The Tape Escape – Yesterday’s Heroes [Review]

“Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey”– Doctor Who

Location:  Toronto, ON

Date Played: July 12, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player plus applicable taxes and fees

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints 

REA Reaction

Yesterday’s Heroes was a lesson in the difficulty of writing time travel plots. It was the second show we experienced at Outside The March’s The Tape Escape, currently showing in Toronto. You can find our thoughts on the first show we watched and what we thought of The Tape Escape in general in our review of Love Without Late Fees.

A person reaching up for a movie on the shelf of a video store.
Photo by Neil Silcox

For us, Yesterday’s Heroes was the weaker entry. While we enjoyed the narratives and nostalgia, some aspects of the puzzle design and game flow left us wanting more.

Who is this for?

  • Theatre lovers
  • 90’s kids and 90’s kids at heart
  • Escape enthusiasts who want something different
  • Movie buffs

Why play?

  • Natural set
  • Immersive 90’s atmosphere

Story

We had been mysteriously whisked back to the year 1999 to join a bewildered video store employee in deciphering an odd message appearing on an employee training video. What did the message mean? Who had sent it? And why had we been hurtled back in time?

Promotional art, a tape over a person's eyes like glasses, the tape unravelling overhead like hair.

Setting

The Tape Escape took place in a restored video rental store. You can see our review of Love Without Late Fees for our full thoughts.

Gameplay

Yesterday’s Heroes was a narrative-driven escape room with an easy to moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay was unusual for an escape room. Puzzles were individually timed, with the gamemaster heavily hinting the answer once the timer was up (usually between 2 and 5 minutes). Solving a puzzle allowed players to view the next “cutscene” of the show. This involved watching a short video piece that revealed a clue to the next puzzle.

A person reaching into a display case with movie boxes and pez dispensers that correspond to the characters featured on those boxes.
Photo by Neil Silcox

Analysis

➕/➖ Puzzles were a mixed bag. A couple were fun, but others were vague and poorly clued. The final puzzle was difficult in an unfair way.

➖ At least two puzzles relied heavily on outside knowledge to complete. The gamemaster was there to help, so it was not a huge issue, but it might be frustrating for anyone expecting Yesterday Heroes to follow escape room norms.

➕ There was one particular prop in the store that was impressive. Such a small prop had such a big impact on the experience. Kudos to the designer on that build.

➕/➖ I appreciated that our gamemaster added a character element to his role, something I felt complemented the story-focused nature of the show. It also helped that his character was entertaining. His instructions, however, were not always entirely clear due to his choice to deliver them in character.

➖ The timed puzzles and linear story made the show feel rushed. The pacing meant we were unable to become fully immersed in the show.

➖ The narrative was difficult to grasp. The choice to deliver the story in a more metaphorical fashion resulted in a lack of connection with actual characters, who were only introduced toward the end. We enjoyed the ideas presented, but the execution simply was not there for us.

➕/➖ There was a neat attempt to tie players into the story, but it also resulted in a giant plot hole (for those who were paying attention to the plot). Take note: time travel stories are difficult.

Tips For Visiting

  • Transit: The venue is very close to the Bathurst subway station. Avoid the hell that is parking in downtown Toronto and take the subway instead.
  • Food: There are a lot of restaurants in the area to take advantage of. We recommend chimney cones at Eva’s Original Chimneys!
  • Accessibility: This venue is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Washrooms: The venue does not have washrooms. The nearby coffee shop agreed to allow players to use their washrooms, but if you are short for time, consider going further in advance.

Book your hour with The Tape Escape’s Yesterday’s Heroes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escape Games Canada – Pathogen [Review]

l33t h4x0r

Location:  North York, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.32 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push to Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Pathogen was a technology-forward escape game with a lot of interesting things going on (not all of them visible to the player).

From puzzles, to set, to story, this was an all-around solid escape room where no element truly soared above the others, and they all came together well.

In-game: A futuristic lab with a wall of animal test subjects.
Image via Escape Games Canada

Escape Games Canada creates interesting games. Some we love, some we question… but they’ve always been worth experiencing. Their latest game, Pathogen, was no exception. If you’re near Toronto, I absolutely recommend playing Pathogen.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Really interesting invisible tech (ask your gamemaster post-game)
  • Solid storytelling
  • Solid puzzles
  • Solid set design

Story

We were hackers and social engineers living in a corporatized cyberpunk dystopia. A shadow organization had hired us to break into a company and steal a weaponized virus.

In-game: A super computer surrounded by lasers.

