14 Innovative Escape Rooms in 2018

We wanted to take a moment to point out a number of escape rooms that we played in 2018 that did something truly innovative to push the escape room format in a different direction.

We saw tons more innovations in 2018, but these ones stuck out to us.

Presented in the order that we played them:

2018 Innovative Escape Rooms

Bogeyman

Trap Door Escape Room – Morristown, NJ

In-game: A strange purple glowing passageway.

Trap Door added a scare actor and turned an otherwise straightforward game into a frantic, challenging experience, as we were chased around and cornered by a monster.

Beat the Bomb

Brooklyn, NY

In-game: gif of Lisa, David, and Lindsay getting doused with a paint explosion.

Replayable and modular, Beat the Bomb felt more like a gameshow with different games within it than an escape room. It all concluded with a battle against time. When the clock struck zero, a giant paint bomb exploded all over us.

The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab & The Shiners

Escape Woods – Powder Springs, GA

In-game: An old trailer in the middle of the woods. It's lit with a long strand of light bulbs.

Escape Woods games were raw and real. Both games felt like actual adventures.

The Diamond Heist

Get Out of Here – Utrecht, The Netherlands

The escape room briefing area.

Get Out of Here delivered the narrative of The Diamond Heist with a third person voiceover that told our story as we advanced through the game. This solved a number of escape room storytelling problems.

Jason’s Curse

Escape Room Rijswijk – Rijswijk, The Netherlands

In-game: a weathered basement wall with the words "KNOCK KNOCK WHO IS THERE" painted on it.

Escape Room Rijswijk did something incredible with their space, physically transforming the gameworld while we were within it. It was one hell of a trick.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – San Francisco, CA

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom wasn’t an escape room. It was something new: a time loop game. We were reliving the same actor-driven time loop, taking different actions each time, and trying to determine how to break the cycle and save the game’s main character.

It’s a Doggy Dog World

Level Games – North Hollywood, CAA

In-game: an oversized doghouse.

We played as dogs trying to get our favorite ball back. The vibe was unique, warm, and playful. We left this game wishing that there were more whimsical escape rooms.

We loved this game so much and we’re sad that it and Escapades LA are closed. I don’t know if its for sale, but if it is, someone should adopt it and give this pup a new home.

The Courtyard

THE BASEMENT – Sylmar, CA

In-game: an aged porch with a rocking chair.

The Courtyard had a jaw-dropping set, but its true innovation was how THE BASEMENT integrated an actor into the experience and gameplay. There’s a scene in this one that we will never forget.

The Experiment

Get the F Out –  Los Angeles, CA

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Designed for escape room enthusiasts, Get the F Out’s incredibly meta game, The Experiment, had two unusual innovations. One involved lighting. The other was in its storytelling. Months later, we’re still debating what we were supposed to take away from this game.

Museum of Intrigue

Syracuse, NY

A Museum of Intrigue mystic character posing in front of the story display.

We didn’t enter an escape room; we were patrons of a quirky museum of oddities, along with all of the other players… but it wasn’t a museum. It was a sandbox for puzzles, scavenger hunts, and adventures. We had our mission and everyone else had theirs, but we were all puzzling and exploring in the same space at the same time. It was chaotic and lively and it became more interesting as more people showed up.

La Terrible Affaire Bambell

Heyou Escape –  Le Cannet, France

In-game: The hallway of the apartment complex that housed the game.

Terrifying. Heyou Escape built tension by adding a sense of danger and screwing with our minds and expectations. I’m not sure if La Terrible Affaire Bambell is actually an escape room, or if we were even players… Looking back, I think we may have just been props in their production.

D.J. Death

The Gate Escape – Leominster, MA

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

The Gate Escape put training wheels on escape room gameplay. Instead of presenting a free-for-all escape room-style game, each puzzle was presented in its own station… and it concluded with a dance party. This was a great way to open up new players to escape room style puzzling.

The Summons

The Seven Forces – Cincinnati, OH

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

By adding social and group dynamics into the large-scale theatrical escape room event format, The Seven Forces created something new and special. Their approach kept multiple teams engaged with both the puzzles and one another for the entire game.

More Innovation

We’d love to have you join us on an escape room tour!

Join us in visiting some of the other innovative games we’ve found in our travels. (It just so happens that we didn’t play them in 2018.)

Escape Immerse Explore: The Palace

Escape Immerse Explore: New Orleans

The Fine Print

If you’ve seen something like we’ve described above elsewhere, we aren’t claiming anything is entirely unique. These are the games that we saw the innovations in.

