David Kwong’s Enigmatist [Review]

A Gold Bug

Location:  New York City

Date Attended: January 12, 2019

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $95 / $125 / $150 per ticket depending on seat

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Enigmatist was a night of puzzles, magic, and storytelling. It was as quirky as it was phenomenal.

It was a performance, not an escape room, but it included escape room-style solving.

The Enigmatist has just extended its run of Friday and Saturday evening shows through March 2019. If you read this blog, and you are near New York City, you should purchase tickets immediately.

The Enigmatist sign.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Magic fans

Why Attend?

  • Wonderful feats of magic and word play
  • Good puzzles
  • Lots of hidden layers and meaning

Story

The Enigmatist was a one-man show performed by magician and New York Times cruciverbalist (crossword constructor) David Kwong.

Throughout the evening, Kwong explored the story of Riverbank Laboratories.

The performance was an unusual mixture of magic, puzzles, cryptography, crosswords, and storytelling.

Instructions for how to approach the four initial puzzles.

Setting

The Enigmatist was set on a small stage at the High Line Hotel. Upon arrival we were presented with 4 puzzles to solve in the lobby.

Once we took our seats within the intimate theater, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the performance and solving the puzzles within it.

A map of the Fabyan Estate Street Car.

Gameplay

David Kwong’s The Enigmatist was a performance with gameplay. There were multiple puzzles to solve throughout the evening. The audience’s ability to solve the puzzles shifted the energy and dynamics of the show.

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

Lisa and David bundled up in front of a tree covered in lights.
Winter is here.

Analysis

➕ The opening puzzles were lovely. They generally struck the right difficulty balance. They set the tone for how to approach the puzzles in the show.

➖ Of the initial 4 puzzles, one was noticeably more involved than the others. Unfortunately it was also the most compact and hardest to see. This led to a an uncomfortable crowd around it. Having an extra copy or spreading it out more would solve the problem.

➕/➖ There were self-service hints available for the opening puzzles. This kept solvers of all levels engaged with the puzzles. That said, more granular hinting would probably have helped alleviate bottlenecks.

➕ Kwong has an impressive gift for sleight of hand. In general, the magical moments of The Enigmatist were really well produced. He put a fresh spin on everything by integrating the tricks into the story. In the process he gave both more meaning.

➕ Kwong played with words a lot… and I don’t mean puns. I mean he manipulated words and letters in mind-bogging ways. My biggest takeaway from the night was to never play a word game against David Kwong.

➕/➖ Throughout the performance, Kwong told an intriguing story of cryptography. He integrated a lot of charm and historical facts. At the end of his tale, however, he made some questionable decisions. I think I get why he did it, but I didn’t like it. I still don’t.

➕ There were layers and layers of hidden meaning and hidden magic. The last few minutes of The Enigmatist were 🤯.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s New York City. Good luck.
  • Food: It’s Chelsea. You’re spoiled with options.
  • Arrive early and enjoy the puzzles.

Book your tickets with David Kwong’s The Enigmatist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Seven Forces – The Summons [Review]

A wonderful Masonic secret.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played: December 29, 2018

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Private booking for your team, but other teams play at the same time

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

This multi-team gala was puzzle-driven, beautifully staged, and wholly interactive. It incorporated group challenges, private team experiences, and an auction.

With The Summons, The Seven Forces introduced a new and exciting format. This large scale escape room-style event was unlike any other we’ve played to date.

In-game: A stage at the front of teh room features an assortment of strange pieces of technology and mystical artifacts.

The environment was energetic. When we weren’t solving puzzles, we were participating in various group activities. The dynamics were intriguing and constantly changing.

If we told you any more, it would spoil the game for everyone.

If you enjoy escape games, we strongly recommend The Summons  to anyone who is anywhere near Cincinnati. You could play The Summons without any experience, but if you feel comfortable with escape room-style gameplay, you’ll probably enjoy it more. There’s a lot to do, and the smarter you play, the more you get to see.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Escape room-inspired gameplay in a new staging
  • Up to 48 people can actively engage at once
  • Group dynamics
  • The Cincinnati Masonic Center

Story

We had been summoned to an underground gathering of criminals for a gala and auction at the Cincinnati Masonic Center.

We knew that there would be other criminal crews, a competition, and an auction. Beyond that, we were told to dress classy.

