Upside Down Escape Games – The Theater [Review]

Master of Puppets

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Upside Down Escape Games caught us off-guard with The Theater because it packed some technology that you don’t expect to see in a small town escape room.

In-game: a boxoffice stand with an owl dressed in fancy clothes sitting within.

When we played, The Theater it felt like it was brimming with potential… but also unfinished. This was confirmed for us after we played. Nevertheless, there was a lot to enjoy here. The things that worked well, worked really well and looked great.

The aspects that felt like they needed more work came in 2 varieties: those in need of fairly minor tweaks, and tech that just needs more time and iteration.

The Theater has the potential to put on a hell of a show, and we have a lot of confidence in Upside Down Escape Games’ ability to get it there. Either way, we think this one is well worth seeing, and we’re glad that we did. We hope to revisit this game down the line.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Surprising technology that you really wouldn’t expect from a small town escape room company
  • The puppet theater did some really unexpected stuff

Story

Once more, our friend Darryl had dragged us to a strange place for his birthday – and disappeared. This time we entered a horrifying puppet theater with a countdown clock. What was with this guy?

In-game: ominous masks of comedy and tragedy painted in red on a box office.

Setting

Upside Down Escape Games split us into 2 groups. 1 person was brought into the theater; the rest were let in through the box office.

The small theater had all of the right components (but not quite enough seating to feel completely right.)

The box office was small, and again, had most of the right components, but this space felt a little unfinished.

The coolest parts of this game weren’t immediately evident. I’ll leave it at that.

In-game: a theater conscession stand.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Theater was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It has a split-team start, with 1 person separated from the rest of the group.

You can choose to play this game on scary mode, which adds jump scares. (They are worth it.)

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

In-game: an "Admit One Ticket" sign flanked by freaky baby doll parts pained black and red.

Analysis

➕ Upside Down Escape Games leaned in to the creepy, puppet vibe with this unusual escape room concept and it worked.

➕ We played on scary mode. The jump scares were well-timed and delivered great moments. Play it on scary mode. You know you want to.

➕/➖ The construction of this game was uneven. It was a case of extremes, and it was kind of understandable. Some aspects of this game received an incredible amount of creative attention… and other parts were painted black. Upside Down Escape Games made good choices about where to focus their resources, but the disparity was noticeable.

➕Upside Down Escape Games dealt with a malfunction so well that we weren’t confident that something was ever wrong.

➕/➖ We loved an unusual and silly puzzle, with clean execution, but the sticking point was a lack of cluing that yes, we should interact in a way that felt unnatural.

➖ The Theater included some incredibly delicate props that seemed out of place and will surely break. They were more eye-catching than they were relevant.

➖ In one instance, The Theater suffered from a common upside down trap: when a clue is reversed or flipped, do you also reserve the solution?

➕ The hint system was more than a hint system. It was a part of this creepy theater.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games built an extraordinary set piece that eyed the game space from the opening moments, building up dramatic intensity. Then it delivered.

➖ The end fizzled. The show needed a finale.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games truly surprised us with the unique tech that they built into The Theater.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Upside Down Escape Games’ The Theater, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Upside Down Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Clue Chase – Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle [Review]

Bermuda Triangulation

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: January 27, 2020

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock [A]

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We had a great time in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle. The set looked great, the puzzles were satisfying, and there were some really amusing interactions.

Clue Chase now inhabits the space previously occupied by Escape Entertainment. Clue Chase’s older games were set in larger spaces. We really loved how they transformed the smaller space in this new venue.

It’s so good to see quality new games finding their way into New York City. If you’re in the Boroughs, put Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle on your playlist.

In-game: View of the pirate ship with a partial map in the foreground and art in the background.

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?

  • A strong set – and Clue Chase’s strongest to date
  • Solid puzzle play
  • Multiple tangible interactions
  • A fantastic scene transition

Story

The time travel agency had dispatched us on a mission to acquire another artifact. This time we found ourselves aboard a pirate ship in 1715.

The ship’s crew had mutinied and locked the captain in his quarters, taking all of the valuables. Thankfully they hadn’t understood the power of the artifact and had left it behind.

In-game: A painting of a sea battle.