Setting

We’d gained access to the towering headquarters of a major biotech corporation. Their office and lab setting had a slick, futuristic look with blue glow.

While it was both an office and a lab – two settings that I think are pretty tired – Escape Games Canada merged them with a unique aesthetic that made it feel interesting and worthy.

In-game: A hexagon made from multicolored glowing hexagons surrounded by lasers.
Image via Escape Games Canada

Gameplay

Escape Games Canada’s Pathogen was a standard escape room with a variable level of difficulty.

Pathogen automagically tunes the challenge level based on the team’s performance.

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

In-game: A futuristic elevator with a doorway labeled "Level 1"
Image via Escape Games Canada

Analysis

➕ The opening sequence established a sense of setting, scale, and stakes. The extra details generally elevated the game.

➕ Automated difficulty tuning was really clever. I like that it adjusted without asking the players to self-evaluate their skill level, a thing that most teams cannot accurately do.

In-game: A computer console.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➕ Most of the puzzles had great onboarding, training us in the concept or interactions before hitting us with the real challenge.

➕ For our team, a communication puzzle stood out at the most enjoyable part of the experience.

➕ The middle of the game included a bit of physicality. It wasn’t particularly strenuous, but it was fun to physically engage with the game.

❓ While there were lots of buttons, switches, and screen interactions, there weren’t many props to pick up and handle. Some of the team felt like there was something missing. It didn’t really irk me, but I think that this is a fair criticism. It comes down to what you’re looking for out of an escape game.

In-game: A touch screen with a molecular input.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➖ While it fit narratively, far too many moments centered on checking a computer screen and navigating its menus. All too often someone in the group felt like they were taking one for the team and going to the computer.

➕/➖ There was an interesting and challenging bonus puzzle in the middle of Pathogen. This was conceptually great. In practice, we were stymied by a lack of note-taking implements… and a blind timer that eventually terminated the puzzle. We still had time left at the end of the game, so I wish that we could have managed our own time a little more on this puzzle.

➕ The game had funny moments.

In-game: A futuristic lab.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➕ The vibe of the space did a lot more with an office and lab than we typically see.

➖/➕ Pathogen presented a mostly blind choice and it was frustrating having to choose with little context. That said, Escape Games Canada recovered well in their handling of the story’s conclusion.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Escape Games Canada has a parking lot.
  • Food: There are plenty of food options nearby.
  • Accessibility: There are segments that require at least 2 or 3 players to crawl or exhibit agility.

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

Disclosure: Escape Games Canada comped our tickets for this game.

Doctor Esker’s Notebook [Review]

Surprising Results

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 11, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a low-price, high-quality tabletop puzzle game.

Structured as a deck of cards, it was not overtly fancy or inherently impressive at first glance (and the photos below will prove that.) However, Doctor Esker’s Notebook had it where it counted: it was a brilliant puzzle game with a clever answer mechanism.

The most glaring issues with Doctor Esker’s Notebook was in the onboarding. Given how unusual the solution system was, it needed a better on-ramp to teach us how to play. Once we pushed past the initial confusion, however, we truly enjoyed this game.

If you’re the kind of person who’s on the lookout for smart, well-designed, innovative puzzle games, do yourself a favor and pick up Doctor Esker’s Notebook.

The small card deck sized box for Doctor Esker's Notebook.
The entire game was the size of a deck of playing cards.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle game
  • Inventive mechanics, solutions, and answer verification

Story

Doctor Esker had vanished, leaving behind only his lab notes. We had to piece his work back together and determine his fate.

10 stacks of cards each with different art.

Setup

Doctor Esker’s Notebook had a strange structure. The card backs allowed us to sort the game into 10 piles:

  • 9 stacks of puzzle cards
  • 1 stack of solution cards

We began with the “Start” stack of puzzle cards. Once we had the correct answer, we needed to assemble the solution cards. The assembly of the solution would key us into the next puzzle stack. Repeat until finished.

A QR code labeled "Hints."

It all culminated in a phenomenal final puzzle.

Gameplay

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a puzzle-focused play-at-home escape game contained within a deck of cards.

It had a higher level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The no frills aesthetic of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was functional. It wasn’t fancy at all and it felt like a scrapbook. It was hand drawn. It felt like we were puzzling through someone’s mind… in a good way.

➕ Although the puzzles were drawn in the same style, they were enormously varied.

➕ The puzzles were playful and clever. They had funny aha moments. We laughed aloud.

➖ We love wordplay, but we found some of the wordplay in Doctor Esker’s Notebook to be a stretch.

➕ The answer verification system worked really well.

