Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Space Smugglers [Review]

Mighty good shindig.

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 29, 2019

Team size: requires exactly 8

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Ghost Ship docked in our home once again and put on an incredible murder mystery for us and 6 of our friends.

A group photo.

We deceived and deduced our way through a shockingly expansive game world that merged elements of popular science fiction including Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and Star Wars. It was a ton of fun to interact with one another as these characters.

It’s my opinion that Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries are among the most under-appreciated immersive experiences in New York City. Some of this reputation is that they aren’t broadly known. Among folks who have heard of them, however, I believe there is an underlying assumption that murder mystery games are generally junk. While most are, this was the exception.

I have zero interest in doing another boxed murder mystery; they are awful. However, I can’t get enough of Ghost Ship. I am incredibly eager to play their Murder In The West Wing soon.

If you have a group of friends who aren’t too cool to do a little roleplaying, I highly recommend bringing Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries into your home.

Lindsay posing with a strange item, David photobombs in a Jayne hat and holding a wooden cooking spoon.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Aspiring detectives
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Ghost Ship does nearly all of the work of setting up and facilitating a high quality murder mystery
  • A story with depth that enables players to explore their characters and the world
  • Masterful facilitation that doesn’t step on toes and doesn’t let people fall out of the game

Story

In a galaxy torn by war between the dominant Regime and the rebellious Coalition, Captain Jay’s crew didn’t have a side; they were just trying to get by. To make some money, they took a few passengers aboard. Deep in space, a member of the crew had gone missing… and so our mystery began.

Mike Anderson dressed as a jedi, in a heated conversation with Therea and someone off camera.
“At me you will come, bro.”

Setting

Ghost Ship co-founder Dylan Zwickel surveyed us about our guests and cast each of them into 1 of 8 different roles based on how we answered. Some roles were more involved for more eager players; some roles weren’t demanding at all.

We each received a secret email with a little backstory about our character. We chose the extent to which we wanted to costume for the experience.

Dylan came to our home an hour before the game, hid items, and set everything up. We told her which rooms, closets, cabinets, and drawers were out of bounds, and she marked them appropriately.

Once our guests arrived, she introduced the story and things rolled on from there.

9 character envelopes, each with a different name on it.
I was Ezra. I had a whole lot of fun playing Ezra.

Gameplay

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers was a murder mystery game with a variable level of difficulty. Your group could commit as much or as little as desired. Last time we invited a group of people with mixed levels of interest and it worked very well. This time, we only invited people who we knew would commit and it took on a life of its own.

Core gameplay revolved around role-playing, searching, deception, and deduction.

Lisa and Theresa looking dubious in a conversation.

Analysis

➕ Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries created a robust world for us to explore and treated us like adults. We were able to dive deep or wade in the shallow waters as we each desired.

➕ The story mixed overt elements of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and Star Wars. No knowledge of any of these was required, but those who got the references weren’t disappointed.

➖ There were more factions than we were expecting. It was difficult for us to connect with any of these because we didn’t really know their politics and motives. A little more world-building would have rounded this out.

➕ Dylan was a master of light-touch facilitation. She played a role on the ship that made it easy for her to converse with any other character and used that to spice things up or help a player who needed a nudge in the right direction.

Theresa's cyborg arm
Some of us got more serious about our costumes than others.

➖ The role distribution of 5 crew and 3 passengers was imbalanced. This stilted the politics of the game a little too much.

➕ Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries worked some clever game mechanics into the experience. These were generally low key and continued to put the focus on the interpersonal interactions of the experience.

➖ There were some mechanics that we never really had a grasp of.

➕ In our game, the killer got away with the crime. We chose wrong. It truly didn’t diminish the experience because we had so much fun on the journey. (That said, the killer was quite proud.)

➕/➖ We loved the ending of the story… and we felt that there was a little room to improve the delivery of said ending.

➕ The Space Smugglers never dragged for us. Not once.