In-game: A large waiting room in the Masonic Temple. The room is elegant and looks old but very well maintained.

Setting 

Set within a few rooms of the gorgeous and imposing Cincinnati Masonic Center, we gathered with 4 other groups of classy criminals and a few characters to outwit others within this area.

In-game: The ceiling of the ballroom features beautiful woodwork and intricate light fixtures.

We’ve written before about the difference between an immersive set and the genuine artifact. This place was the real deal. The level of detail in its design and layout harkened back to a century ago when ornate detailing and overt displays of craftsmanship were highly valued.

In-game: View of the room from the stage with 8 different tables, and a balcony full of seats above.

The seating along the side gave the game an almost gladiatorial feel (even if there weren’t onlookers in the seats.)

Seven Forces also constructed a number of movable structures within the game, as they could not make any true modifications to the actual building.

Gameplay

Seven Forces’ The Summons was an unusual multi-group escape game that was approachable to play and challenging to win.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and group dynamics.

The introduction of group dynamics was what made this game especially interesting.

In-game: close-up of a game table with large puzzle components resting atop it.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles were approachable, but still challenging. They felt like the right difficulty level for the experience. Hints were readily available.

➖ Many of the puzzles didn’t feel grounded in the mythology. There was opportunity to more intricately link the puzzle play with the worldbuilding.

In-game: A wooden locker with sliding doors and a series combination locks.

➕ We didn’t need to solve every puzzle in The Summons to win the game, or even fully participate in the entire game. Small teams could have an equally fulfilling experience.

➖ At times The Summons bottlenecked. There were limited actors with multiple responsibilities.

➕ The Summons fostered elaborate group dynamics. It really shined in this regard. I have to imagine that based on the individuals playing in that booking, any given game could be wildly different from any other.

In-game: Close-up of a large metal device that displays the word, "Disarmed" beside a mystical artifact.

➖ We found one late-game moment ill-advised. Although The Seven Forces took precautions to ensure this scene went smoothly, the payoff wasn’t worth the risk. It felt hollow and could be reworked into a more powerful and less risky scene.

➕The Cincinnati Masonic Center was the perfect stage for this adventure. Its majestic allure supported the narrative of The Summons. It was a fun environment to explore.

In-game: Close-up of a door handle that looks demonic.

➕The Seven Forces used inexpensive components, but combined them cleverly into puzzles. Together with the beautiful staging, this delivered an experience that felt far more grand than it maybe should have. We were impressed.

➕The Seven Forces built temporary structures into the gameplay. The air of secrecy surrounding these spaces and the experiences within added to the ambiance and excitement of The Summons.

➕/➖ Every team received a private puzzle, which was delivered in an alluring manner. We solved ours quickly, but the puzzle was missing a bit of clue structure.

In-game: two sides of an ornate 7 Forces coin.

➕ In The Summons, solving puzzles had a tangible reward in the form of currency, in addition to more puzzles. The reward funneled back into the overarching gameplay. It worked brilliantly.

➕ We learned how to play The Summons by playing it. The Seven Forces designed earlier interactions to set up later ones. It all came together spectacularly.

➕/➖ The final puzzle was an interesting beast. From a puzzle design standpoint, it was probably the weakest of the night. Conceptually, the interaction was absolutely brilliant.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • Review our tips for playing escape rooms with actors.
  • Come in costume and get into character for The Summons. It’s worth it.

Book your hour with Seven Forces’ The Summons, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Seven Forces provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escapism – Do Not Disturb [Review]

Do Not Disturb

Creepy dolls & good flow.

Location:  Southington, Connecticut

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

It’s great to see a new company come out of the gate with a strong game. Escapism gets escape rooms, and we’re incredibly excited to see where they take their designs.

Do Not Disturb was a fantastic game for less experienced players. It was well designed with strong puzzle flow.

If you’re an experienced player, there was something to enjoy in Do Not Disturb, but it wasn’t a must-play.

If you’re new to escape rooms, this would be a wonderful place to start.

In-game: closeup of a creepy doll.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • An elegant set
  • A great hint system
  • Smart puzzles

Story

Our team of private investigators was called to investigate an abandoned and allegedly haunted apartment. It was up to us to determine the fate of its tenant.

