Red Herring Escape Rooms – The Deadly Inheritance [Review]

Cousins Unite!

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 22, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Code

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Deadly Inheritance was our favorite escape room from our 2019 trip to St Louis.

This was a heavily puzzle-centric escape game with a quirky setup. It was a bit old school, but it was well-executed for what it was.

In-game: statues of a lighthouse and a hard-helmet for diving.

The set was worn, however. If you’re the type of player who values set design, narrative, and adventure… it was a little light on those elements. Instead it delivered strong gameplay, great puzzle flow, and some interesting interactions.

If you’re looking for a traditional escape room with a funny setup and solid execution, then this is a fantastic option and we absolutely recommend it if you’re in St Louis.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle-centric gameplay
  • A quirky, funny setup

Story

We’d received a letter from an attorney representing the estate of our recently deceased Uncle Martin. Our mysterious uncle, whom we had never met, nor heard of, was a pirate and had left his fortune to his nieces and nephews… if we could find it.

In-game: Uncle Martin's house includes an old TV, a fireplace, and an overt nautical theme.

Setting

The Deadly Inheritance was a puzzle room in a quirky nautical set. The room was showing its age. Its focus was on the puzzles rather than the set design. That said, there were some interesting elements to take in.

In-game: a boat and ship light.

Gameplay

Red Herring Escape Rooms’ The Deadly Inheritance was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Porthole windows and mirrors.

Analysis

➕ The Deadly Inheritance started with a hilarious intro video. It set the tone for a fun escape room experience that didn’t take itself or its ridiculous scenario too seriously.

➕ The Deadly Inheritance had a weird aesthetic that we enjoyed. It was clearly built on a budget, but built with care. It all came together to create our strange uncle’s abode. When your main character is an eccentric millionaire, you have a creative license to cobble together something interesting… and that’s exactly what Red Herring Escape Rooms did.

➖ The room was worn. Some of the locks needed to be replaced. One of the input mechanisms was finicky.

➕ The puzzles were delightful. They were varied and made use of interesting and unexpected props. Our Uncle had quite the collection of oddities! We solved some layered puzzles and other more straight forward ones.

➖ Most of the puzzles were built into props, but not into the set itself. There was opportunity to use the gamespace to create exciting, memorable moments.

Red Herring's quirky and elegant lobby.
Red Herring Escape Room had a great lobby

➕ There was a lot of gameplay packed into this escape room. The game flowed well, encouraging us to start certain puzzles early, for example, and funneling us away from potential bottlenecks.

The Deadly Inheritance offered a particular style of puzzle-focused gameplay. While the puzzles flowed well, the gameplay felt like solving many unconnected puzzles in an eclectic space rather than solving through a cohesive adventure. Your appreciation and enjoyment of this escape room will depend heavily on your style preferences.

Tips For Visiting

  • It looks like there is street parking.
  • Red Herring Escape Rooms has a gorgeous lobby. It’s a comfortable place to hang out.

Book your hour with Red Herring Escape Rooms’ The Deadly Inheritance, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Codex – The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent [Review]

Hammer of the Gods

Location:  Laval, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: April 6, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We finally played an escape room set against Norse mythology… and it only took 700+ games until we stumbled upon it. I’m happy to report that we adored it.

Codex struck a balance between homemade and polished that was really quite charming. The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent had great puzzle design and flow. It felt like an adventure and it conveyed a story.

The story led to an end-game decision. There was meaning in it… but we made our choice by accident. The escape room needed to provide just a bit more context.

This was a delightful game from a new and exciting company. Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced player, if you’re near Montreal, The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent really ought to be on your itinerary.

In-game: A campfire burning under the stars in the middle of the autumn woods.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A unique theme and setting
  • Strong puzzles
  • Fantastic interactions

Story

We had jumped to a parallel universe where the Vikings had conquered the world. Belief in the Norse gods had grown so strong that they had become real… and Ragnarok, the end times, were upon these people.

We were tasked with investigating this place in space and time, understanding their rituals, and deciding which of the gods deserved our help.

In-game: The inside of a cabin with two wood and fur thrones surrounded by round shields.

Setting

The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent was set in a Viking world which included “outdoors” in a forest and inside a cabin-like throne room.