➖ We would have appreciated some costume suggestions or ideas (both easy and complex).

Space Smugglers was a ton of fun, reasonably priced, and vastly superior to any boxed play-at-home murder mystery. We’re eager to play again.

Tips For Visiting

  • This can be played in a small space. A larger space is better but not necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to tidy up your home before hosting.
  • A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in terms of loosening people up.
  • It’s fine to invite people who aren’t outgoing, but don’t invite people who are too cool to play.

Book your session with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Argyx Games – Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross [Review]

A shadow…

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 18, 2019

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

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $55.70

REA Reaction

We backed Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross on Kickstarter after playing and reviewing the Prelude to Apocalypse a year ago. Our play through of Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross confirmed our growing suspicion not to promote a Kickstarter without playing the game itself. Although we liked Prelude, the full game fell flat.

Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross had solid creative direction, an interesting premise, and one or two fantastic puzzle concepts. It was burdened, however, with repetitious and tedious gameplay.

We can’t really recommend Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross at this point unless you’re super into puzzle/ crime thrillers and are willing to push through the gameplay. Finally, we apologize to those who backed it based on our enjoyment of the demo.

The opened box for Apocalypse. A letter is addressed to Lisa.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An intriguing aesthetic
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

A serial killer who goes by the name “Abaddon,” a reference to the Angel of Death from the Bible, had sent us a care package filled with encoded evidence of his crimes and a challenge: learn his secrets and stop him before he killed again.

A wooden lockbox, with a bloodied lock beside a bible and a notebook.

Setup

We received a package with a bloodied lock box, Bible passages, and other documents. We had to puzzle through them in order to follow the narrative and crack the case.

Gameplay

Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross was a play-at-home detective game that blended escape room-style solves into a light puzzle hunt.

It had a high level of difficulty relative to most play-at-home escape rooms.

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

The box for Apocalypse Sign of the Cross.

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed the tangible puzzle components. The props – paper and otherwise – looked good.

➕ Argyx Games designed a mystery with an artsy, haunting vibe. The branding was on point.

➕ Argyx Games incorporated some classic escape room play into a boxed game. This led to a wonderful aha moment.

➕/ ➖ The web-based hint system worked pretty well. It was granular. It also showed the flow of the game so that we wouldn’t take hints we weren’t ready for. We would have liked it to include more description of how to derive a solution, once we’d walked through the hints to the end of a puzzle path.

Apocalypse demanded an obnoxious level of precision. This was especially frustrating when we practically needed a magnifying glass to work with the props.

➖ Many of the puzzles felt similar in style. We spent a lot of time reading and searching.

➖ The final puzzle was a let-down. It was a fantastic concept, but it asked us to make a lot of leaps. David finally solved it, hacking away with a bit too much persistence. At that point the rest of the group had checked out.

➖ I clicked a link which called an international phone number. Then I received a text from Verizon telling me I’d been charged for that call. This was inexcusable. While Argyx Games did provide an alternative way to get the necessary information, we didn’t know that at the time I made the call. It wasn’t until we looked at the puzzle’s hints that we found out this charge could have been avoided.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: paper and pencil, an internet-connected device (preferably a computer over a phone)
  • For North Americans: when the game wants you to make an international phone call, don’t. Check the hints for that puzzle instead.

Buy your copy of Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The Puzzle Parlour – Alien Conspiracy [Review]

Hold onto your foil hat.

Location:  White Plains, NY

Date Played: June 22, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $44.99 per player for teams of 2 to $24.99 per player for teams of 8 with higher pricing at peak hours

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Alien Conspiracy was The Puzzle Parlour’s hardest game. It acted as a sort of final boss for their initial 4 games. It had a number of Easter eggs referencing their other games. It also operated under the assumption that you and your team have some idea of what you’re doing in an escape room.

In-game: a whiteboard covered in equations.