➕ / ➖ If we needed assistance, there was a hint website available. It got the job done. It wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t really lacking either.

➖ When we first opened the deck of cards, it was hard to get moving. The instructions weren’t clear enough. We were pretty confused on how the answer verification system was meant to work. Doctor Esker’s Notebook needed refinement in the onboarding process.

➖ We played more than half the game wondering about extraneous information. We eventually realized that we were solving for additional information about assembling a puzzle’s solution. We’d been assembling solutions the hard way. More clear instructions would have eliminated this confusion.

➕ There was no ambiguity as to what to solve when. We always knew we had all the components for the next puzzle. It was always clear when we’d finished a puzzle and how to move on to the next one.

➕ There was no internet connection or app integration needed for this pocket-sized game. We found that freeing.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor
  • Required Gear: pen and paper

Buy your copy of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doctor Esker’s Notebook provided a sample for review. 

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

AllPlay – Aliens are Attacking [Review]

Welcome to Earth

Location:  at your own venue

Date Played: June 14, 2019

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $1,950 for a company to purchase this for unlimited use

Publisher: Immersive Tech

REA Reaction

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking was designed for corporate teams to play in a conference room (either their own, or an escape room company’s). Aliens are Attacking was a good escape game, not just “good for a corporate group.”

The core mechanics of the game work well. The puzzles were interesting, varied, and fun. It engaged multiple people on a small team. The greatest opportunities for improvement revolved around on-boarding and use of character roles.

Various items laid out and our team puzzling.

The success of this game will depend heavily on the set up and presentation of the experience. It’s for that reason that I think it would be best delivered in the conference room of an escape room company, with some theming added to the conference room, and a professional in-character gamemaster at the helm.

The pricing of the game is fair. The content is strong.

  • If you’re an escape room company looking for a way to make some money with your conference room space, this is a strong option.
  • If you’re a corporate group looking for an escape room team building game, this is a great choice that doesn’t require physical mobility or exertion.
  • If you’re an escape room player and this is available to play near you, don’t be scared off by the corporate team building concept. This was a strong escape game that played a little differently.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Corporate groups

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles
  • Nifty computer interface

Story

Humanity had called out to other worlds and one of them had answered “surrender.”

With an alien armada approaching we had to analyze and decipher the available information and determine a way to fight back.

The Security Specialist's Documents printed in orange.

Setup

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking is not available direct to consumer. This is sold to escape room businesses as a game specifically for play in a conference room-like environment. It required a computer to run the game and a table to spread out the printed materials.

AllPlay does not charge a monthly fee nor have any restrictions in terms of usage. You are truly buying Aliens are Attacking to own it. There is no DRM either.

The software guided the progression of the game and handled all solution verification and hinting. For any truly stuck team, there was a mechanism for bypassing puzzles.

A coordinate entry screen.

Gameplay

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking was a location-independent escape game designed for corporate groups to play at their own locations. It would be best played in a conference-room environment. (It would be even better if that setting were appropriately themed.)

It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and figuring out how to interact with the computer interface.

All 3 role documents.

Analysis

➕ As far as corporate team building games go, we think this one has legs. We brought together a group of players who work in corporations of different sizes that bring in different sorts of team building experiences. Everyone agreed that Aliens are Attacking was engaging and would likely play well at their respective companies.

➕ The print design looked good. There were a lot of printed materials and the design was high quality.

➖ It was a lot of work to set this up. Lindsay, one of our regular teammates, took on the role of gamemaster. She played through the game on her own ahead of the group, following the materials. She then printed all the materials at Staples and organized them into labeled folders.

Without a person organizing this on behalf of the group, Aliens are Attacking wouldn’t have run smoothly. We imagine that if this were just handed to some administrator at a large organization, it wouldn’t go well. We strongly urge companies providing this game to send a gamemaster along with the materials.

➖ Aliens are Attacking lacked onboarding. It look us a while to understand how the computer program and the printed materials interacted. We spent a good deal of time at the beginning floundering because we didn’t understand how the game worked. (Our “gamemaster” hinted a bit once she’d laid out the game for us.) Professional gamemastering would mitigate this problem.

➕ Once we understood how this game wanted to be played, the gameplay flowed smoothly. The structure worked well.

➕ The puzzles were interesting and varied. They were satisfying solves.

➕/➖ The computer interface was fun to use. We took turns poking at it. It also took some getting used to. We kept wanting there to be a mouse.

➖ At the beginning of the game, we were assigned “character” roles. These were underused and didn’t add anything to the experience.

