Extreme Escape – The Lost Tomb [Review]

Monkey around

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played:  August 8, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The biggest disappointments are aesthetically beautiful, high-budget games that do not play well. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again.

The Lost Tomb was gorgeous and had some fantastic moments… but the puzzles and gameplay felt incomplete. This was made worse by wear that rendered some puzzles especially difficult to interpret.

After playing and loving Extreme Escape’s The Cursed, we went in fully prepared to be enamored with The Lost Tomb. It didn’t work out that way.

If you love a beautiful set, there’s still an adventure in The Lost Tomb. If you feel that a high-quality escape experience necessitates strong puzzles and gameplay, then your relic is in another tomb.

In-game: A human skeleton hanging from a wall between two panther sculptures.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Cool effects
  • Nifty set design

Story

Our archeological dig had angered the ancient Mayan gods. We had to restore the artifacts to their rightful places or suffer the gods’ wrath.

In-game: A gold Mayan sculputre engraved and hanging from the wall of the tomb.

Setting

Extreme Escape’s The Lost Tomb was a good-looking game. There were loads of details that gave it that classic Indiana Jones vibe.

The lighting and effects helped to sell the setting.

With the exception of one small late-game space, the build quality was quite high.

In-game: A human skull on a spike in a tomb.

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s The Lost Tomb was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A locked crate in a cave.

Analysis

➕ The set looked good and, at its best, the tech felt magical, in that cursed-tomb type of way. Together, the set and tech made a charming combination. 

➕ Extreme Escape added effects to The Lost Tomb that engaged multiple senses and enhanced the experience.

➖ Most of the puzzles were almost fully designed. A few too many of them required some amount of trial and error, given the possible different ways of interpreting the clues. In many instances the cluing wasn’t quite refined enough.

➖ One segment of the game required expert night vision. We had to discern detail in the dark without a portable light source. This whole segment felt like it was the result of a massive oversight. From set to interaction, it was amazing that this corner of the game existed at all.

➕ Extreme Escape is one of the few companies that doesn’t freak out about players using cameras in the games.

In-game: Lisa & David's selfie inside of the Lost Tomb.
We took a selfie inside of an escape game and we weren’t disintegrated with lasers!

➖ There was significant wear on crucial props and set pieces.

➕/➖ One set piece solved into an especially satisfying and surprising response. That said, the gamemaster had to give us specific instructions for how not to act with this set piece, putting a damper on the moment.

➕/➖ Another clever puzzle might have been a little too clever. It required us to act in a way that felt counter to the instructions given to us at the beginning of the game. This could have been mitigated with extra in-game cluing.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • They are on the top floor of the plaza.

Book your hour with Extreme Escape’s The Lost Tomb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – Enchanted [Review]

You shall likely pass!

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $175 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Enchanted was a family-friendly escape game that offered up enough challenge and intrigue to keep our excessively experienced team engaged.

Lockout Austin has a style and approach to escape game design that resonates with us. We keep going back to see what they’ve cooked up because their particular blend of in-character gamemastering, puzzles, set design, story, and adventure works. It’s unique to them and that’s no small feat in this industry.

This is one of those companies where I’m inclined to recommend playing though their entire catalog. Enchanted would make a great first game at Lockout Austin, or a wonderful first game for your family. If you’re near Austin, you should check them out.

In-game: Closeup of an elaborate hourglass, a large book, and a plush, fancy chair.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • Some adorable design
  • The in-character/ in-room gamemaster & hint system

Story

We had been called upon by the Council of Ancient Wizards to endure their tests. If we could pass their trials, they would grant us admission to their order.

In-game: The wizard's chambers with the desk of the wizard.

Setting

Enchanted was a physically small escape game, with an elegant, deliberately designed set (with the exception of a stark white door or two).

In-game: The Wizard's test chamber.

The space looked solid from floor to ceiling.