This post wasn’t intended as a re-review of anything. For full critiques of these games, take a look at the reviews.

We’ve left out games that won 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards. You can check that list out too. Many of them were highly innovative. We’ve already heaped tons of praise on those games.

Escape Woods – The Shiners [Review]

Escape the trailer park.

Location: Powder Springs, GA

Date Played: March 24, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

The Shiners was utterly unforgettable. We weren’t trapped anywhere. We were outdoors, invading a sprawling trailer park, breaking into the mobile homes, and salvaging materials to help our in-character gamemaster distill moonshine.

As with The Bunker at Escape Woods, I was unusually ok with generally poor game design choices that would typically drive me crazy.

Once again, this strange game was an argument for why we don’t give numeric ratings. If we were applying a rating, the high score for immersion would be offset by a low score for puzzle and game design. We’d have to give this game an average score that wouldn’t reflect reality. The Shiners was as much a masterpiece as it was a mess… but damn it, it was fun and memorable.

If this sounds incredibly exciting, it’s absolutely worth traveling far out of your way to experience The Shiners… and if this sounds like a disaster to you, then stay away.

In-game: An old trailer in the middle of the woods. It's lit with a long strand of light bulbs.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • People with at least basic agility
  • People who aren’t germophobic
  • Open-minded escape room players

Why play?

  • Detailed, raw, and real set
  • There’s nothing else like it, that we know of.
  • Unforgettable

Story

Master moonshiner Pops McCoy’s crew and facility had been busted by the ATF. McCoy had retreated to a remote trailer park in the middle of the woods and recruited us to help him scavenge for the ingredients and supplies he needed to whip up one final batch of his secret recipe.

We had to help McCoy complete one last batch of moonshine and get out of town before the ATF caught up with us.

The entry way to The Shiners. A broken archway reads, "Shady Acres." Beyond is a wooded trailer park.

Setting

I previously described the background of Escape Woods in our earlier review of The Bunker. It was a wild place.

A farm

Once again, a gamemaster took us for a little walk through the woods, this time to the Shady Acres trailer park. It was a trailer park complete with four trailers, a van, an outhouse, and all sorts of random details that made this game feel bizarrely authentic.

Unless we were inside of one of the trailers, the entire escape room took place outdoors.

In-game: A trailer with a few folding chairs around an extinguished fire pit.

Gameplay

Escape Woods’ The Shiners was an unusual escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, parsing real clues from the numerous red herrings, and navigating the outdoor game environment.

The game was overseen by an in-character gamemaster, Pops McCoy. Whenever we retrieved a component for his recipe, we had to bring it to him.

In-game: A hand painted wooden sign leans against a tree. It reads, "Notis! Trespasser get shot."

Analysis

+ Entering this gamespace was surprising.

+ The trailer park set was unbelievable.

– In one trailer there was an oven, and oh boy did it smell foul when we opened it up. I don’t think this was an odor for-effect situation; I think something bad had happened in that oven.

? As with Escape Woods’ other game, the set had some dimly lit segments and we needed to bring our own flashlights (phones worked). On one hand, it was annoying that the game wasn’t self-contained. On the other hand, my phone is usually a better flashlight than the junk that most escape rooms provide. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

– It was difficult to tell where the set ended and what was out of play. We frequently did things that made our gamemaster/  Pops McCoy shout something at us like, “THERE AIN’T NOTHING IN THE SHITTER!.”

+ Our gamemaster was hilarious and even when he was telling us not to do something, he made it amusing.

+ The story was hilarious and generally well executed.

– We got a bit confused near the end of the story as we weren’t really sure how to proceed, and the instructions we had received had a strange technical inaccuracy.

+ Escape Woods laid out the game so that it had some flow and a natural progression.

– As with The Bunker, the puzzle design was the weak link. In one instance there was a puzzle that played more like a Rorschach test.

– There was an order preservation puzzle. We ended up having to guess our way through the order.

+ This was the craziest escape game that I’ve played to date.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring your own flashlight. Flashlights will not be provided and you will need them.
  • You will drive down a dirt road to get to the parking lot.
  • Escape Woods’ facility is primarily outdoors, including their lobby. There is an indoor restroom available.
  • You must be comfortable walking on uneven surfaces and on paths through the woods.
  • Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. We recommend closed-toed shoes and long pants as well.

Book your hour with Escape Woods’ The Shiners, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escape Woods – The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab [Review]

Stranger Things was filmed here.