The set was as unusual as the story. The night sky was covered in glowing stars. The cabin was lit by warm fire-like light.

Overall, this was a good-looking set. It wasn’t perfect and the seams were easy to spot, but it was a really cool environment to explore.

In-game: a cabin covered in ivy in the middle of the woods.

Gameplay

Codex’s The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The Viking/ Norse mythology staging was a smart choice… and remarkably, we had never encountered it before.

➕ Codex built a lovely set for The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent. The gorgeous starscape brought the space to life. The set felt homemade, but polished, and crafted with love and attention to detail.

➖ Much of The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent was played in low light. Codex could build more well-lit work spaces so that we wouldn’t be constantly relying on our flashlights.

➕ Codex used environmental details as clue structure. This enabled phenomenally tight puzzle design and especially satisfying solves… for observant players.

➕ The puzzles required a variety of skill sets. Our wits shielded us from complex, layered puzzles and we dexterously hit our targets.

➖ One late-game sequence lacked a bit of cluing. It was solvable, but it didn’t flow smoothly enough to make the actions feel as epic as they should have been. In this case, the puzzling thwarted momentum instead of building it.

The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent delivered exciting reveals. In one instance, we forged ahead to enjoy a telegraphed outcome. In other, we branched in an unexpected direction. These were both phenomenal moments.

➖ In The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent, we made a narrative choice. At the time, however, we didn’t realize we were making a choice. Even if we had known, our 60 minutes in this parallel universe hadn’t given us the context to make an informed decision. For the ending to feel consequential, we needed to understand that there were options and what each choice meant.

➕ Codex’s escape rooms fit into an overarching narrative of parallel universes. They justified their stories with universe-hopping by teleporter. This explained otherwise messy details… like bringing flashlights to a place that felt too historical to have electricity. Our gamemaster’s charming introduction and the physical teleporter provided a fun journey to The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent .

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking in the back of the building near the entrance to the escape rooms.
  • They sell ketchup chips… it’s a Canadian thing.

Book your hour with Codex’s The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Codex provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Sauve Qui Peut – Wrath Of Poseidon [Review]

9 out of 10 gods recommend Trident.

Location:  Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada

Date Played: April 8, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sauve Qui Peut had a style unto themselves. Their games were unusual and quirky. Wrath Of Poseidon was our favorite of the 3 games that we played with them. (They had 9 games at the location we visited.)

The second half of this game was vibrant. Wrath Of Poseidon was uneven in many ways. This unevenness paid off in the end, however, even adding to our experience.

If you’re in Montreal, Sauve Qui Peut is a bit outside the city. If you have a car, I highly recommend visiting them. Wrath Of Poseidon made us feel happy.

In-game: A periscope in a submarine.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The second act
  • The details

Story

Poseidon, the vengeful god of the seas, was furious with humanity for polluting his kingdom. In retaliation, he intended to flood the lands. The only way to save humanity would be to steal his legendary trident spear.

In-game: A sealed door in a submarine.

Setting

Wrath of Poseidon was a game in 2 acts. It began in a submarine. Then we experienced a transition of mythic proportions.

The submarine setting was great. It had a bronze sort of steampunk aesthetic that made it feel different from your more traditional naval vessel escape game.

The second act… well, if I spoiled it for you, I’d be a jerk. Rest assured, it was awesome and I would love to talk about it.

In-game: piping and pressure gauges in a submarine.

Gameplay

Sauve Qui Peut’s Wrath Of Poseidon was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The premise of Wrath Of Poseidon was fantastical, but meaningful. The story was light but certainly present.

➕ We especially liked the puzzle that asked us to remember the why of this escape room and act according to that premise.

➖ While some later puzzles integrated seamlessly, many of the early puzzles lacked inspiration. They didn’t make a ton of sense in the world. We had to dive deep in this dark submarine to find the threads of gameplay.

➖ Although Sauve Qui Peut built a polished world for Wrath Of Poseidon, at times the clue structure felt slapped on. For example, handwritten numbers on objects felt unrefined given the level of detail in other parts of the experience.

➕ Sauve Qui Peut designed mechanisms brilliantly so that one solve enabled a later one to work properly. The gating worked well and the second solve blew us away.

➖ We tripped up on ghost puzzles. This added some unnecessary confusion… but I also think that it would be difficult to fully remove this.