In-game: The ornate black and red ceiling,

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s Enchanted was a standard escape room geared towards families, with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A glowing table with building models resting atop it.

Analysis

➕ The theme of Enchanted was fun; we especially enjoyed when Lockout Austin upended a basic design assumption.

➕ Lockout Austin set the gamemaster in the room with the aspiring wizards. He looked and acted the part well. This wizard remained behind his desk, out of the way of the players, but available to us if we needed his wisdom. He was a feature of the experience rather than a necessity, and adaptable to each team.

➖ In an artfully designed, magical gamespace, the doors appeared overlooked, which broke the world just a bit. Even painting them flat black would have been an improvement.

In-game: A locked chest that reads, "How many did we eat?"illuminated by a lantern.

➕ The puzzles were surprisingly deep for a family-friendly game. A number of layered puzzles worked well as group solves, and we liked how these engaged much of the team. They were balanced well with shorter solves.

➖ One segment needed better lighting or better contrast. We struggled for the wrong reasons.

In-game: a metal rod mounted to the wall with many rings hangning from it.

➕ We never got to see the hint system in action, but it was creative and funny.

➕ While Enchanted relied heavily on locks, Lockout Austin incorporated technology to deliver magical interludes that added character to the game. We especially enjoyed these puzzles.

➖ Enchanted needed a climax. There was an opportunity for the final puzzle or the in-character gamemaster to deliver a more dramatic conclusion when we earned our admission into the order. 

➕ There was a moment for the young child on your team to feel triumphant in a room of bigger people solving puzzles.

Tips For Visiting

  • Lockout Austin had many food options nearby.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s Enchanted, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Excape Games – Abandoned Ship [Review]

Escape the Kraken

Location:  Livonia, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Every once in a while we happen upon a company a few months too early. Seeing what Excape Games has in the works, I am pretty sure that they are in the process of transforming themselves from a solid escape room company into a real force in their region.

Check out Abandoned Ship if you’re in the area because it’s a fun, traditional game with some great elements, but keep an eye out for their new projects. It feels like Excape Games is on the brink of something special.

In-game: An interesting room with octopus tenticles reaching in through porthole windows.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong puzzles
  • It builds up well

Story

Our research expedition had successfully rediscovered the lost submarine, the S.S. Odyssey. As we boarded it and attempted to surface the boat, it sustained damage. We had to work under pressure to bring the submarine back to sea level, saving it and ourselves.

In-game: a large steampunk gun mounted to the wall.

Setting

Abandoned Ship opened in a bland silver and gray room. It wasn’t the greatest first impression. Excape Games made it clear to us that they had near-future plans to greatly improve this space and I believe them.

In-game: A plain, silver walled room, with an interesting riveted door and a large white panel labeled "First Aid"

With each subsequent space, the Abandoned Ship became more beautiful and compelling. The overwhelming majority of the experience took place in these exciting locations.

In-game: a weathered space with tubes and controls.

Gameplay

Excape Games’ Abandoned Ship was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: crank siren hint system.
This was a great way to call for a hint.

Analysis

➕ Abandoned Ship had an interesting assembly puzzle. This sequence had subtle cluing that worked impeccably. It was brilliant.

➖ In other places, there was opportunity to mind the details: a mount here, consistency in cluing there.

➕ The puzzles generally flowed well and delivered satisfying solves. 

➖ While most of the game was well clued, we found one needlessly unclued search puzzle to be a frustrating time sink. Additionally, there were too many clues written on laminated paper that could have been more fully integrated into the set and the world.

➕ The set design ramped up over the course of the game. With each new space we entered, the gamespace was more intriguing. We always enjoy a good steampunk aesthetic.

➖ The first room looked sparse. While this didn’t detract from the gameplay, the initial scene was jarringly under designed.

➕ We always appreciate an unusual door. This vessel didn’t disappoint.

