Escape 101 – Jet Set [Review]

I need a vacation.

Location: Danbury, CT

Date played: December 3, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.95 per ticket on weekends, $24.95 per ticket on weekday, child pricing available

Story & setting

“You’ve won a trip to a mystery destination. The catch? You’ve only got an hour before take off. Finish your ‘to-do’ list, pack your bags, and you’ll be on your way. But don’t forget your boarding pass- after all, you’ll need it to escape!”

Jet Set was an old-school escape room packed with used furniture, cheap props, and lots of locks. Against all odds, Jet Set’s gameplay was less exciting than completing a pre-vacation to-do list.

A padlock securing a string atop a beatup desk. A few books and a mug rest in the background.

Puzzles

The puzzles covered a broad range:

On one end of the spectrum, most of Jet Set offered the simplest, most forgettable puzzles possible.

On the other end, it got pretty obtuse, and in one baffling puzzle, we had to do something that the game explicitly told us we should not do.

In the middle, there was one puzzle worth solving.

Standouts

There really was one very clever puzzle. The execution was cheesy, but dammit, the puzzle was smart.

Our gamemaster was lovely and Escape 101’s facility seemed well-staffed.

Shortcomings

Jet Set generally derived its difficulty from subterfuge and silly gotchas. Most of the game was comically obvious, except when it dropped obtuse hint burners.

Jet Set looked thrown together and felt cheap.

A trunk sits on the floor with a laminated world map in the background. The room looks bland and boring.

There came a point early on when a clue explicitly told us that we weren’t supposed to take a specific approach to problem solving. Then later in the game, we had to do the exact thing that we were told not to do.

Should I play Escape 101’s Jet Set?

Jet Set was a categorically weak game, but it was a bit stronger than the unmitigated disaster that was The Widow’s Room.

I cannot recommend this game or this company to anyone.

I hope that the folks from Escape 101 will take a few days and play some of the Northeast’s many great rooms. There is a lot they can learn and it’s a tax write-off for them.

Full disclosure: Escape 101 provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escapology – Arizona Shootout [Review]

Not-quite-Westworld.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

In the immediate aftermath of a shootout in front of a saloon in 1881, we found that some of the bad guys had been shot, but others were on the run. We needed to figure out which bad folk had gotten away and then escape from the saloon.

Arizona Shootout was sparsely themed as a saloon. The major setpieces all belonged, but they didn’t create an immersive environment. It was a cute set, but it didn’t feel like 1881.

In-game. An old piano with a beer and horse statue resting on it.

Puzzles

The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging. Arizona Shootout relied on searching, matching, and light indexing. It played out in a standard escape room style.

Standouts

We loved the family-friendly portrayal of the dead outlaws. The adorable design brought what could have been a less accessible theme to a general audience.

Arizona Shootout flowed smoothly.

Shortcomings

The saloon feel was strongest up front. As the game progressed, it felt increasingly like we could be in any building, anywhere, in any time.

One puzzle in particular required heavy searching and anachronistic technology. It didn’t feel like it belonged at all.

The gamemaster sent hints on the screen that displayed the game timer. When a hint appeared on top of the game timer graphic, it was challenging to read.

Should I play Escapology’s Arizona Shootout?

Escapology builds approachable, family-friendly entertainment.

Arizona Shootout would be a good entry point into escape rooms for new players who are unsure about this type of entertainment. The facility was welcoming. The game was solid and accessible.

For experienced players, Arizona Shootout would be an unremarkable game. Neither the setting nor the puzzles delivered excitement, intrigue, or innovation when compared with the broader market

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to solo, speedrun, or bring their multi-generational family and friends. .

Book your hour with Escapology’s Arizona Shootout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escapology provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Team vs Time – The Lost Book of Spells [Review]

The wicked witch of central Connecticut.

Location: Berlin, CT

Date played: December 12, 2016

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

The Lost Book of Spells cast us as adventuring thieves in the late 1600s during the Connecticut Witch Trials (the lesser-known prequel to the considerably more popular Salem Witch Trials). We had spent the better part of a decade tracking a suspected witch of great power. She left her home and we had a brief window of time to break into her home and attempt to steal her spellbook.

In-game, a glimpse into the witch's home through a window. It's dark, creepy, and lit red.

The set was impressive. It was dark, dramatic, and detailed. Much like Team vs Time’s Gangster’s Gamble, The Lost Book of Spells leaned heavily on beautiful set design to build a fiction. However, unlike the more subtle Gangster’s Gamble, The Lost Book of Spells was incredibly flashy.