Setting

We stepped inside of a well-detailed pirate ship. The ceiling was draped in cargo nets and the walls were wood. The builders clearly put a lot of effort into obscuring their anachronisms, filing off paint and brand names from locks.

Clue Chase did a lot with this smaller space to make it feel exciting.

In-game: Wide view of the pirate ship set with cargo netting along the ceiling.

Gameplay

Clue Chase’s Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a barrel labeled "xxx"

Analysis

➕ The set looked strong. From floor to ceiling its wooden walls and overhead netting conveyed sense of place. The props felt like they belonged.

➕ The sound effects in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle added energy to the gameplay. They created ambiance and added excitement to interactions.

➕ We solved the puzzles by interacting with the items on the ship – touching, turning, tossing, and the like. The interactions were varied.

➖ There were multiple opportunities to brute-force the last bit of a solve in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle. It would even by possible to brute-force the final solve of the game, which would be a shame, because it was a pretty cool puzzle.

➕ The puzzle flow was non-linear, but then brought us together for the most exciting moments of the game, without bottlenecking.

➖/➕ Although we found one group solve to be a bit too process-oriented, we found it entertaining to work through together from across the vessel.

In-game: closeup of two black pumps.

➖ Before we entered Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle our gamemaster gave us specific instructions that pertained to the win condition. We listened well, and when the time came, we knew what to do. That said, it would have been more engaging to uncover what to do with this sequence through gameplay. This was a missed opportunity to integrate the gameplay with the gamespace.

➖ The ending fizzled. We wanted more excitement from the acquisition of another artifact.

➕ In Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle Clue Chase created a scene transition that blew their previous games out of the water.

Tips For Visiting

  • Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle is located at Clue Chase’s Herald Square location. They have a different location at Bryant Park.
  • Clue Chase’s Herald Square location is located in Koreatown. On this block, we recommend Mandoo Bar for dumplings and Spot Dessert Bar for crazy and incredible desserts.
  • Take public transit; Clue Chase is half a block from many subway lines.
  • As with all Midtown Manhattan escape rooms, if you’re driving a car, prepare to pay dearly for parking.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Chase comped our tickets for this game.

Mass Escape – 44 Winterwood Lane [Review]

A broken seal

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

44 Winterwood Lane had strong worldbuilding. A great introduction, a beautiful candle-lit representation of the game clock, and a brilliant scene helped pull it all together.

In-game:

Mass Escape packed quite a few challenging puzzles into this bewitching experience. 44 Winterwood Lane could be improved by pulling those late-game challenges deeper into the story, and using them to tie off the narrative as thoroughly as the beginning opened it up.

Overall, Mass Escape is a fantastic company making unique and flavorful escape games. They have a style unlike anything else we’ve encountered and it’s a style that we truly enjoyed. 44 Winterwood Lane was our least favorite of the 3 games that we played at Mass Escape… and we still liked it a lot.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A few great set pieces
  • An illuminating game timer
  • Memorable, haunting moments

Story

Our estranged aunt had recently passed away. We didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that her daughter had mysteriously died many years ago. Nevertheless, we had an appointment with her estate’s caretaker to claim our inheritance.

In-game:

Setting

We stepped through the doors of an old rundown estate, a shadow of its former glory. It had a high ceiling and imposing antique furniture. An assortment of candles lined the ceiling; every few minutes one would extinguish.

The set looked good and well weathered. However, some portions of the set looked considerably more lived-in and finished than others.

In-game:

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Mass Escape set the tone of the experience from the opening moments of the escape room. They minded the details, sealing our fate as we tried to claim our inheritance.

➕/➖ Although we’d come for the money, as the story of this place unfolded, that turned out to be a side quest. Predictable as it was, the twist added intrigue to 44 Winterwood Lane. However, the plot got a bit murky.

➕ Mass Escape integrated an unorthodox gameclock into the set. It felt native to the world. This was set dressing, ambiance, and time keeping all in one.

➖ The scale felt off in one room. Some of the set pieces lacked the estate’s majestic allure. Portions of the game felt empty, but at the same time full of potential red herrings.

➖ We encountered extremely well camouflaged, unclued searching in 44 Winterwood Lane. Granted, this was for a bonus puzzle. In a game where searching was generally well clued, however, this seemed challenging for the wrong reasons.