➕/➖ Abandoned Ship had a really cool final set, but it lacked an impactful finale.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

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

Disclosure: Excape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror [Review]

Break from tradition

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 9, 2019

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

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $24.95

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

Lisa and I are fans of Exit: The Game – fans who have really wanted them to break from their patterns and put a new twist or two on their games. We’re also fans who have wanted them to release fewer games of higher quality… and we got our wish.

Exit: The Game Catacombs of Horror box art featuring a skull, and lit candle.

The Catacombs of Horror was an oversized 2-part game with one long narrative. Within it, Exit: The Game embedded many strong story-driving puzzles and a phenomenal final puzzle sequence. Best of all, they broke away from many of their most notorious clichés without breaking from their tried and true game system.

Of note, they dramatically reduced the focus of an in-game journal, making it far easier for a group of 4 people to comfortably enjoy collaboratively puzzling.

There was still room for improvement, particularly when it came to a few puzzles that yanked us out of the game world.

Overall, The Catacombs of Horror represented a massive quality jump for the series.

If you’re brand new to the series, I still recommend The Sunken Treasure as a strong on-boarding game. If you’re comfortable with Exit: The Game’s system, then The Catacombs of Horror is a must-play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Occultists
  • Best for players with at least some experience playing the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • This was a noticeably stronger product than previous Exit: The Game installments
  • Many of the puzzles integrated well into the narrative
  • The Catacombs of Horror was a 2-part experience and crammed a ton of value into both halves
  • The final puzzle was 🔥

Story

After a friend had disappeared in the catacombs beneath Paris, we’d ventured into the grim maze to try to find him.

In-game: printed sign reads, "STOP: Do not open this box until you have solved the hourglass riddle."

Setup

The Catacombs of Horror was structurally identical to other Exit: The Game products that we’ve reviewed with one significant exception: scale.

This particular edition was a beefy double-sized game with one cohesive story. There was a midpoint that allowed us to stop. It even justified the break in the narrative.

In-game: An assortment of card decks, paper props, a tea candle, and multicolored skulls.

I did a more through breakdown of how the Exit: The Game system works in my first review from oh so long ago:

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Catacombs of Horror was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: green, white, and red skulls.

Analysis

➕ With The Catacombs of Horror, Exit: The Game broke their patterns in many ways. The most obvious one was the length of the game. The amount of content felt right for a casual evening puzzle game with friends. It even included a narrative-justified break point. The content also matched the price point.

➕ The journal – a mainstay from Exit: The Game – showed up much later. The result was that the journal was less restrictive. The game felt a lot more accessible.

➕ Exit: The Game introduced many novel puzzle concepts. These were unexpected and enjoyable.

➖ A few of the puzzles removed us from the world of the game. Although we enjoyed these puzzles, we didn’t think they made sense in The Catacombs of Horror, because the game went so far out of its way to keep us in the game world.

➖ One puzzle had this weird preschool aesthetic that didn’t match the rest of the game… it was jarringly different.

The Catacombs of Horror was packed with “aha” moments.

➕ With a longer game, there was time to follow the breadcrumbs as we played and piece things together later. These were satisfying solves.

➕ The final puzzle was climactic and about as immersive as we’ve seen from a play-at-home escape room. It was worth chewing on and we felt we earned our win.

➖ Exit: The Game (and really all of the tabletop escape game market) made a big deal out of the game timer. I think that this time system does the game a disservice. We went way over… mostly because we were enjoying the company of our friends as we played. It just didn’t matter. These games can only be played once. Savor the experience over whatever time you and your group want.

➕ There was an interesting non-time-related lose condition in The Catacombs of Horror. This was way more interesting than watching a clock.

Tips For Playing

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors, matches
  • This shouldn’t be your first game from Exit: The Game. Please play one of their shorter episodes first.

Buy your copy of Exit: The Game’s The Catacombs of Horror, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos 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.)