This wasn’t a bad game, but it was our least favorite of The Puzzle Parlour’s offerings. This had to do with some unusual bottlenecking and an unclued element here… and a slightly faulty puzzle there. This was nothing catastrophic, but parts of this game just felt harder than they should have been. The good news is that most of the issues with this game are fixable.

If you’ve played through the rest of The Puzzle Parlour’s suite of games, enjoyed yourself, and like a challenge, you should give Alien Conspiracy a try. It was more challenging than most of the escape rooms in the region. In its own way, that makes it standout.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scientists
  • Players with some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging puzzles
  • The variation in decor

Story

A government crew was on their way to destroy decades of research on the existence of alien life. Our group of believers had stormed a remote home to preserve the data before the powers that be could destroy it all.

In-game: a dated, 70s living room with a flat screen TV.

Setting

We entered the home of an alien conspiracy theorist. It looked like a living room that hadn’t been significantly updated since the 1970s. While this wasn’t the most exciting of gamespaces, it did accomplish its goals.

In-game: a laptop on a very old desk.

Gameplay

The Puzzle Parlour’s Alien Conspiracy was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a black computer screen with green writing that reads, "Unauthorized access self-destruct sequence activated"

Analysis

➕ Alien Conspiracy was a solid execution of a traditional puzzle-driven escape room. The puzzles were varied and flowed logically.

➖ While most of the puzzles worked well, we felt that the occasional detail was left unclued.

➕ The Puzzle Parlour included a nifty toy. This was a fun solve.

➖ In one late-game puzzle, players can derive a solution only by following the intended gameflow. We had enough information to solve this puzzle slightly earlier than intended, with just a molecule of outside knowledge. That attempt at solving seemed logical, and would have worked, except for one small error in the puzzle materials. With just a tweak, players would be able to approach this puzzle earlier than the game designer intended without it breaking.

➕ We could easily track our progress through the final puzzle sequence with visual cues. This set up for an intense final scene.

➖ The end fizzled. The combination of a lockout safe and an unclued element stalled our forward motion. This, along with linear puzzle flow that seemed like it could have been paralleled, but shouldn’t have been, slowed what otherwise should have been a dramatic conclusion.

➕ The different spaces in Alien Conspiracy felt distinctive but cohesive. The themed spaces were exciting to reveal.

Tips For Visiting

  • Puzzle Parlour has a lovely lobby.
  • Park in their lot and use the app ParkWhitePlains to refill your meter.
  • There is plenty to eat and do in the area.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Parlour’s Alien Conspiracy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Parlour comped our tickets for this game.

Crypto Escape Rooms – The Cursed Temple [Review]

Wrath of a God

Location:  Newmarket, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Cursed Temple was a well-executed tomb raid in the vein of Indiana Jones.

At 2 years old, The Cursed Temple was hardly a relic… but it wasn’t on the same level as Crypto Escape Rooms’ more recent creation, Below Zero. It established an interesting story, but didn’t see it through fully. It had strong puzzles that didn’t integrate quite as fully as those in the newer game in Crypto’s stable.

If you only have time for one game at Crypto, make it Below Zero. That said, I’d encourage you to start with The Cursed Temple. It’s well worth playing. I can’t wait to see what this company cooks up next.

In-game: a series of crates with artifacts in them.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Some really innovative puzzles
  • Strong set design

Story

Many explorers had attempted to attain Amon Kha’s cursed treasure. None had lived to tell the tale.

We had decided to go treasure hunting.

In-game: a shrine with mask carvings.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Setting

Crypto Escape Rooms’ The Cursed Temple sent us on an adventure through an Indiana Jones-esque archeological dig. The environment was designed from floor to ceiling with a wide variety of textures and a lot of details to enjoy.

In-game: A worn wooden door with a bloody handprint beside it.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Gameplay

Crypto Escape Rooms’ The Cursed Temple was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

The Cursed Temple’s set looked great. The inclusion of more archeological dig elements along with the temple ruins added a lot of flavor.