44 Winterwood Lane hid its mysteries well… and revealed them in turn. We especially enjoyed when an object magically appeared.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Virtuality – Runaway Subway Train [Review]

Fare?

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 18, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Runaway Subway Train felt like a scavenger hunt with locks that didn’t work… in a moving train-like space.

This wasn’t a good escape room, but at the onset, it seemed like it had potential.

In-game: Red bench seating in a train car. You can see a gold hinge running along the back of the seat.

The sad reality was that Escape Virtuality just had us identifying codes and putting them into locks. There was almost nothing to solve and half of the challenge that we encountered was struggling against the worn out locks.

We badly want new and amazing escape rooms in New York City. We wanted to be able to tell you that the Runaway Subway Train is worth your time and money… but we can’t. The only people to whom we can recommend this game are potential owners who want a $39 lesson in how to waste potential.

Who is this for?

  • Scavenger hunters

Why play?

  • The game has unrealized potential

Story

Our subway was out of control and about to crash – in an hour!

In-game: A subway map along the back wall of the train car.

Setting

Our team was split up into two adjacent subway cars. We entered through train-like pocket doors. Each car had roughly the same subway car structure of bench seating with advertisements above.

While everything had the right structure, the details weren’t there. It looked like a subway, but only if you haven’t been inside of one with any level of recency, which is unlikely in Midtown Manhattan.

In-game: Double doors between train cars.

Gameplay

Escape Virtuality’s Runaway Subway Train was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a split-team beginning.

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

In-game: An ad for a plumbing company who's slogan is, "We're #1 in the #2 business"

Analysis

➕ The first few puzzles taught us how this escape room wanted us to play it, for better or for worse.

➖ There were few puzzles in this escape room. The gameplay was almost entirely of the “observe and input” variety. We spent most of our time searching or waiting on our teammates to struggle with an input.

➖ Because this game required us to observe and input, we spent a lot of time trying anything we’d observed in every lock. There was no way to know what would be important. Guess all the things!

➕ There was one challenging, layered puzzle in Runaway Subway Train. This solved well with teamwork. It was the highlight of the gameplay.

➖ We encountered some misleading cluing, which might have been the result of ghost puzzles. These included a switch that triggered nothing and cluing a code to a digital lock when the input went into an analog one. We also encountered puzzles that weren’t clued at all.

➖ The one reveal was a missed opportunity. Instead of adding intrigue, it was hard to see, and looked worse than what had been there before.

➖ The locks in this game were in rough shape. We open locks more often than most players and we struggled repeatedly to open multiple combination locks.

➖/➕ The set design was subway-like. Escape Virtuality built in all the key elements of a subway car, but for New Yorkers who ride the subway everyday – and probably rode the subway to get to Escape Virtuality – they didn’t sell the concept with their build. They did, however, make it feel like our subway cars were moving. This was the best part of the set design.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking is a challenge in Manhattan. Take the subway (1 to 28th Street or the R/W to 28th Street.)
  • There are tons of restaurants in this neighborhood. We enjoy Hill Country Barbecue and Market.

Disclosure: Escape Virtuality comped our tickets for this game.

Riddle Room – Vanishing at The Velmont [Review]

Vexing Vacation

Location:  Warwick, Rhode Island

Date Played: December 15, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Vanishing at The Velmont was a delightful, beginner-friendly escape room filled with clever puzzles and interactions.

In-game: An abstract representation of the hotel's lobby.

The biggest drawback to this escape room was that throughout the game nearly every prop, wall, and surface felt unfinished. It was generally clear where we were and what we were interacting with, but few items were built to a degree that sold Riddle Room’s fiction.

Ultimately, this is a fun game – and for us, that’s what matters most. We’re glad that we played. We think that this would make a phenomenal initial introduction to escape rooms for newbies. The issues of polish didn’t change the fact that Riddle Room crafted some incredibly cool moments. If you’re in Rhode Island, this game is worth playing.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Great, beginner-friendly game design
  • A number of fun interactions
  • Clever and unique puzzle design

Story

We had always wanted to spend a night in the legendary Velmont Hotel, but it was always far too expensive for us. After a series of strange disappearances occurring in a particular room, the rates had come down… so we figured, why not?

In-game: the front desk with an old phone and slots for the room keys.