Lockout Austin – Area 51-2 [Review]

Enter through the gift shop

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27.50 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Lockout Austin did a clever thing in Area 51-2. It’s one of those things that’s so smart that once you hear it, it almost feels like it was obvious: the game is a gift shop and you can buy most of the items in it with real money and take them home with you.

In-game: A class display filled with sci fi toys, and a gumball machine with a green inflatable alien hugging it.

If anyone else has done this before, we have neither seen nor heard of it.

Also… we hope that this doesn’t become overdone by too many companies.

Moving onto the actual game.

Lockout Austin took us on a quirky adventure and made us work for our victory.

Area 51-2 was a particularly challenging escape game compared with most everything else we’ve played in the region. (We set the record and still think it was tough.)

The set and effects seemed deliberate.

All in all, this was a strong game, and we absolutely recommend it for more experienced players who are in search of a bit more of a challenge and some creative game design and storytelling.

In-game: An old CRT TV and VCR with VHS tapes sitting on top.

“512” being the area code in Austin, there were layers of things going on in Area 51-2. The game was quirky, puzzley, and challenging.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The gift shop
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Strong game design
  • Some cool effects

Story

My uncle had been a conspiracy theorist and the owner of a weird alien museum. With his recent passing, I was left as the sole heir to his business. It was time to see what the man had been up to.

In-game: The Area 51-2 logo painted to the wall of the gift shop.

Setting

Area 51-2 opened in a low-rent gift shop/ museum owned by an alien conspiracy theorist… and it sold that pretty well. It wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t supposed to be.

Everything in the game was dated, including the technology, merchandise, and pop culture references. It felt like the original owner of this museum/ shop had done most of the work a couple of decades ago. So few escape rooms really nail this kind of detail.

In-game: A shelf of alien socks.
We may have purchased the cow socks for Lisa’s Aunt.

Gameplay

Lockout Austin’s Area 51-2 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling… and shopping (if you’re interested).

In-game: Paintings, alien neon lights, and a strange glowing orb atop a cone within the gift shop.

Analysis

➕ Area 51-2. The name was brilliant.

➕ The gift shop concept was genius and novel. The in-game gift shop had amusing oddities for purchase… and we did purchase. This was a great mechanic that I hope doesn’t become overdone in escape games. It would be easy for too many companies to implement this poorly and murder the concept.

In-game: Area 51-2 t-shirts.

➕ Lockout Austin introduced Area 51-2 by setting the scene. Our in-character gamemaster conveyed our role – and his – through humorous dialogue. His introduction was outstanding and his script was expertly crafted to subtly facilitate gameplay. Well done.

In-game: Closeup of Star Trek and Star Wars action figures.

➕ There was a lot to solve in Area 51-2 . It was a puzzle-driven game with a ton of content, some of it rather involved.

➖ In the later portion of the game, many of the puzzles were rooted in similar concepts. Given how involved these were, we would have liked a bit more variety.

➖ Area 51-2 had a small physical footprint. Most players will probably want to bring a team of 6 to tackle the puzzles. There were, however, bottlenecks both in space and in gameplay that will frustrate larger teams. This makes it tough to recommend an ideal team size for Area 51-2 .

In-game: The front window of the museum, below it is the idol from the opening scenes of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

➕ The set was cleverly crafted. In-game, we felt that the set design was uneven… but upon reflection, we think that all of that was deliberate.

➖ In one close-quarters segment of this game, Lockout Austin used a lot of VacuForm. Constantly bumping into it was a regular reminder that the set wasn’t real.

➕ Win or lose, players receive a conclusion to their adventure.

Area 51-2 was noticeably harder than the other games in the region.

Tips For Visiting

  • Lockout Austin had many food options nearby.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • The gift shop accepts both cash and credit card.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s Area 51-2, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockout Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Mystery Oreo – 2019 [Review]

Mystery Flavor Oreos II: The Stuffing Strikes Back

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 17, 2019

Price: $10.50 online

Publisher: Nabisco

REA Reaction

They’re back… The flavor mystery that got us into reviewing flavor mysteries has returned! This year’s mystery is more enjoyable.