In-game: View through the door of Do Not Disturb into a studio apartment with a creepy doll sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

Setting

We “broke into” a small, grandmotherly apartment with a cohesive aesthetic. It wasn’t a fancy setting, but it looked and smelled right.

In-game: a small table two two unusual wooden locked boxes.

Gameplay

Escapism’s Do Not Disturb was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: An old apartment bedroom's dresser. There are metal boxes with wires running from them.

Analysis

➕ The set looked homey, but slightly creepy. It had a gentle, welcoming aesthetic with just the slightest edge.

➕ Escapism’s set design included visual, auditory, and olfactory ambiance. These extra details added a lot to the experience.

Do Not Disturb had a stellar entry for onboarding escape room newbies.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. Escapism even augmented a few puzzles so that experienced players wouldn’t accidentally (or purposely) bypass parts of the game. It worked well.

➖ One puzzle could easily become overwhelming depending on the order the players connect various in-game elements. In part, the ambiance contributed to potential sensory overload. This puzzle could benefit from either more gating and/or stronger cluing.

➕ The hint system was designed specifically for Do Not Disturb. This detail added to the overall experience. We didn’t use any hints… but Escapism clearly knew how cool the system was and worked it into our game nonetheless.

➖ Escapism mixed locks with tech-driven opens, but too often the tech was too visible. If they can build housing around the tech and hide it in the decor, it’s effects would be far more effective.

➕Escapism had a beautiful, spacious lobby. Leave yourself a few extra minutes to hang out.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Tavern 42 for BBQ nearby.
  • Leave some time to hang out in Escapism’s gorgeous lobby.

Book your hour with Escapism’s Do Not Disturb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapism comped our tickets for this game.

The Gate Escape – D.J. Death [Review]

Don’t fear the reaper.

Location:  Leominster, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 17, 2018

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

Duration: 35-45 minutes depending on play style

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

D.J. Death was The Gate Escape’s introductory Halloween popup game that didn’t die.

With structured puzzle sections, this game was far more directed than your typical escape game. Additionally, it was nonthreatening, even if the theme sounds scary.

Although the set design was a bit uneven – with some puzzle sections looking great and others looking a bit cheesy – it played well and culminated in a delightful conclusion.

D.J. Death would be a wonderful game for newbies. Even as experienced players, we found a lot to enjoy. It wasn’t hard, but it was amusing. If you’re an experienced player, The Gate Escape’s other games are must-plays. D.J. Death is worth adding to your lineup if you’re open to sacrificing some difficulty for a novel game structure.

In-game: a dance floor with DJ Death's skull and cross scythe logo.

Who is this for?

  • Dance party goers!
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Halloween fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Music
  • Dance party
  • Fun puzzles 

Story

Death DJ would host the most exclusive Halloween party of the year. If we wanted to gain admittance, we would have to pass his test and help him build his playlist one puzzle at a time. If we failed, we’d be cut… from the guest list.

In-game: A wall of massive blocks in the middle of the room.

Setting

D.J. Death was a large, open space with 10 smaller puzzle stations along the periphery. Each station had a unique, spooky theme: vampire, voodoo, mad science, etc. (They ranged broadly.)

The level of detail was a little uneven. Some areas looked great; some felt like party-store Halloween. Generally, the visual focus directed us at the puzzle components.

The coolest parts of the set were the dance floor and DJ booth… which were really what mattered.

In-game: closeup of a voodoo shrine.

Gameplay

The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death was an unusual escape room with a low level of difficulty.

This large gamespace was divided into sections, each containing one puzzle. We moved through the space solving the puzzles and collecting tunes from the D.J. himself.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

The Gate Escape offered two play modes. If the entire group traveled between puzzles together, the game clock was 45 minutes. If the group split up to tackle the puzzles separately, the game clock was 35 minutes. (Our group of 4 stayed together so that everyone could experience the entire game. That worked well.)

In-game: An open coffin lit red.

Analysis

➕ D.J. Death was cute and joyous. It didn’t take itself seriously.

➕/➖ The set looked a bit party-store. With the Halloween theme, this generally worked just fine. There were, however, opportunities to improve the aesthetics.

➖Despite the name and the Halloween theming, D.J. Death was not a scary escape room. I have to imagine that this marketing is confusing to The Gate Escape’s customers.

➕ D.J. Death provided a gentle on-ramp to a puzzle game. By wrapping the game in a dance party, encouraging teams to work together, and keeping related puzzle components contained, it would be approachable to new players of all ages and abilities. The Gate Escape is willing to turn the lights on for nervous players.