Setting

Vanishing at The Velmont took us through a few different spaces within the Velmont Hotel. Each space had a unique look and feel and progressed along a logical path.

The overall build quality was heavily variable. The setpieces ran the gamut from really cool and solidly constructed to flimsy and shoddily built. Most everything in this game had a neat concept behind it. We wished that the level of construction was more consistently strong.

In-game: Astatue in the wall of a hallway within a hotel.

Gameplay

Riddle Room’s Vanishing at The Velmont was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

 Vanishing at The Velmont had lot of content, but a progressive difficulty curve. The first act was straightforward and taught us how to play the game.

➕ Riddle Room constructed multiple unique puzzles into Vanishing at The Velmont. They generally involved custom-built mechanisms. They were unusual and satisfying to interact with.

➖ There was opportunity to add finish and polish to many of the props. For example, cut down on handwriting, except where justified by the story, and refine some associated audio in cluing. Additionally, too many setpieces looked unfinished.

➖ Although Vanishing at The Velmont had a lot of excellent puzzle content, it relied a little too much on key-for-key-style solves.

 Vanishing at The Velmont provided opportunity for collaboration and sharing. When we repeated an interaction with an interface, instead of feeling tedious, it was a moment for another teammate to have a go at a nifty prop.

➕ Riddle Room justified a classic hint system with one sentence of story.

➖ In order to follow the story, we needed to read quite a bit. We couldn’t feel the story arc through gameplay alone.

➕ We moved through multiple sets in this game. We enjoyed the variety in layouts, set designs, and puzzle types.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Riddle Room’s Vanishing at The Velmont, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Riddle Room comped our tickets for this game.

Trap Door – The Greatest Freakshow [Review]

“Better than Award Winning Musical CATS!” -David Spira

Location:  Morristown, New Jersey

Date Played: December 17, 2019

Team size: up to 16; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

What do you do when you’re an escape room creator with a small child who watches Disney movies on endless loops? You make an escape room musical; that’s what you do.

In-game: Trailers and tents lit with strings of lights.

When I heard the concept I didn’t know what I was getting into. Were there going to be actors? Was this a show? Was this an escape room?

The answer: It was an escape room through and through. While it had actors artfully projected and displayed, and included recorded performances, it was a 2-hour escape room in a large space, as Trap Door is known to build.

This was very much a Trap Door production. By that, I mean it was innovative, big, thoughtful, and in need of much stronger puzzle content.

This escape game was lovable in so many ways, but the one that mattered most to me personally was the emotional message and a moment that tied into it. It was honestly innovative. The level of commitment and investment in this game was undeniable; just the square footage alone is costly. It just needed much stronger gameplay.

If you’re in the area, I recommend The Greatest Freakshow because it does a lot of truly interesting and unusual things… and I love that… even though it’s frustrating how regularly this escape room undercuts brilliant moments that are unlike anything that I’ve seen from any other escape room company.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • It’s quite large and contains many different scenes
  • The escape room as a musical concept was clever
  • There were some compelling moments

Story

Xunder’s Freakshow was ensorcelled by the song of the evil siren Atina. We had to free the minds of the freaks and team up with them to put a stop to her sinister serenade.

In-game: The ringmaster standing center stage.

Setting

Dating back to their first game, Trap Door has always created big escape games (in terms of square footage). A small Trap Door game is still big… and The Greatest Freakshow was big compared with their other big games. I think it might be smaller than Cure Z: Quarantine, but they are both at a size where it just doesn’t matter which is larger.

The Greatest Freakshow’s world included a stage, fair grounds, carnival games, and dressing rooms or trailers for nearly all of the main characters. There was no shortage places to visit. Throughout, Trap Door minded plenty of details. They covered the ground in convincing rubber wood chips. They used a large television and projections selectively to add life to the space. As a timer, they had the various scheduled stage performances by the Freakshow’s characters. It was a novel and cool space to explore.

A few of the spaces felt too empty or underdeveloped, but on the whole, Trap Door filled the large space.

In-game: The mermaid's tent adorned with a compass and ship's wheel.

Gameplay

Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow was a standard escape room with a large set and musical interludes. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The mermaid's tank, she is laying in it sleeping.

Analysis

➕ Trap Door’s commitment to large scale is admirable. It is undeniably fun to traverse a sprawling gamespace.