➖ There were some sound issues. The sound was muddy and concentrated in the wrong places. This was unfortunate because it seemed like Crypto Escape Rooms put a lot into the sound design.

➕ The puzzles were strong. One group solve really shined.

➕ Technology was cleverly integrated into the experience. Crypto Escape Room’s statue concept was revolutionary.

➕/➖ Crypto Escape Rooms established the groundwork for an interesting story. There was a beginning and an end… but too much of the story was lost in middle.

➕/➖ The final boss fight was conceptually fantastic. However, it needed a bit more to feel like a true event.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Crypto Escape Rooms has a parking lot.

Book your hour with Crypto Escape Rooms’ The Cursed Temple, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crypto Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle [Review]

Crossword Puzzle Puzzle

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 30, 2019

Team size: we recommend 3-5

Size: 550-piece jigsaw

Price: $18

Publisher: Babalu Inc

REA Reaction

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was exactly what the name suggests: a jigsaw puzzle made from a crossword grid. It played out in two distinct phases:

  • Solve the crossword puzzle
  • Assemble the jigsaw puzzle using the crossword puzzle as a guide

As a crossword, it was solid and approachable. It wasn’t too easy or particularly difficult; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

Loose jigsaw pieces surrounding a paper crossword puzzles.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

As far as 550-piece jigsaw puzzles go, it was quite challenging. A black and white letter grid was certainly solvable, but it didn’t provide any of the color, size, and texture clues that are typically helpful in jigsaw puzzling. It also wasn’t much to look at.

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was puzzling for sport. I would never break this out with my family after a holiday dinner. With a small group of dedicated puzzle people, however, we had a remarkably fun time pushing one another and inventing different techniques to increase our effectiveness.

Play this if you love puzzles for their own sake. Make sure you have the right people at the table. There is a second Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle sitting on our shelf and we will solve it.

Who is this for?

  • Crossword & jigsaw puzzlers
  • Best for groups
  • You have to love puzzles

Why play?

  • The intrigue of a mash-up of two familiar puzzle types
  • Solving works best as a group

Setup

First solve the crossword puzzle. Then you’ll have the “picture” for the jigsaw puzzle.

Jigsaw pieces scattered around a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Gameplay

Crossword Jigsaw was a mash-up of two puzzle types: crosswords and jigsaws. Both were standard. In combination, however, Crossword Jigsaw had a high level of difficulty.

We found that this was best experienced with a group to facilitate the piece searching and keep the pace up.

Closeup of loose jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Analysis

➕ Crossword Jigsaw combined two common puzzle types to create a puzzle that looked and felt familiar, but exhibited unique challenges.

➕ It’s rare to find a jigsaw puzzle that can actively engage 6 people. While we found it worked best as a group of 3-4 people, when we opened the box, 6 people actively participated… until dinner was ready.

A pile of jigsaw pieces beside a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

➖ Crossword Jigsaw was not approachable. We knew to start by solving the crossword puzzle and the frame of the jigsaw. Beyond that, it took some trial and error to find a technique for forward momentum.

➖ A large part of the experience was trial and error. We could narrow down by the letter on the piece or the shape of the piece, but solving was less strategic than in most jigsaw puzzles that we’ve solved to date.

➕ We played Crossword Jigsaw with friends. Jigsaw puzzles are individual experiences. Even when you solve them with friends, each person works largely independently on different sections of the whole. Crossword Jigsaw worked better as a group communication game to find the right pieces and assemble the puzzle.

❓ The image is a crossword puzzle, and not a particularly attractive or interesting one. If you’re doing this, it’s purely for love of puzzles.

Tips For Player

  • The finished jigsaw puzzle measures 24” by 18.”
  • The jigsaw has 550 pieces.
  • The same crossword can be downloaded so that the puzzle can be shared with someone else and they can enjoy the same level of challenge.
  • We recommend group solving this one.