In-game: 4 large, vertical metal tubes with grates over them.

➕ The Gate Escape built a great mix of puzzle styles into D.J. Death. They were largely tangible and interactive.

➖ Our least favorite puzzles were the less interactive of the lot. The puzzles with larger components generally felt more exciting.

➕ The separate puzzles came together with a meta puzzle. It made the escape room feel whole.

➖ There was opportunity for a more engaging meta puzzle in this space.

➕ The finale. D.J. Death had a wonderful ending. It really was the only way this game could have ended.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Take the elevator up and walk down the long hallway to The Gate Escape.
  • 435 Bar & Grille is conveniently located in the same building.
  • D.J. Death is not scary.

Book your hour with The Gate Escape’s D.J. Death, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gate Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Trapology – Crush Depth [Review]

Crushed it.

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Crush Depth was a great escape room.

It had an intense, detailed, and imposing aesthetic. The puzzles were meaty and entertaining. The story put an atypical twist on a fairly common concept.

While we encountered a bit of ambiguity with puzzle sequencing, and it was occasionally difficult to find what we were supposed to do among the various set details, it still played really well.

We wholeheartedly recommend it for players who are nearby and have a bit of escape room experience.

In-game: overhead shot of a the bunks in the submarine.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Submarine aesthetic
  • Unorthodox story choice
  • Strong puzzles

Story

While we were serving aboard a submarine, the spirit of the boat’s former captain assumed control, and in a final vengeful act, set a course for crush depth. We had to banish the angry spirit and retake control of the submarine before we all received a gruesome physics lesson.

In-game: an axe hanging over a porthole.

Setting

Crush Depth was an aesthetically gorgeous game, among the most beautiful that we’ve seen in the region.

The submarine set was detailed and weathered. It felt right. There was a lot to look at.

Additionally, the layout felt correct. The entire game took place in a narrow series of rooms.

In-game: wide angle of a the bunks in the submarine.

Gameplay

Trapology’s Crush Depth 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 high voltage electrical box.

Analysis

➕ Trapology turned a few rooms of their downtown Boston office building space into a submarine. The set design looked great.

➖ Although the set looked great, not all of the puzzle components were on the same level. Trapology relied on laminated paper for some clue structure.

➖ The submarine set contained interesting knobs, dials, and gadgets. It wasn’t entirely apparent which were in play and which were decor.

In-game: closeup of a axe-head.

➕ We’ve escaped a lot of submarines, but this was the first one that was haunted by a vengeful ghost captain. Trapology twisted two themes together to create something new and exciting. (Note, Crush Depth is not a horror game.)

In-game: closeup of a small metal step.

➕ Crush Depth was a puzzle-focused escape room with many excellent solves. We always had something interesting to work on.

➖ We encountered one clunky mid-game sequence. Some of the cluing felt a bit out of order.

In-game: A shower-head in a small stall.

➖/➕We couldn’t always tell when we’d triggered an open. Trapology could add lighting or sound cues to make tech-driven opens pop. That said, our attentive gamemaster directed us to anything we’d opened without realizing it.

➕ The final sequence of interactions was massive, tangible, and so satisfying. The conclusion was explosive.

In-game: close-up of a wheel/ door handle.

➕ Trapology had a beautiful lobby. We wish we could have lounged there for longer. We loved the cozy, steampunk-inspired aesthetic.

Tips For Visiting

  • Trapology is easily accessible by T. Take the Green Line to Boylston St.
  • We recommend Explorateur on the corner for a coffee, drinks, a meal… and some really interesting desserts.

Book your hour with Trapology’s Crush Depth, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapology comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escapers – Panacea [Review]

In-game: The sign for the Panacea Apothecary in the hallway of Room Escapers.

Pandemic: Alchemy

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts

Date Played:  December 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing:  Public / Private if you book at least 4 tickets

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Room Escapers is at their best when the build large-team, puzzle-focused, humorous adventures. They checked all those boxes with Panacea… and this may be the finest example of their style thus far.

Panacea was visually striking with an elegant color palette and beautiful faux stained glass windows. While the build quality was occasionally lacking, it was a generally wonderful environment.