➕ The team could skip a puzzle if it proved to be too difficult. After we’d reached a certain amount of time, that option became available. We appreciated how this would give teams of non-puzzlers the opportunity to see the game through to end without building frustration beyond reasonable levels. This factored into a score at the conclusion of the experience.

➕ There were different levels of winning which we think would work well for corporate team building.

Aliens are Attacking was an executable to download and install. No IT person worth their admin credentials would allow a foreign executable onto a company computer. If the game is being played on-site at a company, it should be brought over on a computer with a professional gamemaster.

➕ If this game were hosted in an escape room’s conference room, the setting could be themed to add to the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: color printer for paper documents and one laptop or computer with the following:
    • OS: Windows 10
    • Processor: Core i3 2GHz+
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Intel HD3000 or above
    • DirectX: Version 9.0
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 300 MB available space
    • keyboard
    • speakers

Buy your copy of AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you using the coupon code REA15 to receive 15% off.

Disclosure: AllPlay provided a sample for review and we receive a small commission on any games purchased using the REA15 discount code.

The Tape Escape – Love Without Late Fees [Review]

Like A Telltale Game But Without All The Death

Location:  Toronto, ON

Date Played: July 12, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player (plus tax and applicable fees)

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints 

REA Reaction

Before seeing Love Without Late Fees, one of three games offered by Outside the March’s The Tape Escape, I was not convinced that a long and loving relationship could be achieved merely by picking the right movie to watch. But after the experience, I am tempted to open up my own video store dating service.

Tape Escape exterior - a video store with the event logo.

The Tape Escape was an intriguing experiment. Part immersive theatre, part escape room, part art installation, and all nostalgia, it attempted to blend these elements together into three unique narrative-driven games. In some ways, it succeeded. In others, not so much.

We experienced two of the possible three shows at Tape Escape. Of the two we played, Love Without Late Fees was our favorite. Its clever use of branching narratives had us curious about all the ways we could affect a relationship.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theatre lovers
  • 90’s kids and 90’s kids at heart
  • Escape enthusiasts who want something different
  • Scenery snobs

Why play?

  • Engaging narratives
  • Humor
  • Natural set
  • Immersive 90’s atmosphere

Story

We had been hired by the quirky Ray and Sheila, creators of the Six Movies to Love dating service. The dating service tried to match up couples through their movie rentals. Our goal: bring two potential soul mates together and select the perfect six movies to cement their love.

A person holding many movies reaching up for a movie on the shelf of a video store.
Photo by Neil Silcox

Setting

All three shows in The Tape Escape took place in the same set – a fully restored video rental store – and ran concurrently. Aside from the multiple shelves of videos, there were also small rooms set up for certain parts of each show. These were used to watch cutscenes on video with provided headphones to hear the audio.

Gameplay

The Tape Escape’s Love Without Late Fees was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

The main mechanic was a branching narrative structure that resulted in a possible 64 scenes to witness and 32 unique endings. The puzzles we solved (or did not solve) determined which path we followed. Once the time limit for a puzzle was up, the gamemaster provided us with the movie the couple would watch on their next date.

A person with an eject symbol on his shirt in front of a shelf of movies.
Photo by Neil Silcox

Analysis

Love Without Late Fees did a fantastic job of evoking a 90’s atmosphere. (Bonus points to the video designer for the aged feel of all the recorded videos we watched!)

➕ The sight of a fully restored video rental store was alone worth the visit. I experienced a lot of giddiness looking at the multitude of 90’s movies lining the shelves. Occasionally, the cramped space of the video tape collection caused some minor traffic jams for players and game masters. This actually added to the atmosphere though.

➖ There were instances where we were unsure of where or how to interact with the space. Thankfully, we could always ask the gamemaster what we could and could not touch. That said, our hesitation to solve drained what limited time we had to complete the puzzles.

➕/➖ Our gamemasters did not portray characters but merely guided us through the puzzles. On the one hand, they were clear in their instructions. On the other, we were disappointed not to see more character interaction in an immersive theatre project.

➕/➖ Small vignettes performed between each show provided some humorous additional entertainment, but did not make sense in the world and jolted us out of the experience.

➕ Headphones ensured we did not overhear other shows going on around us.

➕ The two lead actors had great chemistry.

➕/➖ We did not have a lot of time to complete each puzzle, which was frustrating. Luckily if we did not complete a puzzle on time, instead of “failing” we were merely put down another narrative path. Better still, not completing a puzzle did not mean a negative outcome for the characters or the players.

