖ Although the set looked great, it wasn’t bright enough for a search-and-puzzle game. We were encouraged to use our phones for flashlights which was fine, if out of place… but there really wasn’t a good reason for us to need flashlights of any kind in this game. The low contrast clues weren’t fun to find.

➖ All roads led to a 4-digit combination… even when a different digit structure would have made more sense. Each time we derived an answer, we had to try it in every available input, which shot any forward momentum.

➕ We enjoyed the few tangible puzzles that were built into the fixtures of the gamespace. These were mostly new puzzles that had been recently integrated into The Western Bank Heist.

➖ We tripped up repeatedly on unclued searching and red herrings.

➖ One puzzle required a hefty logic leap. We required multiple hints on what should have been a quick-hit puzzle. When we finally got the right answer, this puzzle’s solution was about 75% inane bullshit.

➖ Escape the Room San Antonio missed an obvious opportunity for an explosive and memorable moment.

➕ Despite a few missed opportunities, Western Bank Heist went out with a bang.

➖ Still, as we skipped town, we felt intimately familiar with the space, but not the sense of adventure or satisfaction one would hope from successfully robbing a bank. We’d spent more energy poring over every nook and cranny than solving puzzles. The experience felt hollow.

Tips For Visiting

  • Escape the Room San Antonio is right off The San Antonio River Walk.

Book your hour with Escape the Room San Antonio’s Western Bank Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape the Room San Antonio provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Mindspark Escape Games – Terminal [Review]

Derailed

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Mindspark Escape Games can build phenomenal sets and amazing moments.

The first half of The Terminal was exciting and fresh, with an aesthetic that felt as cool to play within as it looked.

In the second half, however, The Terminal chugged along slowly. The set was uninspired, the gameplay dragged, and the conclusion was unsatisfying.

The rails are laid. With a few changes, Mindspark Escape Games could easily turn this train around.

Although the wow factor wasn’t sustained and the gameplay became tedious and cumbersome, we recommend The Terminal for players in Austin who are interested in sets, engineering, and thrills. That first half was quite a ride.

In-game: A weathered and damaged subway car.
Image via Mindspark Escape Games

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The train car. Wow.
  • Memorable moments.

Story

Our subway car had abruptly derailed and crashed into an abandoned station. As we searched for a way out, we happened upon evidence of a global criminal conspiracy.

Setting

Terminal opened up big, with a detailed rundown subway car that looked and felt fantastic (except for having more luggage than one would expect to find in a subway). This set was gorgeous and memorable.

Unfortunately, the late-game set, which was where we spent a lot of our time, was a significant step down from the initial amazingness that Mindspark Escape Games introduced us to. We entered through greatness, and concluded in a generic, nondescript basement-like space.

In-game: In-game: A weathered and damaged subway car.
Image via Mindspark Escape Games

Gameplay

Mindspark Escape Games’ Terminal was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and parsing clues from red herrings.

Analysis

➕ Our escape room started aboard a moving train. It looked great. We felt like we were on an adventure. It was outstanding.

➕ Mindspark Escape Games knows how to deliver epic moments. The train wasn’t the only memorable reveal in Terminal.

➕ We enjoyed many of the puzzles in the first half of Terminal. These puzzles used the space and props in interesting ways.

➖ The gameplay derailed in the second half of the experience. The puzzles were tedious. One puzzle required extensive calculation with no methods for self-check along the way. We ended up repeatedly calculating each part to find minor errors long after we’d solved the conceptual puzzle. Another puzzle was only partially clued.

➖ The later half of Terminal was riddled with red herrings. As experienced players, we mostly avoided these, but newer players will be lost in a sea of information with no way to determine what’s relevant.

➖ Why did we happen upon evidence of a global criminal conspiracy… in a little back room full of wall scrawling and papers? Why couldn’t we have puzzled through an adventure aboard the train or in the spacious and interesting train station?

➖ Terminal lacked a climactic ending. In fact, it lacked an ending all together. Nothing opened, revealed, or otherwise changed to signal that we’d won this game.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Let your gamemaster know if you struggle with motion or have balance issues.

Book your hour with Mindspark Escape Games’ Terminal, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mindspark Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Boomtown Escape Games – The Saloon [Review]

I was told there’d be smores.

Location:  Georgetown, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

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

Duration: 48 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Saloon placed traditional lock-and-key escape room puzzles in an unconventional set up.

Come for the puzzles, stay for the gamemastering. If you’re looking for straightforward puzzle-play, know that The Saloon is just as much about interacting with your in-character gamemaster as it is about solving puzzles. Embrace the interaction to get the most out of this escape room.