➕ On a conceptual level, I absolutely loved the escape room musical as a genre. I also truly respect the way that Trap Door brought this concept to life in an affordable, repeatable way through video and projection.

➕/➖ The use of the performance schedule and musical numbers as the game timer was a great idea. This was undercut by the lack of audio in the space where we spent all of the second act. This is a fixable problem.

➕/➖ The emotional climax of The Greatest Freakshow was brilliant and the cinematic execution was smart. From a gameplay standpoint, this interaction suffered because most of our team was struggling to see the information that we were supposed to work with. Again, this is fixable.

❓ The opening interaction left our whole team baffled, but we tried to play along. We weren’t sure what the game wanted of us, or if there was a point to the performance… or why it ended when it eventually did.

❓ While I’m no theater critic, and I am certainly no singer, to me, the performances felt more like spirited community theater than a professional production. Most of the performances were charming, not wowing.

In-game: A picnic table in the fairgrounds.

➖ The funhouse was undercut by either unclued challenges or janky tech.

➖ The puzzles were painfully lacking. For the most part, they involved identifying information in one place and more or less transcribing it into a corresponding input mechanism.

➖ A key setpiece in the concluding sequence was visibly unfinished and bludgeoned an otherwise great moment to death.

➕ The Greatest Freakshow contained a great sequence that carved itself into my memory.

In-game: A cage decorated with knives and lit with a string of lights.

Tips For Visiting

  • EPILEPSY WARNING: There are flashing lights used during this game to simulate circus stage lighting.
  • This is at Trap Door’s Morristown location.
  • There street parking and a parking garage nearby on Cattano Ave.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s The Greatest Freakshow, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Red Fox Escapes – The U-Boat [Review]

Crushed it

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Everything about U-Boat makes it abundantly clear that this escape game was made with love.

The set was meticulously designed with props chosen because they fit the environment, or modified so that they would feel like they belonged.

In-game: a view into the captain's quarters through a pill shaped doorway.

The story was carried throughout the game, and driven home with a brilliant effects sequence.

For us, the puzzles were a mixed bag. We loved a few, were fine with most of them, and felt like a couple of them were too sloggy and similar for our tastes.

Overall, this was a strong escape game that we think it will be a crowd-pleaser for a wide variety of players. We preferred Red Fox’s The Heist, but honestly believe that more players will want to dive into U-Boat. If you’re in Boston, you should check it out. This is a new and mighty company.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story 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?

  • A strong set
  • Fantastic and challenging puzzling
  • One killer late-game event

Story

It was 1941, World War II was raging, and a linchpin in the war effort was cracking the German Enigma. British intelligence already had an Enigma Machine, but we needed a codebook… and that’s where we came in.

We had placed a spy on a German U-boat, but the boat was going down, so our spy had hidden the book, and abandoned his post along with the rest of the crew. We needed to sneak aboard the vessel and capture the codebook before it was crushed and consumed by the ocean’s depths.

In-game: a map in the middle of a navigation room.

Setting

Red Fox Escapes built a good-looking submarine. The walls were curved, the doors were ovals, the general aesthetic was steel, and everything felt like it belonged – even if it didn’t actually belong. The prime example of this was the directional lock that Red Fox Escapes had painstakingly modified to make appropriate for the space.

Above all, Red Fox Escapes used their environment to create an iconic and memorable moment in this game.

In-game: A periscope with a red illuminated sign that reads, "enemy vessel detected."

Gameplay

Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large wooden workbench with a light.

Analysis

➕ The set and props looked great. The curvature of the walls really sold the look and feel of the space. Red Fox Escapes went to great lengths to make the hardware and props look like they belonged.

➕ The story of the The U-Boat had depth.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly. One flowed especially well. We also enjoyed the different interactive mechanisms and their solve-state indicators.

➕/➖ The puzzles were a mixed bag. Although we enjoyed many of the puzzles (we adored 2 of them), some of them were not especially exciting. In a couple of instances, they felt a bit repetitive.

In-game: speed controls.

➕ The U-Boat had an unforgettable moment of transformation. Red Fox Escapes choreographed this impeccably so that every team member was able to experience and appreciate this.