From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to puzzle through. Our entire team was occupied from start to finish. Panacea just needed a culminating puzzle that brought all of us back together for a finale.

All in all, this was a seriously satisfying game, and regardless of experience level, we highly recommend playing Panacea if you’re visiting Boston.

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a lectern.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Beautiful alchemy-inspired decor
  • Challenging puzzles

Story

With a disease ravaging the world, humanity’s last hope was hidden in an old Boston apothecary. We entered the preserved establishment-turned-museum with one goal: master the 7 principles of alchemy and produce a mythical cure-all.

In-game: a stain-glass window depicting a fire-breathing dragon.
One of my favorite features of this game.

Setting

We stepped out of Room Escapers’ lobby and into a beautiful old bepuzzled apothecary-turned-museum.

The build quality varied from item to item. Some of the game was beautifully constructed, while other portions were a little more finicky or flimsy.

The most beautiful feature of the room a set of fluorescent office lights that were converted into faux stained glass.

In-game: a large hourglass in the middle of the apothecary.

Gameplay

Room Escapers’ Panacea was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A chest with the depiction of an ouroboros; a snake eating its own tail.

Analysis

➕ Panacea was beautifully themed, down to the game clock. It was an inviting space in which to solve puzzles.

➕ The stained glass windows were awesome.

➕ The story flowed through the puzzles. It became apparent early on how working through the puzzles would resolve the story. We had a good sense of our progression as we played.

In-game: sign reads, "7 principles of truth: he who knows these will find the Panacea."

Panacea offered many hands-on, challenging puzzles. It kept our entire team busy. There was a lot to do and most of it was pretty great.

➖ We encountered one ghost puzzle that led us far afield. This puzzle needed to be entirely refactored, rather than partially reskinned.

➕/➖ In Panacea we worked through a lot of puzzles in a relatively confined space. On the one hand, puzzle elements were well labeled so that we didn’t struggle to connect this astrology with that… astrology. The challenge was in the puzzle. On the other hand, it felt less organic to rely on labeling. Additionally, larger groups will likely struggle stepping around each other.

➖ Some of the tech-driven interactions were finicky. This added unnecessary frustration after we’d solved the puzzles.

➕ The hint system made sense with the story and the space. It added to the experience. (In fact, we recommend asking for a hint, even if you don’t need one.)

In-game: wide shot of the apothecary. There is a large red chair and a phrenology bust.

➖ In Panacea, we spread out, working on different puzzle tracks. Although we enjoyed the finale, we felt it lacked a culminating puzzle that brought the team back together for the conclusion.

➕ There was some really funny wordplay going on in Panacea.

➕ Room Escapers has upped their reveal game. In Panacea, the reveals worked wonderfully.

Tips For Visiting

  • Panacea is at Room Escapers’ School Street location.
  • It is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.

Book your hour with Room Escapers’ Panacea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Room Escapers comped our tickets for this game.

Movie Review: Escape Room (2019)

I’m glad I saw it. I wish it had ended sooner.

Director: Adam Robitel

Writers: Bragi Schut & Maria Melnik

Release Date: January 4, 2019

Run Time: 100 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language

REA Reaction

Yes, it’s a PG-13 SAW/ Final Destination knock-off… but it wasn’t bad and it was far less torture-porn-y.

There were many points in Escape Room (2019) where I had solved the puzzle ahead of the characters. I mean that as a compliment. It’s difficult to write puzzles for on-screen actors to solve within a narrative and still present them in a solvable manner for the audience. Escape Room (2019) largely achieved this… although not entirely.

Two characters standing in a room that has turned into an oven.

The opening sequence was chaotic and messy, but it gave way to solid character development and some genuinely interesting escape room challenges, albeit murderous ones. There were good solves and amazing interactions… one of which had me thinking, “why haven’t I seen that done in real life?”

All of this was sustained by acting and dialog that were far better than I had hoped for.

Unfortunately, the final act took a nose dive into utter nonsense.

Finally, the escape room in-jokes were as good they were cringey. There was a character who was such an escape room enthusiast caricature that I watched him thinking, “well… this is how I sound to normal people.”

A card for Minos Escape Rooms.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some escape room experience

Why Watch?

  • You can actively solve many of the puzzles along with the characters
  • Solid character development
  • Really cool, over-the-top escape room-y moments
  • Escape room in-jokes

Story

Six strangers received mysterious puzzle boxes in the mail. Solving them led to the day, time, and location of an escape room game where the winners would receive $10,000… if they survived.