Wrath Of Poseidon was a beautiful escape room. Every set was carefully crafted and artistically detailed.

➕ Wrath Of Poseidon delivered a spectacular reveal. We stopped playing to take it in.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • You can play this game in English or French. However, if you don’t read French, there is one important instruction that you may miss.

Book your hour with Sauve Qui Peut’s Wrath Of Poseidon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Sauve Qui Peut comped our tickets for this game.

St. Louis Escape – Haunted Hotel [Review]

Animatronic Hotel

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 21, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

St. Louis Escape’s Haunted Hotel felt like an ode to Disney. Some of it was overt; some of it was in the subtle choices of props and effects.

This felt much more like Disney’s Haunted Mansion than what you’d expect from a game named Haunted Hotel built by a haunted house company. That is to say, it wasn’t scary.

In-game: a suit of armor in front of worn plaster walls, the insignia for Disney's "Haunted Mansion" hands proudly.

In St. Louis Escape’s collection of strong sets, this was my favorite, partially because it had some unusual elements… and because I’ve seen plenty of Egyptian tombs, pirate ships, and murder basements. A haunted hotel was a welcome change.

There was a ton to look at in this game… and looking at all of the stuff was usually more entertaining than solving the puzzles.

The puzzle and game design fell short with weak cluing, some damaged components, and a puzzle that was remarkably out of place… not just in this particular game, but in the St. Louis Escape facility.

If you’re going to play one game at St. Louis Escape, it should either be Haunted Hotel or Cellar Escape. For my money, Cellar Escape offered considerably better gameplay… but Haunted Hotel was a lot less scary and had much more charm and novelty.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful and unusual set design

Story

Checking into this ghoulish hotel was easy. The question was, could we check out?

In-game: The hotel's decrepit front desk.

Setting

Haunted Hotel had a busy, heavily detailed set filled with quirky animatronics. It was pretty clear that the creators of this game were Disney fans.

St Louis Escape had deliberately designed everything in the space from the floor to the ceiling. Everything was beautifully weathered. There was so much to look at.

In-game: The ornate yet dusty tile floor.

Gameplay

St. Louis Escape’s Haunted Hotel was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a creepy portrait with its eyes cut out.

Analysis

➕ The detailed set of Haunted Hotel was a joy to explore. It was busy, but not distracting. We enjoyed the aesthetic.

➖ Intentional weathering aside, the set was heavily worn. One key prop was almost impossible to find due to wear.

➕ Our favorite puzzles resolved to tangible interactions with the set. These were the best parts of the playthrough.

➖After the opening scene, Haunted Hotel was almost entirely linear. We spent a lot of time waiting idly because we had too many teammates and too few open puzzles.

➖ Haunted Hotel included a laminated runbook. While it didn’t rely on this as heavily as in some of St. Louis Escape’s other games, it was frustrating to be concentrating on paper cluing instead of immersing ourselves in the set.

➕/➖ Haunted Hotel included a few strong layered puzzles. Unfortunately, each one had its own ambiguity issue. The clue structure wasn’t quite all in place.

➕ We enjoyed the presence of ghostly characters.

In-game: The ceiling adorned with art.

➖The audio was a persistent problem. The intro video lacked audio. We couldn’t hear the ghostly characters very well. At points we were confused whether audio was part of a puzzle, an indication of puzzle progress, background ambiance, or the screams of players in other games.

➖It was easy to accidentally re-trigger the animatronics. This proved confusing.

➕/➖ Bits of story were scattered about Haunted Hotel. The ghosts contributed to our understanding of the story. Ultimately, however, the experience fell short of succeeding as a story-driven adventure.

➖ As we played Haunted Hotel we continually felt that St. Louis Escape took shortcuts in design and maintenance. We encountered one entirely broken puzzle; we didn’t have to solve it to achieve the goal. We could shortcut another puzzle by finding one key piece. Additionally, one puzzle felt completely out of place – aesthetically and thematically – in the experience. We were baffled by its presence.

Tips For Visiting

  • You can park for free on the street directly in front of the building or on the side of the building.
  • There are stairs up to the escape room lobby and the escape rooms.
  • Beware that St. Louis Escape has a habit of putting 4-digit solutions into 5-digit locks.
  • This escape room was haunted, but not scary.