Tips For Visiting

  • Red Fox Escapes is easily accessible by T. Take the Red Line to Central.

Book your hour with Red Fox Escapes’ The U-Boat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Red Fox Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

The Conundrum Box – Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box [Review]

‘Twas the month after Christmas and REA was catching up

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $89

REA Reaction

We have a stack of games from The Conundrum Box to play, but one of them stood out to us: the oversized one labeled, “Christmas Seasonal Escape Room.” We cut the box open and found an assortment of tiny, hand-wrapped gifts… and then this thing was bumped to the front of the review queue.

The Christmas Seasonal Escape Room delivered exactly what we wanted out of it: approachable puzzles, oodles of adorableness, and a final output that will thaw even the iciest of hearts.

While we think The Conundrum Box could have introduced more creative puzzles and further integrated the puzzling into the overall experience, the setup was undeniably special.

An assortment of bagged and wrapped christmas gifts.
How cute is this?

We aren’t usually people who enjoy small objects that don’t contribute significantly to the puzzling in our tabletop escape games… but the Christmas Seasonal Escape Room proved the exception to the rule.

This box is sold out. The Conundrum Box hasn’t announced plans for next year’s Christmas game, but based on my conversation with them, they will likely iterate on this concept next Christmas. If this sounds like your kind of a good time, keep your eye on their website for this and other seasonal games.

Who is this for?

  • The Christmas cheerful
  • Puzzle lovers
  • People who love physical objects in their tabletop puzzles
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Utterly lovable presentation
  • Straightforward, well-constructed puzzling
  • What you’re left with at the end
  • Holiday cheer

Story

A collection of beautifully wrapped, mysterious Christmas gifts arrived at our door.

The game's shipping box labeled, "Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box"
The shipping box.

Setup

We cracked open the box and removed an assortment of wrapped gifts. Following the instructions we opened up a website that verified solutions and provided hints… and then we were off.

We puzzled through each gift sequentially. Getting started was straightforward.

An assortment of bagged and wrapped christmas gifts.
Seriously… isn’t this adorable?

Gameplay

The Conundrum Box’s Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box was a standard play-at-home escape game with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling and embracing the adorableness of this experience.

Analysis

➕ The Conundrum Box sent us a box full of wrapped gifts!

➕ It was easy to get started. Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box opened with a straightforward puzzle that taught us how the gameplay worked – how to interact with the gifts and the website interface.

➖ The puzzles were functionally solid, but none of them were memorable. They felt pretty random. Although the props were Christmas-y, the puzzles themselves weren’t particularly thematic.

➖ The inconsistency in solution styles was bizarre. It made the puzzles feel like they didn’t belong to the same game.

➕ The Conundrum Box turned a collection of tchotchkes into a complete experience. This was an effective and meaningful way to make the items into far more than the sum of their parts.

➕ With each puzzle presented as a gift, the gating was especially fun. We could unwrap each new challenge in turn.

➕ The puzzle types were varied. We especially enjoyed the final puzzle, which was implemented such that it pulled all the components of the game together, and facilitated group participation.

End Game Spoiler

A tiny christmas tree with gifts gathered around it on a small table.
Surrender to the cuteness.

➕ We assembled a tiny Christmas tree!

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Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, and an internet-connected device
  • While not necessary, access to a wall outlet is recommended for optimal play conditions

Buy your copy of The Conundrum Box’s Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a sample for review.

Trapped! – Down the Rabbit Hole [Review]

Fantastic Mr. Rabbit

Location:  Upland, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32-40 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Down the Rabbit Hole was a charming escape room with a lighthearted premise. Even with the small space and humble scope, Trapped! transported us to an adorable fantasy world.

Though we encountered references to Alice in Wonderland, Down the Rabbit Hole stood alone as a Wonderland-adjacent adventure. The story wove through our experience via puzzles, interactions, and audio guidance.

The playful theme and lower difficulty make this escape room especially appropriate for families. Still, Down the Rabbit Hole provides a low-key escape for anyone who’s young at heart.

If the theme sounds appealing and you don’t require a serious challenge, Down the Rabbit Hole is worth a visit.

A bed draped with sheer fabric sits under a wall covered with various clocks.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Animal lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Adorable premise
  • Magical moments
  • Whimsical puzzling

Story

Our dog had a habit of running away and bringing home unusual objects. We had followed him down a deep, dark hole into a curious burrow. We needed to rescue our dog and find our way out.