The story was straightforward: break in and steal the book.

Puzzles

Similar to Gangster’s Gamble, The Lost Book of Spells was not a puzzle-centric game. There were puzzles and these were fun to solve, but they weren’t overwhelmingly challenging or exceptional. They were, however, fairly well clued.

Standouts

The set was incredible. From the moment the game began through the very end, it felt like we were inhabiting another world. Highly fictionalized as it was, it felt surprisingly real.

In-game: A spherical chandelier with candle-like light bulbs.

The start of The Lost Book of Spells was exciting. We were led to the beginning of the experience as opposed to being ushered into the game, as in most room escapes. This was a surprisingly subtle but impactful difference.

Shortcomings

The set was so striking that any props that didn’t quite fit really stood out. The modern combination locks and door locks in particular screamed, “I don’t belong here!” A few of the puzzle components themselves felt too modern and utterly out of place in the environment.

While the set imbued The Lost Book of Spells with a lot of life, it didn’t pack the same urgency and drama of Gangster’s Gamble.

Should I play Team vs Time’s The Lost Book of Spells?

The Lost Book of Spells was a powerful adventure. The set was so strong that it carried the experience on that alone.

The puzzling had its ups and downs, but the game kept moving along because the environment was so believable. Those elements that felt out of place could be easily improved upon. Rare is the game whose least believable components are the locks.

The Lost Book of Spells is spooky, but not scary. So long as you don’t bring nightmare-prone children, everyone should comfortably be able to deal with the intensity.

The Lost Book of Spells is a solid choice for all skill-levels. It’s approachable, fun, and intense. Experienced players should sail through most of the puzzles, but there’s plenty of nuance to enjoy throughout.

Book your hour with Team vs Time’s The Lost Book of Spells, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Team vs Time provided media discounted tickets for this game.

5 Wits West Nyack, NY [Overview Review]

The cream.

Location: West Nyack, NY

Date played: November 20, 2016

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 30 minutes per game

Price: $17.99 per ticket for one adventure, discounted if you play multiple adventures

What’s 5 Wits?

Founded in 2004, 5 Wits has offered incredible immersive puzzle adventures with Disney-level production value since long before escape rooms popped up in Budapest and Tokyo.

We reviewed four of their games in 2015 and loved them. They weren’t quite escape rooms, and the folks from 5 Wits would be the first to tell you that, but the core concept of puzzling through a timed adventure absolutely overlapped.

Game reviews

Located in the Palisades Mall, the West Nyack 5 Wits facility has three of the four games offered at their Syracuse location. We reviewed all of these  in 2015 and we’re standing behind those reviews (even though they are in our older style), while adding a few additional notes specific to the experiences we had in West Nyack.

Tomb

5 Wits Syracuse – Tomb

The Tomb in West Nyack had an updated middle section. That segment of the game had a completely different set of challenges from the ones offered in Syracuse. As great as the Syracuse game was, the new one was leaps and bounds better.

5 Wits Syracuse Tomb Photo 3

Deep Space

5 Wits Syracuse – Deep Space

When we played Deep Space in Syracuse, it had just opened and we encountered some bugs in the gameplay. None of those bugs was present during our playthrough in West Nyack. It was an impressive sci-fi adventure oozing with pop culture references and a few honest challenges.

Deep Space had a puzzle in it that was a riff on a classic video game. When we played Deep Space in Syracuse, we were a group of adults. This time, however, we brought friends and their pre-teen daughters. During this playthrough, we noticed that while that particular interaction design was intuitive to adults, the girls were baffled by that portion of the game.

Drago’s Castle

5 Wits Syracuse –Drago’s Castle

Drago’s Castle remained our favorite of the 5 Wits games; I may have liked it even more on the second playthrough. To the best of my memory, it was identical to the game we played in Syracuse and I cannot possibly recommend it more highly.

5Wits Drago's Castle Story Book

Should I visit 5 Wits in West Nyack, NY?

Whether you’re visiting Syracuse, West Nyack, or Albany (the games in Albany were produced in tandem with those in West Nyack), 5 Wits is worth a few hours’ visit.

Each game offered an immersive experience with beautiful set design, compelling puzzles, and mind-boggling automation.

If you have adventurous kids about 8-12 years old, it’s a must visit.

If you’re an escape room enthusiast who loves brilliant tech and scenery, it’s a must visit.

If you’re an escape room owner or potential owner, you need to visit 5 Wits. You’ll feel like you’re looking at the future. Then you’ll realize that they have been doing this for years.