Book your hour with St. Louis Escape’s Haunted Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: St. Louis Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

One Before – Shpola Ziede Room [Review]

Puzzler on the Roof.

Location:  Brooklyn, NY

Date Played: March 31, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Shpola Ziede Room told a complex story of the immigrant experience. The story was Jewish, but the themes would resonate with Americans of many backgrounds. We believe that escape rooms are a storytelling medium and that by interacting and solving, players can connect more deeply with themes and stories. One Before was striving for a lofty goal.

In-game: A wooden menorah on a table in a cabin.

Unfortunately, in telling their story, One Before overlooked some critical aspects of game design: The puzzles lacked clue structure. The puzzles didn’t necessarily work as intended. Much of the tech was finicky.

Puzzle design and gameplay are fixable. Shpola Ziede Room offered something more than that. We hope One Before can continue to iterate on the gameplay and smooth out their immigrant experience escape room so that it enables players to take in the story through play and not be bogged down with frustrating solves.

One other thing that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention was how the handling of female characters felt uncomfortable, like something was lost in cultural translation.

If you’re looking for a Jewish escape room, or an immigrant experience escape room, or simply something unorthodox, and you can overlook the stumbles in gameplay, we encourage you to journey deep into Brooklyn to visit One Before.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A cultural experience
  • An unusual escape room theme and story

Story

We began our story at Ellis Island, piecing together the lineage of the Polonsky family and their journey from Europe to America. Then we were visited by the spirit of the legendary rabbi and mystic, the Shpola Ziede.

In-game: suitcases in Ellis Island.

Setting

The Shpola Ziede Room opened in a bureaucratic office on Ellis Island. There wasn’t a ton going on in this space, but it did have that Ellis Island feel.

The late-game took us to Ukraine in the 1700s. Once again, it wasn’t the most ambitious set, but it had a unique look and what felt like the correct vibe for the time and place.

In-game: A partially completed family tree that looks like a tree.

Gameplay

One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room was a standard escape room with a Jewish theme and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ One Before told a cultural story with the Shpola Ziede Room. Escape rooms are a medium with immense storytelling potential. We liked the unusual story and how players could experience it through gameplay.

➖ The storytelling was bogged down in text. While there were some more interactive moments (and these were the best moments!), much of the story and the puzzles required a lot of reading.

➕ One Before had added set details that made an office-y space feel more engaging than a run-of-the-mill office. The walls and choice of colors gave it an Ellis Island-y feel.

➖ The second act of Shpola Ziede Room was dimly lit. This made it extra challenging to solve puzzles, especially given the amount of text to read. Because we didn’t feel that the darkness enhanced the storytelling, it only added frustration.

➖ The early gameplay bottlenecked severely.

➖ One layered puzzle lacked clue structure. This puzzle involved significant written text, and when combined with incomplete cluing, it was especially frustrating to work through.

➖ There was a long audio clue sequence that included both story and cluing. Once over, the clues within could not be re-triggered later.

➕ We especially enjoyed one action, a cultural touchpoint, and a concept that worked well for an escape room puzzle. This moment was unique and culturally relevant.

➖ One tech-driven puzzle didn’t work well; it seemed broken and felt unintuitive. It was also supposed to be solved by trial and error. The combination of an entirely unclued solve with a finicky and poorly responsive interface forced a lot of wait time. It wasn’t fun to solve.

Shpola Ziede Room addressed immigration. This theme, central to the Jewish experience, can have broad appeal to escape room players of many backgrounds. We respect One Before for building a story that will be both intimately familiar to Jewish players and thematically accessible to those of other backgrounds.

➖ One Before aimed to target a general audience, but Shpola Ziede Room assumed knowledge that would be considered outside knowledge for a general American audience. One such example of this is the knowledge that Hebrew is read right to left. (Players do not need to read any Hebrew.)

Shpola Ziede Room’s handling of female characters was… uncomfortable. When exploring the Polonsky family tree, women were essentially ignored. The puzzle that involved evaluating women to make a marital match came across as demeaning. I don’t think that this was intentional. Nevertheless our entire team (2 men and 2 women) felt the same way. If One Before is serious about reaching an audience beyond the religious Jewish community, reshaping this section would be an important step.