Location: Powder Springs, GA

Date Played: March 24, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

The Bunker: Strange Things at Hawkins Lab was an atypical, endlessly interesting, and deeply flawed escape room that I will never forget. The untamed environment was beautiful and gross. The game design needed a lot of work. As frustrating as it was at times, it was exhilarating.

During this escape room, I was strangely ok with stuff that would normally drive me nuts. Buyer beware.

This adventure argues for why we don’t give number ratings. If we had to rate this game, we’d have to average a lot of emotions and give it a 3. But that number doesn’t capture this game. For some folks, it will be a 5. For others, it will be a 1. It was magnificently good… and bad. If this sounds super exciting, it’s absolutely worth traveling far out of your way for. If this sounds like a nightmare, stay away.

In-game: An interior of the bunker. A wallhanging holds paperwork, the bunker looks rundown.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Stranger Things fans
  • Any experience level
  • People with at least basic agility
  • People who aren’t germophobic
  • Open-minded escape room players

Why play?

  • Detailed, raw, and real set
  • There’s nothing else like it, that we know of.
  • Unforgettable

Story

In this Stranger Things-themed game (created with permission) we had to sneak into a secret subterranean bunker under Hawkins Lab and retrieve a creature from the Upside Down, then escape.

In-game: An old broken typewriter on a desk beside a Brownie camera, and rotary phone.

Setting

Escape Woods was the escape game corner of Sleepy Hollow Farm, which operates as a real farm, corn maze, farm zoo, and playground, among other things. It also happens to be the real life set of Bob Merril’s pumpkin patch as well as Hopper’s cabin from Stranger Things Season 2.

A sign pointing in many directions towards escape woods, parking, a corn maze, and the exit.

We drove onto the farm, past the farm zoo, beyond the ‘Merril’s’ pumpkin patch and arrived at a makeshift office. We also took a few trips down the slides on their playground. (The long one doesn’t let you build up momentum and the short one is fast; land with caution.)

The rusty hand painted Escape Woods sign.

From there, we took a brief hike out into the woods and approached The Bunker.

The exterior of the Bunker. It looks incredibly detailed, rundown, and militaristic.

Then we descended into The Bunker.

The stairway down into the bunker. It's made of assorted metal components.

It was a mixture of wood, metal, and according to our game master, cannibalized portions of the Hunger Games movie set.

The set was a massive series of chambers and long corridors. There were a lot of things to step over and low ceilings to duck under (if you’re tall). This labyrinth just kept going.

When the floor was made from metal, it felt strong. When the floor was made from wood, it usually sagged a little underfoot. The Bunker was damp (it had rained the week preceding our arrival), dingy, contained insects, and almost certainly contained some mold.

The Bunker was quite literally wild. It captured the abandoned underground lab vibe with a level of authenticity that exceeded any expectations that we could have had.

Gameplay

Escape Woods’ The Bunker was an unusual escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, parsing real clues from the numerous red herrings, and navigating the game environment.

Analysis

+ The set was insane. It was massive, sprawling, detailed, and it looked and felt real.

? While we found this wild and untamed set exhilarating, some of our teammates were very uncomfortable in it.

? The set was dimly lit and we needed to bring our own flashlights (phones worked). On the one hand, it was annoying that the game wasn’t self-contained. On the other hand, my phone is usually a better flashlight than the junk that most escape rooms provide. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

+ There were absolutely no “do not touch” flags in this game.

– There were far too many exposed nails. Parts of the set looked like The Pit in Mortal Kombat.

– The clue-to-red herring ratio was staggeringly in favor of red herrings. There were tons of things to look at and turn over (and what you’d find underneath wasn’t always pretty).

– The puzzle design and gameflow were subpar and at times felt downright broken. Throughout this game we had to search, take a guess at what was relevant, and then pull some strange detail out to derive an otherwise unclued solution.

+ There was a strange purity in having to go in and figure stuff out for ourselves.

– One sequence required the team to recall something from Stranger Things Season 2 and make a strange logic leap or take a hint.

– When we needed a hint, we needed to ask a specific question as there was no mechanism for our gamemaster to watch us or have any idea where we were or what we were stuck on.

+ The final exit was cool.

+ This was one of the most incredible adventures that I’ve had in my escape room playing career. I felt like a kid in this alien environment. I will never forget this escape room.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring your own flashlight. Flashlights will not be provided and you will need them.
  • You will drive down a dirt road to get to the parking lot.
  • Escape Woods’ facility is primarily outdoors, including their lobby. There is an indoor restroom available.
  • You must be comfortable walking on uneven surfaces and on paths through the woods.
  • Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. We recommend closed-toed shoes and long pants as well.

Book your hour with Escape Woods’ The Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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