➖ The puzzles were enjoyable, but sometimes did not tie in to the story. Since The Tape Escape markets itself as an immersive escape room, we expected to see the puzzles reflect this more consistently.

➖ The video vignettes between each puzzle tended to go on too long.

➕ Branching narrative paths led to some fun moments and left me curious of the other possibilities. Also, 32 endings! That is a ton of work and I was impressed with how well the different endings completed their story arcs.

Tips For Visiting

  • Transit: The venue is very close to the Bathurst subway station. Avoid the hell that is parking in downtown Toronto and take the subway instead.
  • Food: There are a lot of restaurants in the area to take advantage of. We recommend chimney cones at Eva’s Original Chimneys!
  • Accessibility: This venue is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Washrooms: The venue does not have washrooms. The nearby coffee shop agreed to allow players to use their washrooms, but if you are short for time, consider going further in advance.

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

Puzzle Snacks [Book Review]

Incredibly great (9)

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Price: $10

Publisher: Tiller Press

REA Reaction

I love word puzzles, but I don’t have a lot of time. Puzzle Snacks stepped right into a void in my life with word puzzles for an extremely busy lifestyle.

Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Snacks made crossword-style cluing more accessible with “bite-sized” puzzles that asked the solver to think creatively about words. It linked words together in interesting ways.

Cover of Puzzle Snacks, "More than 100 clever bite-sized puzzle for every solver" by Eric Berlin.

While I liked some puzzle styles more than others, they were mostly quite enjoyable, and it was easy to skip the one puzzle type that really wasn’t for me.

Newer puzzlers will find these puzzles approachable. Experienced puzzlers will find them quick, yet elegantly satisfying. If you love crosswords, or want to like crosswords, we highly recommend picking up a copy of Puzzle Snacks to enjoy on your own or with a friend, for those fleeting free moments where you just need a word puzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Word puzzlers
  • People with limited time or limited attention span
  • All experience levels

Why play?

  • Crosswording made more approachable
  • Impressive and elegant puzzle designs
  • Bite-sized puzzles

Setup

Each page of Puzzle Snacks presented a crossword-like puzzle. There were 110 of these puzzles. We could dive into any puzzle at any time. They were each standalone solves.

The grid for one of the Spiral puzzles.

Gameplay

Puzzle Snacks was a puzzle book with a low-moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around solving crossword-like clues, and fitting words and letters together in interesting ways.

Analysis

Puzzle Snacks was loaded with elegant puzzles that made us stop and marvel at how everything came together. We were particularly taken with the “Spiral” puzzles that solved both forwards and backwards. Frankly it’s worth the price of admission just to solve these.

Puzzle Snacks made crossword-style word puzzles approachable. As noted in his introduction, author Eric Berlin stuck to everyday words that normal people know. Each puzzle had less than half the number of clues of a standard crossword. He wrote crossword clues for the uninitiated, opening these puzzles to newer word puzzlers or puzzlers with limited time or limited focus.

➕ The puzzles were satisfying solves. Moreover, they were truly impressive creations. I loved how the words fit together. In these puzzles, words I’d already solved clued the ones I was working on, similarly to in a crossword puzzle, but in my opinion, even more elegantly. I loved how the words spiraled, reversed, boxed, crossed, or pathed into each other in interesting ways.

➕ We finished every puzzle we started in that same sitting. That provided immense satisfaction. Even when we struggled, we could approach from a different vantage point and continue along. We were never stumped for more than a minute or two.

➕ The puzzle types repeated, but with different crossword clues and different words fitting into the puzzle designs. We could find the types we liked best and solve a few of them in a row. While we had to read and understand the directions for each puzzle type, we didn’t have to do that for each individual puzzle.

➕/ ➖ The book provided hints at the back. These were noted in such a way that we could find them easily, but wouldn’t accidentally read more information than we wanted. They said just enough to give us something to sink our teeth into if we’d paused. That said, there weren’t enough hints to walk someone through an entire puzzle piece by piece. If you’re seriously struggling, you’ll have to look at the solution to hint yourself, which means spoilers.

➖ The first puzzle seemed stylistically different from most of the others. It asked us to think a bit differently. While we enjoyed it, we found it more challenging than the majority of the puzzle types. It seemed like an odd jumping-off point for the rest of the puzzles in the book. It might turn off a few would-be solvers.

➖ We found the “quote” puzzle type excessively tedious. After solving one of those, we decided not to do any more of that variety. 

➕ We’ve solved a lot of puzzles and there are tons more in this book. I’m looking forward to taking it on planes and trains.