Setting

We found ourselves in a modest but cozy rabbit hole, complete with half-size props and furniture. The theme fit the relatively small space nicely. We almost felt like we were underground.

A large mirror hangs between a fireplace and a chalkboard in a rustic den.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Down the Rabbit Hole was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, making connections, and puzzling, with an emphasis on logic.

Analysis

➕ Down the Rabbit Hole was just plain adorable. From the story to the set to the puzzles, this escape room warmed our hearts.

Teacups, candles, and fruit on a doily-covered table.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ The story threaded throughout the hour and provided a sense of cohesion and lighthearted adventure.

➕/➖ The audio story/hint delivery contributed to the quaint atmosphere and fit into the whimsical woodland world we’d stumbled into. However, because of its limited range, we missed the beginning of certain messages while heading towards the speaker.

Down the Rabbit Hole was on the easy side, but it didn’t stoop to hand-holding. We always knew what we needed to do without the solutions being overly obvious.

➖ One puzzle slowed us down as we scratched out the solution on a chalkboard. This puzzle felt slightly out of place in an otherwise hands-on game. Solving this puzzle with tactile props might have better preserved our momentum.

➕ Despite the humble premise and setting, certain moments felt magical and memorable.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Trapped!’s Down the Rabbit Hole, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mass Escape – Ice Station Zero [Review]

Government jobs are stressful

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Like all of my favorite Cold War anti-nuclear proliferation fiction, Ice Station Zero was funny and grim.

In-game: A very large green computer with many lights, buttons, and switches. It is labeled, "Ice Station Zero."

Focused on a few specific characters and an impending nuclear apocalypse, Mass Escape got really personal. We had to dig into the lives of the people responsible for this base just as much as we had to sort out the operations of an intercontinental ballistic missile… and that’s what made Ice Station Zero shine. Disarming a bomb is normal in an escape room; getting to know the people who made it tick is something special.

This is a nifty game with a flavor and play style that is, in our experience, unique. If you’re in or around Boston and have access to a car, I strongly recommend finding your way to Mass Escape for Ice Station Zero as well as their other games.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story 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 humor and character that underpinned this game
  • Some fantastic setpieces

Story

The world was caught in the grasp of the Cold War and all communication had been lost with the incompetent staff of nuclear missile silo Ice Station Zero. We had been deployed to investigate.

In-game: A metal desk in the middle of an old nuclear bunker.

Setting

Ice Station Zero looked really good – with one small exception – the starting area was pretty weak. Once we had advanced beyond this small dark space, the nuclear silo looked fantastic. Mass Escape struck a balance between Cold War nuclear control room and government bureaucratic hell. We’ve never seen an escape room that looked like this one before.

In-game: a small dim room lit by a red alarm light.

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s Ice Station Zero was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a nuclear launch button.

Analysis

 Ice Station Zero had characters and character. (Mass Escape even armed us with a joke.) The place felt lived in, by actual people, whom we learned about. We liked the mechanism for learning more about the plight of the people at this station. It was clear and concise, with a great interface.

➕ Mass Escape commits to their characters. The gamemaster who introduced us to Ice Station Zero really sold himself as a government bureaucrat. He was entertaining and quippy.

➖/➕ We struggled with some input mechanisms. In one case, the mechanism was barely functional. In another the directions seemed ambiguous. Clean and clear inputting would help with game flow. That said, our in-character gamemaster marched in and handled this in a way that actually improved the experience.

➖ At any given time, we had a lot of papers. We were continually referring back to paper instructions, and some of the puzzles were paper-based as well. Although clipboards made sense thematically, it would have been more fun to be interacting more with the room and less with the paper.

➕ The gameplay flowed well. It was challenging, but we could also figure out how to solve our way forward.

➖ One imposing set piece felt underused, we would have liked to play with this thing a bit more.

➕ Mass Escape turned one wall of an office set into something unexpected that also fit right in. They really dialed this set up a notch.

➕ Mass Escape’s method for adding in bonus content truly shined in Ice Station Zero. They use a similar structure in all of their games, but it felt most relevant and engaging in this one.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s Ice Station Zero, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.