If you’re in Austin and you like puzzle-focused escape rooms, but want to see a twist on that standard, head over to Georgetown for The Saloon.

In-game: A bar top in a wooden room surrounded locked boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People looking for an experience that’s quirky and cute

Why play?

  • The gamemastering
  • The vibe

Story

While traveling along the Chisholm Trail, we had stopped in a local saloon for a drink. It turned out that we were visiting a dry county and the owner of the establishment had grown mighty lonely… so she had hired a local blacksmith to create a series of puzzles to ensnare patrons in the saloon and force them to keep her company.

In-game: a wooren room with a small card table.

Setting

The Saloon’s set was mostly wood, which gave it a unique look, even if nothing about the gamespace was particularly fancy. It was simple, effective, and on-theme without any bells or whistles.

In-game: A few crates and a basket.

Gameplay

Boomtown Escape Games’ The Saloon was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the in-character gamemaster.

Analysis

➕ Our gamemaster was a character in our experience. She was phenomenal. Her energy made this experience more than just a collection of puzzles.

➕ We loved the unique story and set up for this escape room.

➕ The wooden saloon aesthetic worked well. The lock-focused gameplay made sense in the narrative. (Boomtown Escapes could replace the more modern locks with period-esque locks to sell the story.)

➖ Some of the puzzle components were too small for the scale of the gamespace. Better integration of the puzzle’s components into the props would have been an improvement over the many small sheets of paper that held much of the game’s content.

In-game: An ornate covering over the fluorescent light.

➕ The puzzles offered variety in type and difficulty. They were traditional in style, but still offered challenge.

➖ One challenging puzzle seemed unsolvable without requesting a hint or substantial time for trial and error. We burned a lot of time before realizing that we didn’t have enough information.

➖ The gameplay was level. The Saloon lacked a big reveal or otherwise memorable team moment.

➕ The saloon owner was just a bit sneaky. We liked this about her. She made us think a little differently, in terms of escape room gameplay.

➕ Boomtown Escape Games had some lobby mini escape games that were delightful. We played The Loot and truly enjoyed it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street metered parking.
  • Georgetown has an adorable town square with lots of shops and restaurants. Boomtown Escape Games offers recommendations.
  • Boomtown Escape Games offers portable / lobby games. We enjoyed The Loot, a 15-minute add-on experience.
  • Embrace the in-character gamemastering to get the most out of your experience.

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

Disclosure: Boomtown Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

The Exit Game – The Zodiac Killer Legacy [Review]

Handcuffs, ciphers, & astrology.

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [F] No Emergency Release

REA Reaction

The Zodiac Killer Legacy was a standard murder-basement style-escape room: minimal decor and a creepy vibe.

The Exit Game delivered standard gameplay with a bias for cyphers. While a few of the puzzles needed refinement or maintenance, it flowed pretty well and built towards a climactic conclusion.

We started The Zodiac Killer Legacy handcuffed without safety releases. For this reason, we cannot recommend the game. While this worked well from a gameplay standpoint, the reward wasn’t worth the risk in a post-Poland fire world.

In-game: Closeup of a glowing red light in a dark room.

Who is this for?

  • People who like the idea of a scary themed experience, but don’t want to actually be afraid.
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Creepy vibe without true horror
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

We’d been kidnapped by a hopeful Zodiac Killer copycat. He was planning to begin his killing spree with us.

We had to escape before he returned to his murder basement and began his new venture.

In-game: A handcuff along a chain and padlocked to a concrete wall.

Setting

In The Zodiac Killer Legacy, we were chained to a wall in a dark basement-like room with minimal decor.

The Exit Game created a space that functioned as a convincing basement environment. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it.

Gameplay

The Exit Game’s The Zodiac Killer Legacy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ /➖ We began this escape room with the entire team handcuffed along a wall. The handcuffing didn’t last long. It focused us on a single jumping off point, freeing ourselves to explore the room. Forced to collaborate as a team, and thematically appropriate, I can see how this could be an exhilarating beginning. That said, the handcuffs lacked safety releases. The thrill of the handcuffs wasn’t worth the risk they entail. The Exit Game absolutely needs to add safety releases if they continue to include handcuffing.

➕ The set of The Zodiac Killer Legacy looked appropriately murder-basement-y. It was spacious and relatively barren, which could come across as foreboding. It was serviceable.

➖ The bare bones set had only one intriguing element… but its use didn’t warrant the intrigue.

➖ Some of the cluing seemed a bit off. In one case, overly complex cluing was perhaps a ghost puzzle. In another, the flavor text seemed a bit of a stretch. A third seemed just a bit too ambiguous.