➕One Before has a gallery space in their facility. They have partnered with a local Jewish artist and they display her work in their party/ conference room. We love this idea and how the business is engaged with the community’s culture beyond the escape room.

A painting of a Cossack and a bear in a dance off.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in the neighborhood.
  • Take the Q to Avenue M.
  • You do not need to be Jewish to play this escape room.

Book your hour with One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: One Before comped our tickets for this game.

Escaparium – The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa [Review]

Powerglove!

Location:  Montreal, Canada

Date Played: April 7, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5 (best with 4)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escaparium has an armada of interesting, unusual, and entertaining games. The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa was their flagship.

The second in their series of The Wizard Four games, The Rise of Lord Thulsa was a magical adventure complete with special powers and boss fights. The set was gorgeous and the effects elevated the experience.

In-game: Bottles of magical ingredients.

There were a few opportunities to repair some wear and refine the gameplay or effects, but all around, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

This is a must-play game if you’re anywhere near Montreal. I’d highly recommend playing its predecessor The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts first… but if you only have time for one, then go straight for the sequel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Wizards
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Wizarding abilities
  • Fantastic, magical interactions
  • Strong puzzles
  • Wizard battles

Story

It had been three years since we had graduated from magic school and had saved the high wizard from Lord Thusla. Now the evil sorcerer had returned and we had to thwart him once again.

In-game: A series of tubes and lab equipment mounted to the wall.

Setting

Escaparium’s The Wizard Four sequel, The Rise of Lord Thulsa, had a set that fit with the first installment, while feeling distinctive as it took us to different iconic wizarding locations.

It looked as good, if not better, than the original, and packed in some heavier magical effects.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa was a standard escape room with additional individual powers and a moderate level of difficulty.

Each player wore a glove that activated their special power, which would be necessary to solve certain puzzles.

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

In-game: Magical gloves, each with the symbol of a different elemental magic on it.

Analysis

The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa looked great. It looked mythical, detailed, and polished. It was an exciting environment for our wizard selves to explore.

➕ The powers added an interesting mechanic to escape room gameplay. We could choose how to use them: whether to split up and solve puzzles individually or help each other use the different powers. It was fun to be the wizard controlling a unique ability. This had the added benefit of keeping everyone engaged.

➖ The gloves that activated our powers were a bit finicky. Some of the sensors were especially touchy. The gloves were also pretty worn and some wouldn’t fasten.

➕ One puzzle blossomed into something far more interesting than it had originally appeared.

➕ Another puzzle nailed its target well.

➖ One puzzle seemed to be barely a puzzle. Perhaps it was a ghost puzzle? This was not a satisfying solve and was particularly disappointing when other powers revealed such interesting dynamics.

➕ Escaparium surprised us with an unorthodox transition.

➖ We encountered a tedious search puzzle which, despite the layered approach, was still a time drain.

The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa included a number of other solid, layered puzzles that we really enjoyed.

➖ At times the gameflow felt uneven. Some puzzles triggered far more forward momentum than others.

➕ There was a late-game sequence that played remarkably well. At first it seemed like it might have been too complicated. Then we thought it might be too simplistic. In the end, it felt like it checked all of the boxes just right.

➕/ ➖ In the end, we found ourselves in a wizard battle. The culmination of our powers worked really well. That said, Escaparium was hampered by the limits of their tech. As cool as it was, sometimes the fight dragged. With a few changes to lighting and sound, Escaparium could create a more dramatic series of interactions that would be more emotionally engaging.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • You need to be comfortable with stairs to play this game..
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • If you book both Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat and The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa, book “Alice” first and “Wizard” second.

Book your hour with Escaparium’s The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Escaparium – The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts [Review]

Barry Hotter: The Fellowship of the Wands

Location:  Montreal, Canada

Date Played: April 7, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts was the first in a two-game (maybe more in the future) wizarding series created by Escaparium. We grabbed our wands and set off on a quest to stop evil… and it was delightful.

Escaparium told their own story with the help of many common tropes and a dollop of instantly recognizable pop culture references, giving us players the kind of Harry Potter/ Tolkien-esque adventure that so many of us crave.

In-game: A statue of a wizard holding a crystal ball carved into a stone wall.

The sets were gorgeous. The magic was fun. The effects and puzzles were generally strong.