The bright white Mystery Oreo packaging with a question mark dotted with an oreo.

By more enjoyable, I don’t mean amazing. I mean, they’re edible and we might make it through the entire package… instead of pranking our friends with them like we did back in 2017.

This time around I’m feeling confident that I know what the flavor is – and you can find that hidden behind a spoiler box down in the “Analysis” section.

I’m comfortable recommending these Oreos as a mystery flavor worth exploring. They’re weird. I wouldn’t buy them regularly. But dammit… it’s interesting and baffling that Oreo manages to make the cream white.

We published a hot-taste video for our Patreon supporters last night. Back us on Patreon for more oddities like this one. A little support goes a long way.

Who is this for?

  • Adventurous Oreo lovers
  • Mystery flavor detectives

Why play?

  • The flavor is interesting and kind of good

Story & Setup

The folks at Nabisco have decided once again to sell us a new Oreo flavor mystery.

Back in 2017, they ran a Mystery Flavor Oreo… and, oh boy, did we hate that one. The good news is: this year’s mystery tastes way better.

Closeup of lines of oreos in the packaging.

From now through November 10, 2019, anyone can submit a guess and enter for a chance to win $50,000.

Setup

Once again, the Oreos look just like regular Oreos. The coloration of the white cream gave nothing away (which is kind of a creepy miracle of science in its own right.)

Closeup of a whole oreo on a plate.

The packaging was also elegant and eye-catching. Having bought ours off the shelf at our local grocery store, that packaging jumps right off the shelf.

Gameplay

Things are pretty simple. You eat the cookie and guess the flavor.

If you want to get fancy, twist open the cookie and guess the flavor (which kind of helps because the cream is the mystery.) The chocolate cookie part was traditional.

Closeup of a half eaten oreo on a plate.

Analysis

➕ The cookie didn’t suck and it evoked a strong sense of nostalgia. That nostalgia wasn’t for Oreos, but for a different Nabisco product line.

➖ These Mystery Flavor Oreos were entirely too sweet for us to have more than a cookie or two.

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

Graham cracker and cinnamon. More specifically… I’m betting on Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

[collapse]

Mystery OREO’s website has started posting hints. The only hint currently visible is super cryptic… but if my flavor guess is correct, then I think that I get it. Kind of. Maybe? I’m still happy to see anything resembling hints.

➕ Once again, the packaging was lovely. The agency and brand managers behind this product line have good aesthetic taste. It’s tough to design bold packaging that doesn’t look like it was designed by a 5-year-old who just got an extra big box of crayons with all of the colors!

Buy your copy of Nabisco’s 2019 Mystery OREO, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms – The Houdini Trap [Review]

A trap Houdini never escaped

Location:  Ferndale, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 per player Sunday – Thursday; $24 per player Friday – Saturday

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Houdini Trap told a unique story in an unusual and beautiful space. The puzzles and props were solid and engaging.

In-game: Glowing red lights against an art deco wall about the exit door.

There were a few nooks that felt underdeveloped, and a handful of puzzles that could have benefited from additional refinement.

Nevertheless, this was a truly delightful game. If you’re in the area, check out The Houdini Trap; it was doing some magical things.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An elegant set
  • Good thematic puzzles
  • Fifth Wall is a fully themed escape room establishment
  • An interesting take on the Houdini escape room genre
  • The story pulls from Houdini and Detroit history

Story

We entered a trap designed specifically for Harry Houdini by a mysterious individual. Sadly, history’s most famous escape artist passed away in Detroit’s Grace Hospital before he’d had a chance to take on the seemingly impossible challenge room.

Almost a century later, The Houdini Trap was rediscovered and we were given the opportunity to explore the room that Harry Houdini had never escaped.