Gameplay

I won’t go so far as to call this movie a game, but it was possible to kind of play along. I solved some of the puzzles along with the characters.

7 hands holding a block of ice with a key in it.
Worst process puzzle ever.

Analysis

➖ The opening sequence was laughable and chaotic.

➕ The characters were interesting and generally likable.

One character excitedly speaking to the group.

➕ The escape room enthusiast character was really something. I found him equal parts amusing and cringey. His references to playing with crappy strangers, escape room company names, how escape games work, and “immersion” were painfully dead on.

➖ They made an odd decision to only establish 3 of the 6 characters at the beginning of the movie. This diminished 3 characters from the onset and telegraphed entirely too much about the film.

➕ I truly enjoyed being able to remain engaged and mentally follow most of the puzzles.

4 characters outside of a cabin in the middle of a snowy forest.

❓ Escape Room (2019) wasn’t gory or particularly gross. The death scenes weren’t graphic and generally ended quickly. Personally, I preferred this.

➕ Most of the rooms that the characters “played” in were imaginative and over the top, while still feeling more or less grounded in escape room tradition.

A bar room where everything is upside down.

➖ There came a point where everything started to feel rushed. They condensed interesting concepts to make room for the ending.

➖ The final act was nonsensical garbage. Escape Room (2019)’s sin was explaining too much. I don’t know if it was trying to be profound or establish a path to a sequel. Whatever the thought process, the conclusion was miserable.

➕ Murder notwithstanding, there were concepts in this film that I hope to see incorporated into real life escape rooms.

A character solving a puzzle box.

➖ It’s not the fault of anyone involved with this film, but there were a number of different moments that felt especially uncomfortable in light of the tragedy in Poland that occurred on the movie’s opening day. It was difficult to see a newspaper headline on screen that read “5 Dead in Fire,” and to see heat and fire traps, poison gas, and even the overall concept that these rooms might kill you, knowing what had just happened in real life.

Tips For Watching

  • Accept that this isn’t a masterpiece and embrace the fun.
  • Solve along with the movie when you can.
  • Consider leaving as soon as the game is officially over. What comes after doesn’t add any of value.

Book your viewing of Escape Room (2019), and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Los Angeles, California: Escape Room Recommendations

Looking for an escape room near Los Angeles, California?

Latest update: January 5, 2019

Los Angeles is one of the strongest escape room markets in the United States.

This city offers some of the best sets and scenery we’ve seen in escape rooms. That doesn’t mean they skimp on the puzzles. The best escape rooms in Los Angeles deliver full experiences.

You might be interested in our recommendations for Anaheim, California as well.

Scene from LA in black, white, & blue. A sports car speeding past a building that says, "MADE IN LA."

Market Standouts

  1. Stash House
  2. Lab Rat, Hatch Escapes
  3. The Elevator Shaft, THE BASEMENT
  4. The Courtyard, THE BASEMENT 
  5. The Morgue, Evil Genius (We haven’t played it yet. See comments below.)

Set & Scenery Driven

Puzzle Centric

Creative Tech

Unusual Concept

Newbie-friendly

Big Group Games

Private Booking Companies

Spooky & Scary

Games with Actors

You are always welcome to contact us if this recommendation list doesn’t answer your specific questions.

2018 Golden Lock-In Awards

2018 Golden Lock-In Award features an open REA padlock with a golden ring around it.

We played and reviewed 191 escape rooms in 2018.

This was an invigorating year of escape games.

We throttled down our playing a little bit (255 in 2017) and put an emphasis on hunting down amazing and unusual games in the markets that we visited. As a result of that decision, we have a diverse pool of Golden Lock-In winners that broadly span styles, budgets, and geography.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again.

There were plenty of other amazing escape rooms, but we can’t honor them all. In the end these 13 rose to the top.

Rules

  1. We only considered games that we both played in 2018.
  2. We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In.
  3. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
  4. A company could only win once for the year.

2018 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order we played them.

The Blind Pig

Murfreesboro Escape Rooms – Murfreesboro, TN

In-game: a boarded up business with a sign out front that says, "Hammer Realty, the secret is in the name."