Buy your copy of Crossword Jigsaw, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Babalu Inc provided a sample for review. 

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Escape Room Madness – Nuclear Annihilation [Review]

A critical mass of puzzle material.

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: June 24, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31 per player

Ticketing: Public

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

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Nuclear Annihilation was a challenging puzzle-centric escape room with some nifty interactions. Escape Room Madness presented a traditional escape game, completely with old-school difficulty and low lighting.

The lighting became annoying, even though we had more than enough flashlights for the team.

In-game: Nuclear reactor control panel covered in buttons, switches, and lights.

While there were some strong narrative mechanics, they were few and far between.

If you struggle to see in low light or want a stronger sense of adventure, I cannot encourage you to play this game. However, if you’re attracted to escape rooms for the puzzles, and want to have a large amount of content to play through, this is a great option.

As far as old-school escape rooms go, this one appealed to me more than most.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Volumes of puzzles
  • Nifty switches as inputs

Story

A terrorist attack on the nuclear power plant where we worked had left us trapped. We had to handle the situation.

In-game: "Biohazard" and an image of a gasmask painted in black on concrete.

Setting

We entered a low-lit room with puzzle stations lined up around the periphery. Many of the stations had some lovely, tangible interactions with buttons, switches, and dials that were pleasantly tactile.

Flashlights in hand, we puzzled through the game.

In-game: A desk in a dimly lit room, a panel with glowing switches in an assortment of colors.

Gameplay

Escape Room Madness’ Nuclear Annihilation was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

The difficulty came from the volume of puzzles within the space.

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

In-game: A suitcase bomb open, dials, buttons, switches, and a display revealed.

Analysis

➕ Escape Room Madness built fun electronics into Nuclear Annihilation. The control panels with switches and lights looked and felt good. These fun inputs worked well in the gamespace.

➕ / ➖ The gameplay was gated with locks. The volume of locks gave everyone the opportunity to participate in opening up new game elements. While some of the puzzles and locks were correlated by clues, on other occasions, we’d derive a 4-digit combination and have to try it all over the room. There was almost no variation in digit structure among the locks, which was unfortunate.

➕ Time notifications came to us as news reports. These were well produced and worked well within the theme.

➖ The puzzling felt largely disconnected from the rest of the experience. While many of the puzzles were thematic, they didn’t convey narrative. Escape Room Madness relied on laminated pieces of paper as clues rather than building clue structure into the environment.

➕ Our favorite puzzles made use of clues and inputs other than laminated paper. Newer players were especially excited by one layered decode that relied on unfamiliar props.

➖ The gamespace was dark. While Escape Room Madness provided enough flashlights for each player to have their own, we were continually hampered by the flashlight-between-head-and-shoulder lighting technique, in order to use two hands on a lock. With all the locks we needed to see and manipulate, we would have been much more comfortable with a bit more light.

➖ We wasted a bit of time on puzzles we couldn’t solve yet. On multiple occasions, it seemed as if a puzzle was accessible, but we didn’t yet have all the necessary components. Additional gating would be helpful so that players don’t feel like they’ve wasted large amounts of time.

❓ We accidentally created a red herring in this room… and honestly, our imagined puzzle was pretty amazing. We needed a hint to move on past our concept because we were so sure of it. We were then dumbfounded when we learned that it wasn’t the intended puzzle because it worked so perfectly.

Nuclear Annihilation was an old-school puzzle-driven escape room. There were a lot of puzzles to solve. For players who play escape rooms for the puzzles, there were a ton of puzzles that solved cleanly and moved the team forward.

Tips For Visiting

  • Nuclear Annihilation is located on the 5th floor. Note that Escape Room Madness has other games on the 6th floor.
  • Escape Room Madness 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; Escape Room Madness 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 Escape Room Madness’ Nuclear Annihilation, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Room Madness comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Unlocked – The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn [Review]

Where in the World is Hahn?