In-game: a poster advertising Houdini's "The Grim Game."

Setting

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ facility was fully themed around a secret society. (This made it 1 of 3 fully themed facilities that we found outside of Detroit).

The Houdini Trap was a pretty space. Honestly, I don’t think my photos fully captured it.

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms built the space with an art deco aesthetic that had a slight otherworldly vibe.

Many of the interactions and props were built from metal and were incredibly solid.

In-game: Closeup of a gearbox.

Gameplay

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ The Houdini Trap was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Wide angle shot of the room, a water torture chamber in the middle of it.

Analysis

➕ The Houdini Trap was designed in an art deco style. We were immediately captivated by the details in the design.

In-game: A beautiful and ornate art deco wall.

➕ The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms introduced The Houdini Trap with an entertaining video with great art. It kept our attention despite being a tad lengthy.

➕ The puzzles were solid, but the set-based interactions were phenomenal. As beautiful as the set was to inhabit, it was that much more exciting to manipulate.

In-game: Closeup of a control panel with a few dials.

➕/ ➖ One interaction in particular worked as an in-game metaphor for the larger theme. It was unique, conceptually and physically. That said, the interaction needed additional refinement, in both cluing and mechanism.

➖ We were bogged down by substantial reading in The Houdini Trap. Much of the story was told rather than felt. Reading included printed materials, laminated paper, and a journal that, while not quite a runbook, sometimes behaved a bit like one. We also encountered a handwritten clue that caused confusion.

In-game: A water torture chamber hanging from the ceiling.

➖ The audio could be hard to understand, which was frustrating, as it was crucial to one segment.

➕ Although The Houdini Trap flowed linearly, The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms gated (and labeled) puzzles such that large teams could get a jump on later puzzles early without wasting time or breaking sequence.

➖ One nook of this otherwise impeccable space was left underdesigned, which was disappointing.

➕ We adored the timekeeping mechanism in The Houdini Trap. As time rolled forward, intensity mounted. We appreciated that the game displayed our progress as well as the time.

In-game: A tube that carries balls representing the timer.
The game timer: Every 10 minutes a ball fell through this contraption.

Tips For Visiting

  • They have a parking lot.

Book your hour with The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ The Houdini Trap, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room in a Box – Flashback [Review]

Cameo

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 27, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $20.99

Publisher: Mattel

Disclaimer

I’m going to open by being especially up front. We know the creators of Escape Room in a Box very well.

There’s a mutual respect and friendship that we need to be clear about. David has collaborated with the women behind this product on a television pilot… and there’s enough affection in this friendship that Juliana and Ariel named the main character of Flashback Dr. Lisa David.

No one is hiding anything.

We wrote as honest a review as we would for anyone else, but if you’d like to disregard our thoughts on this product, feel free to stop reading now.

REA Reaction

Mainstream, mass-produced tabletop escape games are almost exclusively made from paper; Escape Room in a Box is the exception.

We were big fans of Escape Room in a Box’s The Werewolf Experiment and we’re huge fans of Flashback. Anyone can open this box and just play it. There aren’t laborious rules, quirky apps, or unusual nuances to understand. That’s how escape rooms are supposed to work.

The weakest points in this game were two of the puzzles that felt like they needed a little more work. One lacked precision; the other required lighting conditions that won’t always be present. Neither of these broke the game in a significant way.

From the writing, to the art, to the puzzles, Flashback demonstrated that Escape Room in a Box wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. These are still two of the strongest, most escape room-y tabletop games on the market.

Whether you’re new to the genre or you play them all, we recommend Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles that are far more tactile than most tabletop escape games
  • A cute story and strong writing

Story

We’d received an urgent letter from Dr. Lisa David warning us that we were in grave danger. One of her friends had descended into madness and was coming after us.

We had to delve into her past in order to determine what was wrong and remedy the situation.