Book your sessions with 5 Wits and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 5 Wits comped our tickets for these games.

Panic Room – A Broken Mind: Psych 102 [Review]

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Location: Norwalk, CT

Date played: December 3, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Our intrepid team had to venture into the mind of the evil psychiatrist Dr. Elesdy. Elesdy was a madman who set a plan for world domination in motion before he ended up in a coma. We had to infiltrate his psyche and pull him out of the coma.

There was a lot of story up front and it was somewhat present throughout the game, but ultimately too convoluted to matter.

The team was split into two rooms: Elesdy’s well-lit office and his dark mind.

In-game: A cabinet in a dark room illuminated by UV light with fluorescent bottles. An orange sign reads, "Biohazard."

Both the office and the mind settings were typical, run-of-the-mill escape room sets. They contained old furniture, lots of locks, and a random assortment of props that more or less fit the theme. That said, the office looked particularly uninspired.

In-game: A bookcase with many volumes of an encyclopedia. A door in the background has a multi-color image of the human brain.

Puzzles

In A Broken Mind: Psych 102, Panic Room’s puzzle game was considerably more interesting and dynamic than the story or physical space.

The variety and ingenuity was there. The puzzles felt homemade, and sometimes leaned too heavily on cliches, but the better puzzles and interactions were a lot of fun.

Standouts

There were a few genuinely fun puzzles.

The split room design forced collaboration.

Shortcomings

The play experience was uneven. Those of us who played in the dark room had far more interesting puzzles and interactions than those who played in the office.

There was one puzzle that didn’t measure up and felt pretty silly once we figured out how to solve it.

There were way too many 4-digit number and 4-digit letter locks. Every time we found a new combination, we had to try it all over the place, on both rooms of the game. That grew old immediately.

The story was needlessly complicated.

The set was too rough and mundane for a journey through the mind and headquarters of a globe threatening villain.

Should I play Panic Room’s A Broken Mind: Psych 102?

Panic Room got a lot right in A Broken Mind: Psych 102. The game offered fair, solid puzzling and everything worked. Too many similar locks notwithstanding, the game flowed pretty smoothly. That’s the basics right there.

A Broken Mind: Psych 102 didn’t look like much and the story was tough to follow or care about. Additionally, the unevenness between the dark and light rooms was fairly pronounced… so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Nevertheless, A Broken Mind: Psych 102 was a reasonably solid small-market game. If you’re in the area, and looking for an escape, this isn’t a bad option.

Go in knowing that the teammates who end up in the light room will likely have less fun than those who play the dark side.

Book your hour with Panic Room’s A Broken Mind: Psych 102, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Panic Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escapology – Cuban Crisis [Review]

I thought it would be warmer in Cuba.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

We found ourselves in Fidel Castro’s office in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We needed to discover who ordered the Cuban military to shoot down an American U-2 spy plane.

An old desk with drawers locked shut. Atop the desk are an old fan, typewriter, and rotary phone.

Cuban Crisis took place in a generic office setting, with light decor that nodded to the era. I don’t know what Castro’s office looked like, but this wasn’t what came to mind when I tried to imagine it. This was a lightly themed, approachable game space.

Puzzles

The puzzles were not particularly challenging or memorable. They relied on searching and observation, along with other typical escape room puzzle skills.

Standouts

Cuban Crisis was a solid, standard escape room. Everything worked as designed and flowed logically.

Shortcomings

Despite the intensity of the Cuban Crisis’ historical subject matter, the game never managed to build emotional intensity. Neither the space nor the information we uncovered were any more exciting than the office gamespace.

A bookcase with a smile pile of books and a

There was a larger setpiece that required a little bit of strength to interact with. We recognized what it was and were certain that this was going to trigger open via some kind of automagical mechanism. This isn’t to say that you should be forceful in this game. Rather, an additional clue might help those who approach game pieces respectfully.

Should I play Escapology’s Cuban Crisis?

Cuban Crisis was an approachable, family-friendly escape room. The game flowed logically and everything worked, but it never managed to build any drama or excitement.

For new players interested in dipping a toe in the room escape waters, Cuban Crisis could be a good place to start. Escapology was a professional, welcoming facility and the game wasn’t scary, intense, or too difficult.

For more experienced players, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable or intriguing in Cuban Crisis. It would be a fun solve, but without some of the challenge, ambiance, or exhilaration that exist in the wider market.

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to try a solo or speedrun.