With its intimate setting, great puzzle flow, and hidden surprises, Murfreesboro Escape Rooms designed a remarkably tight and balanced adventure game. The Blind Pig was a traditional escape room where everything gelled.

Sasquatch

Escape the Netherworld – Stone Mountain, GA

In-game: A wood door chained shut.
Image via Escape The Netherworld.

What began as  a traditional cabin escape room became so much more as Sasquatch’s narrative hiked to a magical finale. Escape the Netherworld told an unusual story that was intense, exciting, and unexpectedly charming.

Catacombs

Logic Locks – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In-game: a wall of human skulls lit by a lantern.
Image via Logic Locks

In the depths of a church, we unearthed Logic Locks’ theatrical story of crypts and demons. As the puzzles built tension and the scenes became more dire, win or lose, Catacombs careened towards a commanding conclusion.

The Experiment

The Great Escape – Zwolle, The Netherlands

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Intimidating yet funny, The Experiment made us feel like we were truly escaping, more so than in any other game in our memory. The Great Escape designed around character building, both theirs and our own, which added depth to the experience.

Honeymoon Hotel

Escape Challenge – Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

In-game: A wooden bellhop's desk with a bell and a note.

Escape Challenge builds games that feel alive, haunted, and out to get you. Honeymoon Hotel transformed from mundane to insane as it pushed us through an exquisitely detailed reimagining of the H.H. Holmes “murder castle” story.

Cutthroat Cavern

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, LA

In-game: a large stone wall with a massive skull carved into it. The skull's eyes glow with fire.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

With towering ceiling and wet depths, Cutthroat Cavern was breathtaking. For 60 minutes we frolicked in our own Goonies adventure. The scale of this escape room is unrivaled. 13th Gate Escape’s latest creation is in a class of its own.

Playground

The Escape Game – Nashville, TN

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who would have guessed that returning to the classroom would be as joyful as it was at The Escape Game? With a playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay, Playground had us frolicking through school.

The Edison Escape Room

Palace Games – San Francisco, CA

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

The invisible adaptive intelligence within The Edison Escape Room floored us. Palace Games took ambitious design to another level by hybridizing escape rooms and video games into something  beautiful and new.

Lab Rat

Hatch Escapes – Los Angeles, CA

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

As we ventured through Lab Rat’s whimsical yet imposing world, we journeyed through a story. Hatch Escapes put narrative in the driver’s seat with gameplay that supported it… humorously, intensely, and ridiculously.

Stash House: A Los Angeles Crime Story

Stash House – Los Angeles, CA

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Story-driven and puzzle-focused, expansive and intimate, challenging and fair, Stash House achieved a balance that few escape rooms deliver. Through these oppositions, we were immersed within its imaginative and cohesive world.

Over the Falls

Escape City Buffalo – Tonawanda, NY

In-game: a rusty and weathered sit of dials and gauges.

With an over-the-top build, Over the Falls was light on puzzles and high on adventure. We were engaged and enthralled with Escape City Buffalo’s vessel and its seafaring woes.

The Grand Parlor

13th Hour Escape Rooms – Wharton, NJ

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

In the vast expanses and the tight nooks of The Grand Parlor, we played a challenging puzzle game with a beautiful set that continually surprised us. Plus we  met 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ delightfully rambunctious actors (who only roam when the haunt is operating).

The Observatory

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

In-game: The number "2 5 8" mounted to the floor.

Marvelously eccentric, The Observatory taught us how to unravel its mysteries through the act of playing. The Gate Escape crafted a fair and challenging game for experienced escape room players, with great  interactions to boot.

Congratulations to the 2018 Golden Lock-In Winners!

Past Golden Lock-In Awards

About Room Escape Artist

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Dream Study #114 [Review]

🎵 All I have to do is dream… 🎵

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: December 9, 2018

Team size: Variable depending on the time slot. (The event had timed entry, but attendees could continue playing or just hang out until the end of the night.)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket (limited run ended in December 2018)

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Dream Study #114 was an immersive theater piece with puzzle elements set in a relaxed bar environment. It didn’t deliver the full experience of immersive theater or escape rooms: the puzzles were simple, and there were only a few scripted scenes during each hour. The option to interact with actors, however, offered extra adventure for players who wanted to get more involved in story than the average escape room allows. The experience was uneven and unstructured at times, but Dream Study #114 showed that mixing these genres has a lot of potential.