Setup

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a natural successor to The Werewolf Experiment. The game was loaded with tangible components and played like a real life escape room. We opened the box and the progression of play was self-evident.

There were minimal rules and no software to futz with.

Flashback was structured in three 30-minute segments (blue, red, and purple). They could be solved in any order or in parallel; each stood on its own as a unique path. For reference, we completed all 3 paths in about 45 minutes.

Gameplay

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The folks at Escape Room in Box write their games in a playful, entertaining voice. They leaned into this with Flashback, delivering an adorable story through fun and relatable banter.

➕ Flashback relied heavily on tangible props, more so than the majority of boxed escape rooms. One of these interactions will likely stop some players cold (rest assured, it was well clued). In this way, Flashback felt more like an escape room than many of the play-at-home games in this style.

➕ The colored puzzle tracks were clear. We could play them sequentially or simultaneously, and we never felt lost. We enjoyed how the tracks were themed by puzzle type, which was grounded in the narrative. The gameplay worked well.

➕ The game looked and felt polished. We appreciated the quality paper materials. The art looked great, especially in the purple track.

➖ While some of the artwork was adorable, it didn’t carry throughout all of the puzzle tracks. More memorable art throughout the game would have further supported the narrative.

➖ A few of the puzzles lacked precision. In one instance, the prop didn’t match its cluing quite closely enough. In another instance, we didn’t have the environment that the puzzle demanded or enough direction as to how to create it. These puzzles felt unrefined.

➕ With Flashback, Escape Room in a Box integrated the narrative and puzzles more closely than in their original game, which was a delight.

➕ The hint system was easy to use, self-service, and comprehensive.

Flashback was easier than many of the play-at-home escape rooms on the market. This will be a quick playthrough for experienced puzzlers, though no less fun because of it. If you’re looking for meaty puzzles, however, look elsewhere. Flashback would be a great choice for beginners and families.

➕ At $20, the value of this game is insane relative to other similar products made entirely of paper.

😏 Objectively speaking, Doctor Lisa David was a most excellent character name.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, access to a kitchen
  • I would recommend playing the puzzle tracks sequentially. There’s no real reason to rush though this game. Savor it.

Buy your copy of Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mattel 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.)

Extreme Escape – Trapped Below [Review]

The game that we won 3 times in 10 minutes

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played:  August 8, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

This is going to be a weird one.

Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below was a mess of contradictions. The near constant clash of high and low quality made this game especially difficult to review.

The set looked beautiful… but it was undermined by confusingly exposed technology and baffling sound design.

In-game: an assortment of mechaical controls mounted to the wall of a mine.
Image via Extreme Escape

The puzzles were well designed and fun to solve… but they were oddly retriggerable. It was a rough game to solve with only one flashlight.

We loved the opening sequence… but the end sequence was botched because multiple gamemasters kept telling us that we hadn’t finished everything when we most certainly had done so (and originally in record time… before we were sent back in to finish the game two more times.) There is truly nothing more confusing in an escape room than standing in a game once you’ve solved every single puzzle, while being told repeatedly that you aren’t finished.

There was a lot to love in Trapped Below… and there were some regrettable oversights (most of which were completely fixable). If you’re looking for a solid adventure and puzzle game, and you’re ok with low lighting and some sloppiness, there’s plenty to enjoy in Trapped Below.

That said, I know that Extreme Escape is capable of making this one great and I hope that they do.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A cool set
  • Fun interactions

Story

We entered an abandoned mine in search of a lost treasure. We had to find the treasure and plot a path out of the mine.

In-game: the approach to a mine shaft, the floor has trunks filled with mining gear.
Image via Extreme Escape

Setting

We entered a mine shaft and stepped into an old elevator to descend into the unknown.

Armed with a single flashlight, we explored a thoroughly designed mine shaft set. Low light frequently hides weak set design. In this case, most of it was beautiful.

The only glaring flaw with the set design was some exposed technology.