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 27, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: about an hour

Price: $25

REA Reaction

The Escape Game is an escape room chain headquartered in Nashville, TN, with locations across the United States. They are one of the few chains that we regularly recommend.

The Escape Game Unlocked is their play-at-home line of games of which The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was the first episode. This is not to be confused with The Escape Game’s Monthly Mysteries, part online scavenger hunt and part mystery game, which we have yet to play and review. This review covers only The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, the initial game from The Escape Game Unlocked.

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a solid starting place for a new series that has a lot of potential, but needs to figure out what makes it special.

Closeup of the game's rules, a small notebook, and a set of blueprints.

From a production standpoint, there was a lot to love. The components looked great and the digital interface was fairly refined.

From a puzzling and gameplay standpoint, most everything was solid, with a few puzzles that felt bogged down in interface oddities. The puzzles were good… with a little too much counting. The hint system was adequate, but could use a lot more granularity.

If you’re a tabletop escape game player, I’d suggest giving this one a try. While the Escape Game has not produced a must-play game in The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, for fans of play-at-home puzzle games this is absolutely worth exploring. We’re curious to see where they take the series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Mystery solvers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Fun computer interface

Story

Our handler had tasked us with tracking down the identity and crimes of an infamous art thief who went by the name Vincent Hahn.

The entire game had a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-meets-art-theft vibe.

Setup

To get started, we opened up a black sealed envelope of documents and puzzle components. Then we logged into a website where our mission was introduced to us.

The game bounced back and forth between the physical and digital.

Digital interface for identifying the suspect based on old school records.

Gameplay

The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with the computer interface.

The sealed black envelope for The Escape Game Unlocked, The Heist Vol 1: Chasing Hahn.

Analysis

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn looked professional. The printed materials were nicely designed and used varied paper of high quality. The computer interface also looked good.

❓ The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn relied heavily on the computer interface. It was nifty, but it also focused the group around a screen for the most of the experience. One person had to drive, taking the group from screen to screen. An acceptable ratio of screen time to printed material time in tabletop escape gameplay is personal; read this however you choose.

➕ The Escape Game Unlocked didn’t fall into many of traps that hamper digital interfaces. For example, inputs were not case sensitive.

➖ The computer interface wasn’t entirely intuitive. Although we figured out most oddities without too much hassle, one interface that was supposed to emulate a DOS-like terminal fell very short. We struggled to even figure out what we were looking at.

➖/➕ We were confused by still images that appeared to be videos. As still images, they eliminated red herrings, which we appreciated, but we were left confounded by the whole interaction.

➕/➖ The puzzle types varied pretty well. The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn leaned a bit too heavily on counting puzzles, where the challenge was parsing which information went together.

➕We especially enjoyed when the game asked us to use deductive reasoning to solve the puzzles. 

➕/➖ The hint system got us where we need to be. That said, we would have preferred a little more granularity and redirection in the form of questions as opposed to straight instructions.

➖ We know there are more episodes coming, but don’t know when. We didn’t get any closure from this episode.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: a computer with an internet connection (a laptop will be superior to a mobile phone)

Buy your copy of The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game Unlocked provided a sample for review. 

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

The Best Medicine Productions – The Shadow Space [Review]

We will, we will haunt you.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 30, 2019

Team size: 10 tickets per time slot

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $50 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

With a simple setting and an elegant premise, The Shadow Space offered a fun and unique combination of immersive theater, escape room, and murder mystery.

As ghosts on a guided tour of the living, we got to experience the other side of a haunted house. Through observation, deduction, and some light haunting of the actors in the performance, we attempted to determine what had happened in the house and influence the characters towards a favorable ending.

4 hands on a ouiji board.

Playing as ghosts felt novel and invigorating. Being invisible removed the complexity and awkwardness of two-way communication that sometimes comes along with immersive theater, while still providing an entertaining new mechanic.