Book your hour with Escapology’s Cuban Crisis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escapology provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

The Escape Game Orlando – Gold Rush [Review]

There’s gold in dem der hills.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In this modern story of the California Gold Rush, a successful gold prospector has gone missing and we wanted to uncover his stashed gold before anyone else did. The backstory felt unnecessary, but it was charming. In short, this room escape was a mission to find gold.

Gold Rush started in the cheesiest presentation of northern California woods, but it became rapidly more compelling as the scenery changed.

In-game: A odd looking artificial birch tree beside a log gabin with wilderness painted along the walls.

Puzzles

As Gold Rush progressed, so did the puzzles. They started off easy and relatively uninteresting, but by the final section of the game, we were puzzling against a challenging and interesting opponent.

Throughout the game, the puzzles rewarded the observant player.

The best of the interactions defied our expectations.

Standouts

One exhilarating segment of Gold Rush would never fly in the NYC. It was thrilling to watch David crush this; I would have struggled enormously.

The Escape Game Orlando beautifully crafted the gamespace to allow for the fun and surprising moments. It was a thoughtful, perceptive design. Parts of this set were magnificent.

At its best, Gold Rush executed simple things brilliantly.

Shortcomings

Early on the set was pretty silly.

Not only were the early puzzles easy, some of them were simply annoying.

We experienced a technical failure on a crucial puzzle that really diminished our experience. Our gamemaster was quick to respond, but this failure deflated what otherwise would likely have been the Gold Rush‘s finest moment.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush?

The Escape Game Orlando minds the details. While at times the set was cheesy, it was also deliberately designed and crafted for the experience the company intended. The rough edges were purposeful; the rest was polished.

The game flow of Gold Rush would be an excellent on-ramp for new players. It led us from easy to hard. Both the scenery and puzzling escalated as the game progressed. While we would have loved to see a stronger start, more often than not, escape rooms fizzle as they progress. We’d rather start low and build up than the reverse.

Gold Rush is great family-friendly fun. While it does require a fair bit of mobility and the handling of a heavier object, most of the game offers a less intense path for those who need it.

For escape room veterans, by mid-game, there will be delightful surprises that continue on until you find the gold. And if you’re not from a more left-leaning region, well, you’re in for a treat.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Faceoff [Review]

LET’S GET READY TO PUZZLE!

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4 or 6

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Faceoff was a head-to-head competitive room escape game. America’s Escape Game elected to forgo any kind of story or pretense in favor of a red-team-versus-blue-team competition.

The room’s aesthetic had kind of a 1980s TV competition feel to it. Pretty much everything on the red side was painted a slightly washed out red, and nearly everything on the blue side was painted a washed out blue. In the middle there were a number of different ways to interact with the other team.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but we were moving too quickly to care.

Two head-to-head faces. The red one is on fire. The blue one is radiating electricity.
Faceoff’s exterior wall painting. There was nothing worth photographing inside of the game that didn’t spoil something.

Puzzles

There were a number of different pattern recognition puzzles as well as physically involved dexterity challenges.

America’s Escape Game also mixed in an element of negotiation, which was unusual and interesting.

We split into teams as women versus men: Lisa teamed up with Amanda Harris (to my knowledge, the most experienced escape room player in the English-speaking world). I teamed up with Amanda’s boyfriend Drew Nelson (probably the second most experienced player).

It was intense and we were neck and neck for most of the game… until we were outclassed by their pattern recognition skills. In the closing moments of the game, they pulled off a spectacular win with partial information.

Standouts

Leaving story out of Faceoff was a good decision. The game was us versus them. That was all the motivation that we needed.

The head-to-head competition was good fun. In our particular case, the evenly matched teams heightened the experience and made the stakes feel much larger than in most escape rooms.

The negotiation component added complexity to the competition.

The design of the space created some interesting opportunities for interplay between the two teams.

Shortcomings

One of the more physical challenges was awkwardly constructed and forced most involved to contort into strange positions. Lisa left with a large bruise on her arm from the environment.

That same physical challenge had almost no tolerance for error. This made it shockingly difficult and ultimately anticlimactic. That my team was able to do it at all meant that we won that challenge. It didn’t feel fair.

There were too many locks with the same digit structures. In a game where every second counted, it was annoying to repeatedly try the same combinations all over the room.

The puzzling was a little uneven and greatly favored some puzzling skills over others. Those with strong pattern recognition can power through the puzzles with limited information, which was exactly what Lisa and Amanda did. They didn’t need to negotiate with us because they were that damn good.

Faceoff lacked feedback for when the one team did something that affected the other.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff?

There aren’t a ton of competitive room escapes out there, and this is only the second one that we’ve encountered.