Some of it was a bit bumpy. It was clear to us that Escaparium was exploring structures for escape room storytelling that became a bit onerous. The wands, while fun, were a bit finicky.

Nevertheless, we were thrilled to have played The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts and even happier after playing its sequel, The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa. If you’re near Montreal, we highly recommend playing both, in order.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The set was beautiful
  • There was an amazing scene transition; it was incredible how much went into it
  • Some great effects
  • A number of strong puzzles
  • Wands are fun

Story

We were fresh out of magic school and we had been summoned to meet with the high wizard. By the time we’d arrived in his hall, however, he and his family were gone, abducted by an evil sorcerer. It was up to us to save them.

In-game: Animated paintings hanging from a stone wall.

Setting

In The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts, Escaparium let us loose in a wizarding school and it looked the part.

We explored a great hall as well as the dormitories. Each had depth, texture, and quite a bit to take in. There were points where I basically stopped playing and just enjoyed the environment.

In-game: a shelf full of scrolls.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts was a standard escape room where players had wands to use as tools. It had a moderate level of difficulty

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

In-game: 8 magic wands hanging from the top of a doorway.

Analysis

➕ We entered The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts with wands in hand. This added an interesting game mechanic. But also… wands!

➖ As nifty as the wands were, their triggers could be finicky, which was frustrating. Still, we liked the wand mechanic and were disappointed when they fell out of relevance in the late-game. This felt like a missed opportunity.

➕ The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts was loaded with nods to various wizarding worlds. Fans will enjoy the magical artifacts and references in this escape room.

The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts captured the aesthetics of a number of iconic wizarding locales. Each scene looked outstanding. While Escaparium’s sets were always detailed, they went the extra mile here, crafting a scene purely so that we could enjoy our perspective.

➖ Some of the props in The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts had seen better days.

➖ Play stopped occasionally for long audio interludes. We didn’t find that these added enough depth to the story to warrant the stoppage in play. (We’re guessing that Escaparium would agree, given that they didn’t use this structure in this game’s sequel.)

➕ The middle act had solid puzzles that necessitated a variety of skills sets and magical ability. These flowed well.

➖ We encountered a few puzzles with ambiguous cluing.

➕ Magical artifacts surprised and delighted us as we played. These weren’t by the book.

➖ In a magical escape room, anything was possible. Anything might open from any action. Escaparium needed to better direct players to triggered opens. We couldn’t always tell what we’d affected.

➖The culminating scene felt less triumphant than it should have. The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts lacked its own Mount Doom. (Again, this wasn’t something that this game’s sequel suffered from.)

The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts was a delightful space to play in for an hour.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • You need to be comfortable with stairs to play this game.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).

Book your hour with Escaparium’s The Wizard Four and the Book of Black Arts, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

St. Louis Escape – Cellar Escape [Review]

High-end murder basement

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 21, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints:  [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

Cellar Escape was comfortably our group’s favorite game at St. Louis Escape.

While its gameplay was a little more search-centric than we typically go for, the game’s runbook was onerous, and the story was underdeveloped… the set design was top-notch and the game played fairly cleanly.

If you’re visiting St. Louis Escape and you’re comfortable with a horror experience, Cellar Escape is our recommendation. If you’d like something a little less intense, we suggest attempting Haunted Hotel (review coming soon) instead.

In-game: A dead man sitting at a desk with a typewriter in betwen two jail cells.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players interested in moderate horror
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Great set design
  • Intense moments

Story

We were trapped in a serial killer’s lair and had to find a out way out before he returned.

In-game: An electrical box labeled "Danger Live Wires."

Setting

Cellar Escape was St. Louis Escape’s take on a murder basement. From a set design standpoint, it delivered everything that you’d want out of a murder basement. It was dark, grim, gritty, intimidating, and bloody.

As with all of St. Louis Escape’s sets, it was thoroughly designed from floor to ceiling.

In-game: A meat-grinder oozing large amounts of ground, bloody flesh.

Gameplay

St. Louis Escape’s Cellar Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a split-team beginning.

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

In-game: A red we need a clue sign sitting beside a laminated and spiral-bound book labeled "CELLAR ESCAPE." All surrounded by a beautiful set.