The Shadow Space will be back for a second run in October 2019. If you’re near Los Angeles and curious to experience a uniquely haunting hybrid show, The Shadow Space is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • Mystery lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Escalation
  • Collaborative mystery solving
  • The chance to be on the other side of a haunting for once

Story

As recently deceased ghosts, we were on a tour of the living. Our guides had promised us an evening of entertainment as we observed the inhabitants of a home on a day of celebration…and we encountered even more drama than we’d imagined.

The haunted house, a beautiful blue and white house with a yellow door and a porch.

Setting

The Shadow Space took place in a cozy Los Angeles home decorated with items of importance to its inhabitants. We haunted the first floor of the house, which included a kitchen, living room, study, and dining room where the two occupants were hosting another couple for a get-together. As we could not walk through doors, the rest of the space was off limits.

The house felt lived in, and the layout of the rooms allowed us to explore and follow the actors however we chose.

Rules of Haunting: No phones or smoking. The living can't hear you. Don't touch or block the living. Touch only what glows.

Gameplay

The Shadow Space was an immersive theater production with mystery and puzzle elements. Though it started out as a simple evening of ghostly entertainment, we eventually discovered that we needed to solve a mystery by uncovering clues and influencing the actors.

The Shadow Space emphasized the performances and the gameplay roughly equally. Though we encountered a couple of more traditional puzzles, most of the solving took place in the audience’s minds as we pieced together the clues to the central mystery.

As ghosts, we were invisible to the residents, but our hosts warned us not to haunt them too aggressively. Therefore, we could only touch objects that shone with a spiritual energy (i.e., items that lit up under a blacklight), and only when the living were not observing us. We could, however, interact with certain objects to spook the living—as long as they weren’t looking. We also could not pass through doors unless they were opened for us, which presented an interesting challenge.

Though it wasn’t all about winning, the gameplay had a medium to high level of difficulty. Between the puzzles and the central mystery, core gameplay revolved around observation, deduction, and timing.

Analysis

➕ The concept of a ghost tour and the presence of tour guides brought levity to a potentially somber and disturbing story. A pre-show icebreaker where the audience members revealed our (often humorous) causes of death also lifted tension, which helped prepare us for the experience.

➕ The premise of playing as ghosts haunting the living was inventive, and just plain fun. We enjoyed puzzling out how to affect the actors without interacting in the traditional sense.

➕/➖ Between exploring the house and observing the different actors, The Shadow Space provided a lot of possible threads to follow. On one hand, that freedom felt exhilarating. However, with nine audience members and six actors in the space, we struggled to keep track of everything, and communication became an additional challenge.

➖ For the sake of realism, the actors spoke at a normal volume, as if there weren’t a dozen other people in the space with them. This hindered our sleuthing somewhat, as we missed some moments that revealed key information about the characters’ relationships. If the more important conversations had unfolded in such a way that the audience couldn’t miss them, we would have felt more in control.

➕ The moment of transition from ghost tourists to mystery solvers surprised us and ramped up the excitement. The change in our objective felt seamless.

➕/➖ One early haunting opportunity brought the entire group together for a shared experience. That moment was fun and engaging, but it felt disconnected from the rest of the show. It would have felt more rewarding if that moment had paid off later, or otherwise been incorporated into the story.

➖ Our tour guides left us alone at one point, and we weren’t sure whether we still had to follow the rules without supervision. A bit more guidance on how the game worked would have reassured us in that moment.

➕ The actors did an impressive job of performing while both monitoring and ignoring the audience. On top of all that, their dialogue and actions often suggested what we were supposed to do next. This built-in hint delivery was subtle and effective while maintaining immersion.

➖ The clues we needed to solve the mystery were hard to piece together in such a whirlwind environment, and we only had a moment to decide on what we thought had happened. We would have benefited from another couple minutes to discuss our findings as a group before voting on what course of action to take.

➕ “Haunting” the actors felt thrilling and unique. We found ourselves wishing the show had been a bit longer so we could have had some extra time to play around with the ghost mechanics.