The added intensity of competition was a ton of fun for all involved, even those of us who lost.

I can’t recommend Faceoff for new players. Basic experience and an understanding of how room escapes flow will allow you to focus on the game itself rather than trip up over how to puzzle or how the locks work.

Bring some collaborative teammates and worthy opponents… and you might want to leave the sore winners and losers back home. This could get intense.

Book your session with America’s Escape Game’s Faceoff, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

Curious Escape Rooms – The Dollhouse [Review]

Feel little again.

Location: Fitchburg, MA

Date played: December 10, 2016

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

In The Dollhouse we entered a life-size dollhouse.

The Dollhouse looked like the hodgepodge mess of furniture and toys that one would find in a kid’s dollhouse. Not mine… which was anal-retentively matched, but I certainly had friends with dollhouses that felt a lot like the one built by Curious Escape Rooms.

The pretense for this excursion was secondary to the puzzle adventure in the world Curious Escape Rooms created, but that journey was magnificently child-like.

In-game: A giant Barbie doll sitting at a table dressed as a child-like detective in a dollhouse.

Puzzles

Many of the puzzles in The Dollhouse required substantial searching.

As long as we had all the components, the puzzles made sense and flowed logically one to the next.

Standouts

Curious Escape Rooms built this entire experience with a small budget and a lot of creativity. The designers knew their strengths and steered into those skills when they conceptualized and constructed The Dollhouse. As a result of their ingenuity, they produced a unique game with some imaginative, yet budget-conscious innovation.

The Dollhouse manipulated perspective in unexpected ways. It was an unusual theme and it came to life, so to speak.

A pair of particularly surprising moments added depth and made The Dollhouse pretty damn compelling.

The conclusion was clever.

Shortcomings

While the aesthetic held together, some of the set could have been more thoroughly cleaned, especially considering the extent to which we had to scavenge.

The Dollhouse involved moving more substantial setpieces than experienced players will generally feel comfortable with.

One puzzle overstayed its welcome and probably should have been broken up into a few smaller interactions.

Should I play Curious Escape Rooms’ The Dollhouse?

The Dollhouse was a fun escape room that brought childhood memories to life through creative perspective and skillful use of technology.

Note that this room escape is playful and approachable for all audiences; it is not creepy.

The puzzling was relatively basic. The beauty of The Dollhouse was playing around inside it. It was a great beginner game.

Curious Escape Rooms is a little over an hour’s drive west of Boston, but also accessible by train. It might be a hike, but The Dollhouse is worth a visit for experienced players interested in seeing how escape room designers embraced constraints and used their skills to create something brilliantly unusual.

Book your hour with Curious Escape Rooms’ The Dollhouse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Curious Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room Madness – The Perfect Crime [Review]

The average crime.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: November 27, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31 per ticket

Story & setting

We were in a detective’s office investigating a crime. We needed to determine whodunit, before they got us too.

This was a standard, mundane office setting with locks all over.

A faux rotary phone in the foreground. Wood paneled walls and a bookcase in the background.

Puzzles

Escape Room Madness relied on common escape room puzzle tactics. The Perfect Crime combined a lot of escape room cliches with a few less standard puzzle executions.

Standouts

One particular puzzle’s output was especially elegant.

The game flow was clear.

A line of a dozen "Private Investigator" badges hanging on chains along a wood paneled wall.

Shortcomings

The Perfect Crime’s story arc was flat. At no point did we feel a sense of urgency or heightened stakes.

Escape Room Madness relied on multiple locks with identical input structures, which further flattened the emotional experience of the game.

Tons of details were ultimately useless.

We didn’t need to be in this particular office to solve The Perfect Crime. The escape room could have been equally dramatic, perhaps more dramatic, if it had come in a box for at-home play. The environment was simply a container rather than part of a story.

Should I play Escape Room Madness’ The Perfect Crime?

The Perfect Crime wasn’t a bad game. The puzzles made sense and flowed clearly from one to another. Everything worked.

That said, it wasn’t an exciting room escape either. The environment didn’t contribute to the experience. It never created anything from all that puzzling.

If you’re a new player, looking for an approachable and non-threatening place to start out in Midtown Manhattan, The Perfect Crime is fine. However, there are far more exciting room escapes to experience.

Escape Room Madness is a company with potential. They understand game flow; they got a lot of the basics right. It was clear that they care. If they are willing to push themselves to produce a game that makes a statement, they could grow into a viable competitor in the Midtown Manhattan market.

Book your hour with Escape Room Madness’ The Perfect Crime, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Madness provided media discounted tickets for this game.