Author Eric Berlin also wrote The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, a fun story where you get to solve alongside a character.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table, or even just a lap
  • Required Gear: a pen or pencil and occasionally a straight edge. We recommend FriXion pens.

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

Disclosure: Tiller Press provided a sample for review. 

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

Pringles Mystery Flavor [Review]

Once you pop… the fine print mysteries don’t stop!

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 26, 2019

Team size: Do you want to share?

REA Reaction

Wow. That didn’t suck. Pringles bucked the trend and delivered an edible Mystery Flavor product… instead of some lab accident that they could never sell with proper labeling. (The people behind Peeps are monsters).

I’m a Pringles fan. I enjoy the texture. I’m fond of the flavor. I love the tube and stackability. I think it appeals to my sense of order.

The Pringles logo on the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube.

Is this Mystery Flavor better than the original? Probably not.

Is this Mystery Flavor superior to Sour Cream & Onion Pringles? Hell no… but what is?

However… the flavor isn’t the real mystery. Instead, it’s the bewildering rules of the contest. The rules clearly state “No purchase necessary…” but you cannot submit a flavor guess without an image of your ^&*$!@# receipt!

The top of the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube. The $10,000 prize is highlighted.

It takes digging into the rules to learn that without a receipt, you have to mail in a 3” x 5” piece of paper containing a bunch of information… which is what we’d have to do to enter the contest, since a lovely reader sent us this product as a gift.

Anyway, the Mystery Flavor Pringles were good, but the contest itself was a laborious waste of time.

Who is this for?

  • Pringles fans
  • Mystery food junkies
  • Lawyers

Why play?

  • The food’s pretty good.

Gameplay

To begin, you’ll have to acquire a tube of Mystery Flavor Pringles, only available at Walgreens.

Next you’ll want to check for the flavor seal. You can’t have any of that mystery escaping the tube.

The sealed top of the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube. The words, "Look for the flavor seal" are centered in frame.

Your next step is to pop the top. Finally you can indulge in the mysterious flavor.

One whole, unbroken mystery flavor Pringle resting on a bed of broken chips. The chips have an orangey appearance.

The last step is submitting your flavor guess for a chance to win $10,000 — or in my case, you can spend a few minutes reading a rules PDF before abandoning the contest because it’s structured for administrative ease, not user need.

Analysis

➕ These Pringles actually tasted good. We’re going to finish that tube off and we won’t even trick our friends into eating them.

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

It had a sort of barbecue cheese thing going on. It was very cheesy and smelled most strongly of cheese. There was a bit of paprika in there. I think it was a queso or nacho. If I’m being precise, I think the flavor was “cheap stadium nacho.” I’m confident that if you guess that, it will earn you $10,000 in the contest.

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➕ The gold packaging featured a cryptex-like design spelling out the word “MYSTERY” really spoke to me.

The gold Mystery Flavor Pringles tube with a cryptex-like graphic that reads "MYSTERY."

➕ I really respected the decision makers over at Pringles who resisted the urge to force the graphic designers to make the logo bigger.

➖ I’m not sure what’s going on with the weird repeating pattern down at bottom of the tube. That was a great opportunity to embed a cipher or puzzle… or do nothing. Nothing would have looked better.

➖ The contest website was mediocre and submitting to it was a pain. This begs the question: why would Pringles do something to build goodwill with its customers – like run a contest – only to make the whole process so arduous that it leaves those customers with a bad impression of the brand?

The Pringle Tasting Hot Take

As a thank you to our Patreon supporters for helping us reach our early goals, we recorded our Mystery Pringle tasting for them. Each month we share a hot take on Patreon. It might be a reaction to an escape room just as we finish playing it. It might be a reaction to something more unusual. Join our Patreon backers for more exclusive content!

Tips For Playing

  • Mystery Flavor Pringles are only available at Walgreens.
  • You must submit your flavor guesses by July 30, 2019, to be eligible to win.

Thank you to Rex Millar for sending us our tube of Mystery Flavor Pringles.

Escape Maze – The Curious Case of Cariboo Cameron [Review]

Gold digger?

Location:  Peterborough, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.00 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape Maze’s world was set in a late 1800s, post-gold rush Canada. The company is on a farm and the games were built within a beautiful old barn.

The Curious Case of Cariboo Cameron was traditional, low-tech escape room gaming done right. Escape Maze knows their aesthetic and thoroughly sticks to it. Their puzzles ranged in difficulty and were generally well executed.

In-game: locked luggage and boxes.
Image via Escape Maze

Additionally, Escape Maze mines stories from Canada’s history for their games. That was great fun.