In-game: a wood walled mine with a TNT detinator.
Image via Extreme Escape

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A wood walled mine with assorted mechanical interactions on the walls.
Image via Extreme Escape

Analysis

➕ Trapped Below started off in a pretty convincing elevator. It then opened up into a mine with a detailed set to explore. It was a fun gamespace and it looked great.

➖ The experience would have been far better with a few more flashlights.

➕ The gamespace was beautifully constructed.

➖ The tech wasn’t embedded well enough. There were exposed wires, which looked sloppy and also a little confusing.

➖ One early design decision made us cranky. It was a frustrating mechanic that wasn’t adequate for the puzzle gating at that juncture.

➖ The sounds design was unbalanced. The prop that should have made the loudest noise was quiet compared to other triggers.

➖ It was possible to re-trigger puzzles we’d already solved, which was surprising and confusing.

➖ As noted in the reaction, we won this game 3 times in 10 minutes. In each of the first 2 wins, the hints directed us back into the game upon our exit, telling us we’d left a puzzle unsolved.

When we couldn’t determine what we’d possibly skipped, we solved the game again. After we triggered the ending a third time, we had the opportunity to speak with the staff. At that point, everyone came to understand that after we’d revealed and solved a specific puzzle, we’d moved it back to its starting position because it was in our way. This entire sequence of events deflated the experience.

➕ Although Trapped Below had a rough start, and our playthrough had a less-than-explosive conclusion, the majority of the game played smoothly. The puzzles generally flowed well.

Tips For Visiting

  • There are plenty of food options in Extreme Escape’s plaza.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Yoda Games – Pharaoh’s Revenge [Review]

“Do… or do not.”

Location:  at home

Date Played:  July 30, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $24.99

Publisher: Yoda Games

REA Reaction

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was fairly standard tabletop escape game written in both English and German.

The puzzles played cleanly and offered a bit of challenge. That said, the hint system was annoying to use and there weren’t any truly special or memorable puzzles that stuck with us after playing the game.

The German & English cover for "Pharoah's Revenge an Escape Room @ Home"

The bottom-line on this: I’d be surprised to encounter many players who think it’s their favorite tabletop puzzle game, but I’d be equally surprised to find an experienced tabletop puzzler who thinks it’s abysmal.

If you’re a fan of tabletop escape games, Pharaoh’s Revenge is a solid choice.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • You like puzzling
  • An interesting answer verification mechanism

Story

We’d discovered a new ancient tomb in Egypt. Along with the burial site and treasure… we’d also found a brand new curse! We had to solve the Pharaoh’s puzzle in order to spare our lives from his trap.

Setup

We began by cutting out 5 colored strips of card stock, each a different length; these were used to input and verify solutions.

In-game: an introductory letter on a sealed envelope, a piece of acetate, a dry erase marker, and a small piece of cardboard with 5 different size/color bars on it.

The materials within Pharaoh’s Revenge were double-sided with English and German language components.

The game was a fairly typical tabletop escape game consisting of mostly paper components sealed within envelopes filled largely with paper components.

The most unusual component was a sheet of acetate and a dry erase marker that was critical to some of the puzzle solves.

Gameplay

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The game could be played in either English or German. We played in English; it played cleanly. All written puzzles were double-sided, German on one side, English on the other. This worked well.

➕ The answer verification system was simple, nifty, and unique.

➕ The puzzles were solid and offered enough challenge.

➖ There weren’t any really special, memorable interactions.

➖ The hint system was less than stellar. Yoda Games built their hint system into a website and required us to navigate to specific URLs in the instruction booklet for each individual hint. The hint website had no navigation whatsoever.

➕/➖ Pharaoh’s Revenge could be repackaged for another playthough by a different group, but we couldn’t find instructions for said repackaging. We would have had to keep track of that information from the beginning, but we didn’t know to do that up front.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: scissor, pencil, and paper

Buy your copy of Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Yoda Games 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.)