➖ The Zodiac Killer Legacy relied too heavy on reading and ciphering. It quickly became tedious and repetitious.

➖ One prop was wearing away. This was simultaneously making the solve too easy – we could intuit what past teams has done – and too hard – as it was needlessly challenging to take the action.

➕ As we played through The Zodiac Killer Legacy, we built toward the most exciting solve of the game. Given its nature, it was rightly placed as the culminating action.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with The Exit Game’s The Zodiac Killer Legacy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Exit Game comped our tickets for this game.

Maze Rooms Austin – The Shed [Review]

Dinner & puzzles

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $45 per player for teams of 2 or $30 per player for teams of 3-4

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The Shed was an intense escape room for a small, trusting, and communicative team. Chained to the walls (with safety releases) and each able to access only a corner of the small space, we had to work together to escape this serial killer’s lair.

The Shed lacked some essential clue structure. Maze Room knows this, and has worked to mitigate the issue, but they have a ways to go before the gameplay will truly flow.

These frustrations aside, The Shed was unique and exhilarating. If you’re looking for a dramatic and challenging small-team escape room in Austin, we recommend this dinner date.

In-gameA wall with chains a digital display and a handprint in a gritty murder basement.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who are comfortable with physical restraints and a dark, unnerving environment

Why play?

  • Unique staging
  • Intense environment
  • Forced self-reliance
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

Good News: Our new friend had invited us over for dinner.

Bad News: We were unaware that our new friend was referred to as “Austin’s Cannibal” by local police.

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Setting

The Shed fell comfortably into the category of escape rooms that we’ve taken to calling the “murder basement.” While it was physically small, it was convincing without being too gory.

Each of 4 players was shackled by the wrists (with a simple mechanical safety release) to a different corner of a small room with a central pillar. The environment was grim, detailed, and foreboding.

In-game: a menacing hooded man in a workshop.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Gameplay

Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

It was atypical because each player was handcuffed to a different corner of the room for most of the experience. We had to solve the puzzles without moving around in the space.

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

In-game: a brick wall with electrical boxes and pipes.
Image via Maze Rooms Austin

Analysis

➕ We played most of The Shed with both wrists chained to the wall. These were the most comfortable handcuffs we’ve ever been strapped into. We were free to maneuver without causing any scraping or bruising to our wrists. Our handcuffs were attached to the walls by a length of chain and safety clips. The setup was great.

➕ The opening sequence of The Shed worked beautifully. It was hard to get started while chained to a wall and search capacity was limited, but The Shed had an onramp that taught us how to play within its confines.

➖ We had a lot of props in play at any given time. It could be overwhelming to ascertain what was immediately relevant and it was challenging to keep everything we might need in reach. It was also difficult to stay organized with all of the props while restrained.

➕ The Shed did a lot with a small gamespace. It looked great in a dark and creepy way. It hid its secrets well.

➖ When we triggered a solve, we rarely knew what we’d opened. Maze Rooms could add stronger lighting and sound clues to draw players’ attention to the reveals. Providing this immediate reward for any solves would have allowed us to focus on the puzzles rather than searching.

➖ The clue structure didn’t quite support the gameplay. Maze Rooms has mitigated this by adding a runbook. While we appreciated that additional cluing, it was annoying to spend most of the game with my head in a notebook. This was especially frustrating given the dim lighting and that both my hands and any flashlights were restricted by a length of chain.

➕ The gameplay emphasized communication. We couldn’t explore, or even see the entire game. We needed to communicate well and trust our teammates.

➕ Our favorite moments involved multiple players coordinating information and actions to solve puzzles.

➖ When we eventually freed ourselves from the restraints, we had access to new spaces… that our teammates knew intimately. We had to pause to share knowledge or waste time re-exploring known spaces.

➕ The penultimate sequence came together well with a surprising reveal and a plot twist.

➕/➖ The Shed required each player to rely on their teammates and hold their own. If one individual couldn’t find/ solve/ interact with an element, there was only so much the other teammates could do to help. We mostly found this exhilarating. Sometimes it made the game stall for a bit too long. Your choice of teammates will significantly impact your experience in The Shed.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Accessibility: Height Requirement of 55 inches (4’5”ft) or taller
  • You can play this game with 2 – 4 people. You cannot add additional people. 4 people is the optimal number.
  • Left-handed players may find this game more challenging than right-handed ones will.

Book your hour with Maze Rooms Austin’s The Shed, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Maze Rooms Austin comped our tickets for this game.