If I was going to ask for anything more, it would be a greater variety of interactions and deeper story integration.

If you love puzzling in charming environments, Escape Maze would be well worth a drive out into the Ontario countryside.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The Escape Maze farm is incredible
  • Escape Maze’s 19th century aesthetic
  • Traditional escape room gaming executed really well

Story

Cariboo Cameron loved two things in life: gold and his wife. When his wife passed away, he continued traveling with her coffin. When Cameron entered customs in New York, his wife’s coffin curiously weighed in at 400 pounds.

This begged the question, what was in the coffin? We had to find out.

In-game: an old parlor in a barn. There are antiques all over and a headstone in the corner.
Image via Escape Maze

Setting

Escape Maze was built inside of an old barn on a sprawling, active farm. It was a gorgeous place.

The Curious Case of Cariboo Cameron, along with everything at Escape Maze, was set in the late 1800s. The gamespace was a log cabin with a very large, very heavy coffin in the middle of it.

In-game: A wall of antiques shot from high up.
Image via Escape Maze

Gameplay

Escape Maze’s The Curious Case of Cariboo Cameron was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A wall of newspaper clippings.
Image via Escape Maze

Analysis

➕ The farm and barn were beautiful. I wish that I had had a little more time to spend just taking it all in.

➕ Escape Maze had an all-around fantastic and unique aesthetic. This was a low-tech escape game accentuated by details and aesthetics.

➕/➖ There were a lot of great challenges in this puzzle-focused game. At the same time, however, it felt a little one-note. For the most part, we solved puzzles that opened locks.

➕ There was a simple, no-tech puzzle that I loved. It was one of those moments where I stopped everyone to show the team how a puzzle solved.

In-game: A large headstone.
Image via Escape Maze

➖ One puzzle was totally solvable, but we found how to approach it ambiguous. We collectively spent a ton of time getting the lay of the land on this puzzle and I don’t think it was worth it.

➕ The story was loosely woven into the game, but it was unique and amusing.

❓ Basically everything at Escape Maze was set in the late 1800s including the bathrooms outhouses. I thought that this was delightful… your opinion might vary.

Tips For Visiting

  • While traveling to Escape Maze, you might think, “there’s no way that there is an escape room out here.” When you think that, just keep driving.
  • Parking: Escape Maze has a parking lot.
  • Accessibility: The game doesn’t really have limitations, but it is set on a farm and getting around that space might prove difficult for those with mobility restrictions.

Book your hour with Escape Maze’s The Curious Case of Cariboo Cameron, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Maze comped our tickets for this game.

The Privilege of Escape [Reaction]

Fun then thought-provoking.

Location:  New York City, NY

Date Played: July 17, 2019

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: free (limited availability)

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Risa Puno is a skilled creator of unusual, purposeful games. She’s also an escape room player. These traits immediately emerged when we first interviewed Risa about her Creative Time-supported project, The Privilege of Escape. Risa didn’t choose the escape room format because it was trendy. She selected it because she liked the medium and wanted to do something special with it.

In-game: a large black 20 sided sculpture.
Image via Creative Time

Nevertheless, we were a little skeptical that The Privilege of Escape would find a non-threatening, inoffensive way to demonstrate its thesis. It would have been easy to create a game that worked only for individuals who accepted its premise at the onset. We’ve experienced a lot of mediocre immersive theatre that falls into this “preaching to the choir” rut.

The Privilege of Escape avoided this trap. It elegantly demonstrated its thesis.

In-game: a strage geometric sculpture, and a input terminal with multi-colored buttons.
Image via Creative Time

As an escape room, The Privilege of Escape had a fantastic variety of puzzles, locks, and technology. The set had a clean yet unique look. The experience included in-character staff. Above all, it was entertaining and challenging.

The Privilege of Escape‘s premise was that we entered a study conducted by “The Institute.” We were split into two groups. The groups raced against each other to complete the challenges. Saying more – or any deeper critique – would spoil too much.

In-game: a black and white room with numbers on the wall, a large gridded table, oversized dice, and a tall jenga-like tower.
Image via Creative Time

When all was said and done, the game’s intent and thesis became clear. It leaned heavily on show rather than tell; that’s why it worked… that and it was free. This would not be a commercially viable concept.

This was a smart game on so many levels. When its run concludes, I look forward to breaking down in more detail how and why this experience worked (and a couple of things that could have been improved upon).

If you could get tickets (and at this point you probably cannot), you absolutely should experience The Privilege of Escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s Midtown Manhattan; use public transit.
  • When you enter the address, walk to the center of the building and down a flight of stairs to find The Institute.