Tips For Visiting

The Shadow Space had a limited run in May 2019 and is not currently playing. In future performances, the venue and other details may change. You can sign up for The Shadow Space’s mailing list to be notified about the show’s return from October 7 to November 3, 2019.

This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; this is a low-pressure event for less outgoing audience members.

The Shadow Space was tense and unsettling at times, but never truly scary. However, the October run may change things up in that department.

When the show returns in October, book your hour with The Best Medicine Productions’ The Shadow Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The Puzzle Parlour – Vampire [Review]

Bram Stoker’s Puzzle Parlour

Location:  White Plains, NY

Date Played: June 22, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $44.99 per player for teams of 2 to $24.99 per player for teams of 8 with higher pricing at peak hours

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Puzzle Parlour has established itself as a strong escape room presence outside of New York City. Their elegant games balance set design and puzzle play without over-the-top effects or spectacle.

Vampire was one of their more beginner friendly games. It was, however, completely satisfying as an experienced escape room player.

In-game: a human skull with emeralds in its eye sockets resting on a doily.

There was an opportunity to further refine elements of the set and props, but those quibbles aside, this was a strong showing and probably our favorite game of their initial four.

Regardless of your experience level, if you find yourself near White Plains, NY, you should check out Vampire.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Really nifty, tangible puzzles
  • A cool hint mechanism
  • A great vibe

Story

Our friend had been bitten by a vampire and we had until midnight to figure out a cure!

In-game: A pair of old, worn coffins leaning against the wall.

Setting

The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire had a grim, Gothic look with large chandeliers, coffins, and stone.

The set was well themed within a sane budget. It pulled us into the fiction and kept us there.

While the light was a bit low, we always had enough spotlight to accomplish whatever task was at hand.

In-game: a spooky mirror flanked candles above a dresser.

Gameplay

The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a broken piece of wood in an old coffin.

Analysis

Vampire was well themed. We appreciated the choice of flooring and the cobweb detailing.

➕ The theme extended to the game clock and the hint system. Both were a part of the experience. There was no TV monitor in this ancient castle; it made a huge difference. The Puzzle Parlour justified the existence of a time-keeping mechanism and hint system.

In-game: a dimly lit room lit by over a dozen candles.

➖ While most of the decor and props made sense in the space, The Puzzle Parlour overlooked a few details that didn’t quite fit in. Also… why was there a small hole in the floor?

➖ Modern 4-digit locks felt out of place in this scenario. Weathered or old-timey key locks would have blended into the environment better. Magical opens would have also felt justified.

➕ Upon reflection, Vampire had a lot of varied, satisfying puzzle solves. One prop revealed some of our favorite cluing. We also enjoyed our vantage point beneath the night sky. Overall, we enjoyed the puzzle play.

➖ There was a low chandelier in the middle of the set. It looked great, but it hung way too low.

➕ One beautiful prop fit well in the castle set and had an unusual and fun input mechanism.

Tips For Visiting

  • Puzzle Parlour has a lovely lobby.
  • Park in their lot and use the app ParkWhitePlains to refill your meter.
  • There is plenty to eat and do in the area.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Parlour comped our tickets for this game.

Palace Games – Escape The Palace [Review]

Puzzle Palace

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: June 2, 2019

Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group

Duration: up to 2 hours

Price: contact Palace Games for pricing

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.

Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.

Exterior of the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.

It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.

Wide shot of all of the players gathered.

If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging but fair puzzles
  • Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
  • Fun mechanisms

Story

We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.

The game's main character in a labcoat and goggles.

Setting

Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.

The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.

An "Escape the Palace" Banner hanginging over a stairwell with my team under it.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.

Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.

Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.

Lisa and Drew surrounded by other players.
Sorry mom. I joined a puzzle gang.

Analysis

Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.

➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.

➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.

➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.

➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.

➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
  • Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.

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

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