Analysis

Cellar Escape looked murder basement-y. It was dark and foreboding, but also detailed and thoughtfully designed.

➕ The split beginning worked well to encourage teamwork early on and didn’t overstay its welcome.

➕ We especially enjoyed the puzzles that felt authentic to the scenario. The escape room was at its best when we were deriving solutions that seemed plausible for escaping a killer’s lair.

In-game: A dead man sitting at a desk.

Cellar Escape relied heavily on a runbook. This was frustrating to use and detracted from our experience in the gamespace. Furthermore, it seemed to not be quite up to date with the current gameplay of the escape room. We encountered runbook ghost puzzles.

➕ St. Louis Escape seems to have a penchant for breaker boxes in their escape room design; it worked well in this room.

➖ Some of the tech in Cellar Escape had especially tight tolerances. If our hands were just slightly off they wouldn’t trigger, even though we’d correctly solved the puzzle. This put gameplay on ice for a little longer than it should have.

➖ Unclued trick locks are problematic in escape rooms. If you don’t know how to solve them, you will burn far too much of your game clock trying. If you basically know how to open all of the common trick locks on the market like David does… then they’re kind of boring. Either way, they’re suboptimal.

In-game: The cobweb covered ceiling of the Cellar Escape.

➕ Cellar Escape ground to a good jump-scare.

➖ Cellar Escape could fit a lot of people. St. Louis Escape will sell up to 12 tickets to it. The gameplay, however, had choke points. If you play with a large team, there would be a lot of down time for individual players.

Cellar Escape was a search-heavy escape room. In some instances, this worked well with the theme. In other instances, we found this tedious. Your mileage will vary.

Tips For Visiting

  • You can park for free on the street directly in front of the building or on the side of the building.
  • There are stairs up to the escape room lobby and the escape rooms.
  • Beware that St. Louis Escape has a habit for putting 4-digit solutions into 5-digit locks.

Book your hour with St. Louis Escape’s Cellar Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: St. Louis Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape STL – Investigation of a Miss Treedeath [Review]

I can feel it coming in the mail tonight.

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 22, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

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

REA Reaction

Our group had a really good time in Investigation of a Miss Treedeath. We laughed. We puzzled. We made fun of our friend who did something really silly and broke the game requiring intervention from the gamemaster… and since then we’ve been spamming him with ridiculous postcards because we’re great friends and jerks in equal amounts.

In-game: The door to the room opening revealing a hallway for an apartment building.

Our antics aside, Escape STL produced a really good traditional escape room that came with a humorous twist. It didn’t look all that impressive from the photos because it was staged in an accurate yet mundane manner… which was emblematic of Investigation of a Miss Treedeath’s biggest issue: It needed to steer into its wackiness.

This could be a fantastic and memorable game if Escape STL leaned into the funnier side of the story that they produced. This game could… and probably should… be dark comedy with puzzles from beginning to end.

From a puzzle and game design standpoint, this was one of the stronger escape rooms that we played during our trip to St Louis. If that’s the kind of escape room play that you’re seeking, then give this one a shot.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Tongue-in-cheek design
  • Solid puzzles
  • A humorous story

Story

We were rogue detectives investigating Miss Amanda Treedeath under suspicion of murder. We had to break into her apartment and see if we could dredge up some evidence of her suspected crimes.

In-game: an apartment building mailbox.

Setting

Investigation of a Miss Treedeath was an apartment escape game. We began in the apartment building’s hallway and then progressed into a rather convincing apartment dwelling.

It wasn’t an exciting environment by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt like what it was striving to be.

In-game: The hallway for an apartment building.

Gameplay

Escape STL’s Investigation of a Miss Treedeath was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: an advertisement offering a reward for a lost puppy.

Analysis

➕ Investigation of a Miss Treedeath put a humorous spin on a traditional escape room setup. Escape STL teed up the experience well with the tone in the lobby and the in-character gamemaster.

➕ By solving the puzzles, we developed a deeper sense of the character in whose apartment we spent our 60 minutes. This added depth to the game.

➕ The gameplay worked well. The puzzles solved cleanly.

➕/➖ Escape STL’s staging made the set feel especially… apartment-y. It was a convincing set, but there was nothing special, exciting, or enticing about having an adventure in… an apartment.