Ultimately, Dream Study #114 felt like hanging out at a bar with some bonus theatrical and puzzle elements, which is a fun time as long as showgoers know what to expect. We’d love to see more hybrid events like this experimenting with form.

In-game: A busy bar lit red.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who enjoy interacting with actors
  • Casual puzzlers

Why play?

  • Hybrid show with puzzle and immersive theater elements
  • A unique night out at a bar
  • Victory drink ticket

Story

The psychologist Dr. Rose Hallard had invited us to take part in an experiment where we would enter an important “dream memory” of hers from 1983. Our goal was to solve the mysteries planted in her mind to influence a major scientific breakthrough. 

In-game: A poster telling the reader to "Unlock the power of your dreams." It has a trippy image of heads within heads.

Setting

Dream Study #114 took place at an actual bar peppered with props and puzzles related to Rose’s memories. The set felt like a regular working bar with some added effects. Theatrical scenes occurred at timed intervals throughout the evening. Participants could buy drinks, chat in between scenes, and solve the related puzzles at their leisure. 

In-game: A lamp illuminating a couch with a newspaper.

Gameplay

Dream Study #114 was part immersive theater production and part escape room. Upon arrival, we each chose one of two tracks, each of which involved solving a different set of puzzles scattered around the bar. Upon completing the puzzles, we entered the resulting solution into a mysterious device to learn how the story ended.

Both tracks in Dream Study #114 included simple puzzles that revolved around observation and making connections.

In-game: an old radio device lit blue and glowing.

Analysis

➕ The bar was a perfect setting for an immersive theater/puzzle hybrid event. It felt slightly surreal to get a clue from a bartender who wasn’t part of the cast, or to hear an actor refer to a drink on that night’s menu. Putting on a show at an actual bar risked red herrings, but the puzzle flow was clear enough that this wasn’t an issue.

➕/➖ The theatrical scenes, puzzles, props, costumes, music, and even the video playing on the TV behind the bar were all related to the dream study theme. We could tell a lot of thought went into these details. However, the truly dreamlike occurrences were few and far between. We would have loved to see more uncanny or unsettling moments.

➖ Each track had us start out by locating a character, with no guidance on how to do so. For one track, it took half an hour before the person we were looking for appeared. This caused some of us to spend half of our time wandering around looking for things to do. It also created a bottleneck once that character was available.

➖ The idea of having two tracks was intriguing, but the experiences were uneven. One track had a simpler goal and puzzles and (we realized later) required no actor interaction. The other track revealed more backstory and drama and had more interesting puzzle components. We would have had more fun comparing notes afterward if we had equally engaging experiences to share.

➕ The final interaction felt momentous. We felt like the heroes no matter which track we had played.

➖ Because there were 12 people per time slot (in addition to the players still hanging around from previous time slots), the characters and props were in high demand. This sometimes caused bottlenecks, particularly towards the end of the hour. Also, important props tended to meander around the bar, which made solving difficult. Having a gamemaster dedicated to wrangling puzzle components would have alleviated this problem.

➕/➖ A drink ticket was provided to each player at the end of their track, which added to our feeling of triumph. However, we would have preferred to get a drink ticket at the beginning of the evening while we were settling in. This would also ensure that everyone got their money’s worth whether or not they finished their track.

➖ Before entering the event, we were asked to answer a question to determine our track. The question seemed unrelated to the evening except that it broke us up into teams. If we’d been asked a more introspective question, or if we’d chosen a side once we knew a bit more about the story, we would have felt more immersed in the show and invested in the outcome.

➖ We were told up front to be careful who we trusted, which gave us the impression that we shouldn’t help each other out. This initially led us to be cautious about revealing our missions and progress in the game. Once we decided to socialize more and team up with other guests, we had more fun. This felt like a mismatch between story and gameplay.

➕ We appreciated that the event space and the lack of time limit meant we could stay at the venue after the show. It was the ideal place to rehash our experience—the venue where it happened.

Tips For Visiting

Dream Study #114 had a limited run and is no longer playing. The venue and other details may change if it is revived in another form.

This experience had live actors, though interaction was not required. (Review our tips for playing with actors.) For shows like Dream Study #114, it adds to the experience if you enjoy speaking with actors, but you can just as easily sit back and watch others interact.

Dream Study #114 took place in November and December 2018 and is not currently running.