Book your hour with Creative Time’s The Privilege of Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Omescape – Defend the Magic Academy [Review]

Confundus!

Location:  Scarborough, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $37.50 CAD per player (save $3 with a social media check in)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Some of my favorite games to write about are the ones that I simultaneously loved and hated. Buckle up because Omescape’s Defend The Magic Academy was one of those bumpy rides.

I truly enjoyed Defend The Magic Academy’s puzzles and gameplay (with one musical exception). Omescape concluded the experience with a boss battle that really shined. This final sequence kept our whole team energized, engaged, and collaborating.

In-game: A fenced in area with strange waterfall made of pots.

Omescape’s minimal gamemaster staffing combined with a tech failure to result in a significant potion of this experience utterly collapsing. I cover it in detail below, but the bottom line is that Omescape charged a premium price for this escape game, but provided bargain-basement service.

Defend The Magic Academy was a highly recommended game among the Toronto player community; I can absolutely see why. Our play-though was plagued with a number of problems that probably don’t happen all of the time, but they happened in such spectacular fashion that it’s impossible to parse them from the experience.

If you’re in the area and looking for a strong puzzle game in a nice set, Defend The Magic Academy is worth playing with 4 people, no more, no less. I’m not convinced that it’s worth the extra money relative to some of the other top-tier games in the region, but it still offers a lot to love.

Who is this for?

  • Harry Potter fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Some strong puzzling moments
  • A great final sequence

Story

For ages, evil magical creatures had roamed the earth until they were sealed away with powerful magic. Centuries later the power containing that evil was weakening. As prime sorcerers of the academy, we had to gather our strength and spells to beat back the monsters and strengthen the seal that cast them out of our world.

In-game: The magic school's sign. You can see an array of glowing red LEDs below it.

Setting

We began our adventure in the Magic Academy’s courtyard and had to solve our way inside of the ancient building.

The set looked pretty good. It was large, well painted, and had a number of fun interactions. The overt technology stood out in a less-than-ideal way because it didn’t feel magical at all.

Gameplay

Omescape’s Defend the Magic Academy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ There was a lot to like in Defend The Magic Academy’s set.

➕/➖ I enjoyed the use of technology to represent magic. Unfortunately too many of these interactions looked and felt like technology, not magic. Omescape put little to no effort into concealing buttons and LEDs.

➕ I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game. It had a fantastic assortment of challenges, including some novel takes on classic puzzle types.

➖ There was a color puzzle where there were significant mismatches in the coloration of the clues and the inputs.

➖ There was a complex and unhintable sound puzzle in this game. We didn’t have anyone on the team who excelled at this kind of challenge and it was made more difficult by the layout of the inputs. In the end, we had to ask the gamemaster to come in and just do it for us. I can think of a few ways that hinting, simplifying, or bypassing could have been possible without completely stopping the game.

➖ We encountered a tech failure that halted the game for a long time. On its own, this should not have a problem. This was compounded, however, by Omescape’s gamemastering and hinting model.

➖ For hints, we received a walkie-talkie (not a great delivery system for a magic game, but that’s beside the point). When we needed a hint we had to call out and identify which room we were in. The gamemaster then gave us our hint. It was clear to us that the gamemaster was responsible for managing multiple rooms and not watching us at all… thus never noticing the tech fail.

When I called out for a hint, the gamemaster just kept talking at us and telling us things that we had already figured out but couldn’t execute on because we were missing items due to the malfunction. Because we were over a walkie-talkie, I couldn’t speak back.

As the “hint” droned on and on, I eventually had to yell to get the gamemaster to stop speaking and realize what was actually going on. I basically never yell, and this was the first time that I’ve ever done so at escape room staff.

To be clear, I do not hold the gamemaster accountable for this failure. This is a failure of design and management. This is emblematic of a systemic business problem, not underperforming personnel.

➖ Yes, this was a 90-minute game. No, it didn’t feel premium relative to other top tier games in Toronto. If a company is going to charge top dollar for a premium game, I expect a dedicated gamemaster. It’s either premium or it isn’t.

Defend The Magic Academy concluded with an energetic and engaging boss battle. I absolutely loved this puzzle and the collaborative dynamic that it fostered in our team.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Omescape has a parking lot.
  • Food: There are plenty of food options nearby.
  • Accessibility: There is a section that requires crawling, Omescape can bypass this segment for a player if needed.

Book your hour with Omescape’s Defend the Magic Academy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.