➕/➖ We enjoyed the playful tone of Investigation of a Miss Treedeath. Escape STL could lean into this more, especially in the staging, to up the intrigue of the apartment staging.

➖ There was opportunity for Escape STL to surprise players more dramatically than they did.

➕/➖ Escape STL gave each team a score. After we escaped within the allotted 60 minutes, they asked us investigative questions to determine our score. While we liked the tiered goals, we would have preferred the investigation questions be incorporated into the gameplay. Reporting our answers back made these solves feel tacked onto the experience.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape STL’s Investigation of a Miss Treedeath, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape STL provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape STL’s Investigation of a Miss Treedeath [Guest Reaction]

A guest post by Nick Moran, formerly of Time Run in London, England.

It’s March. I’m in St. Louis, ostensibly for a conference. (It’s Transworld’s Halloween and Attraction’s Show – have you been? If not, you should. It’s crazy. If you like skeletons and pumpkins, then Transworld is your bag: your giant, several hundred thousand square-foot bag).

In-game: an advertisement offering a reward for a lost puppy.

But, in actuality, I’m just a passenger on the Lisa and David train, which is pulling into countless escape game stops on a whistle stop tour of the area. It’s fun. It’s as if they know how to organize… trips… *cough* Have you booked your place in their New Orleans escape room tour?

The purple, gold, and blue Escape Immerse Explore New Orleans Logo

After a frantic few hours of playing, we pulled into Escape STL. They’re a little ways out from St. Louis, in a place called Maplewood. The area seems nice, from my limited exposure to it. They’re located near a Bottleworks and, according to Google Maps, something called the Salt Room, which I guess is pretty good news for condiment fans worldwide.

Right, the venue: the lobby is nice and clean, a plush basement in an office complex. We were early so loitered outside the entrance, peering into the office of the company opposite: a business that looked almost disturbingly and performatively normal. Seriously, take a look if you go. It’s weird. Soon, our snooping ended; we were seated around a long table, signing the usual forms and waiting, our anticipation growing.

In-game: The door to the room opening revealing a hallway for an apartment building.

On the wall there was a sign detailing how Escape STL’s games worked: a five-variable scoring system, which spits out a single figure as the team’s score. A clever idea. Our paperwork completed, a young lad in a great hat began our briefing, in character, of course.

We were investigating the apartment of a suspicious woman with an even more suspicious name: a Miss Treedeath. Murder was afoot. Perhaps even likely. Our objectives were manifold: primary, secondary, and tertiary. I respected the lad, the hat, and the objective structure. It made sense. We were primed.

Now, the name. It’s obviously a pun. You got that; I got that, but there’s a lot in what a name does. A name can set the tone of your experience and can give a hint of how you will and should play. (Did you know Lisa likes names?) And what does a name like a Miss Treedeath say to you? Well, to us it said… cheeky. Not frivolous and not stupid, but definitely mischievous.  And let’s be honest, after an afternoon of hectic stops around the St. Louis area, we were already in high spirits and the flamboyant intro had readied us further. We were prepared to play.

Games, at their best, are sandboxes that give space for players to be the most playful versions of themselves. On this particular metric, Investigation of a Miss Treedeath is an unqualified success. As we moved through the noir-tinged mystery, every little detail heightened our mood. The walls were littered with pictures of dead trees. The victims of the perpetrator were executed for imperceptible comic slights. The game had its tongue so firmly in its cheek that it was practically pushing bone.

In-game: an apartment building mailbox.

By the middle of our game we were on the verge of some sort of hysterical breakdown. When one of our teammates posted some postcards in a fit of pique, I thought I would explode. It was clearly a massive error, but still, the game laughed with us, not at us, despite our manifold failings.

By the time we won, Investigation of a Miss Treedeath was already a treasured escape room memory. It was a game that leaned in, hard, that was determined to ensure that players came out grinning. Certainly, it was the highlight of my trip to St. Louis and gets my firm stamp of approval.

Is Investigation of a Miss Treedeath the best game in world history? No.

Is it a really lively experience, one that gets all the fundamentals right and so much more? Definitely. If you’re in the area, check it out. I would. I mean, I did.

Book your hour with Escape STL’s Investigation of a Miss Treedeath, and tell them that Nick Moran sent you, on behalf of Room Escape Artist.