Ravensburger – Witch’s Kitchen Escape Puzzle [Review]

Cat and a hat.

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

Witch’s Kitchen Escape Puzzle was playful and colorful. It offered solid puzzle play throughout all phases of the game.

While we think that this puzzle would have benefited from a just a touch more vibrancy in its coloration, this was without a doubt our puzzle group’s favorite Escape Puzzle.

If you’re thinking about attempting a Ravensburger Escape Puzzle, Witch’s Kitchen would be an enchanting place to start.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Ravensburger Escape Puzzle Overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a kettle over a fire surrounded by magical ingredients and books.
Witch’s Kitchen

Story

While wandering through the woods, we’d decided to sample some of the local mushrooms, as one does. The wild mushrooms had had unexpected effects, as they often do, and we’d felt faint and stumbled into a hollow.

As we came to our senses, we’d realized that we were in the home of a witch… and if we were ever going to get out, we’d need to find the antidote for the poison shrooms.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a a witch's hat and a rat.

Analysis

➕ As a jigsaw puzzle, the image was entertaining with a lot of details to enjoy.

➖ The image was pretty brown. It felt like the box art was more vibrant than the puzzle itself.

➕ The variation between the box art and the jigsaw puzzle was fantastic. We found the differences in this puzzle more playful than in the other escape puzzles in the series.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a magical books and ingredients.

➕ The “escape room” puzzles were clear and solved cleanly.

➕ The culminating meta-puzzle was clever.

Buy it Now

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Witch’s Kitchen Escape Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ravensburger 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.)

Ravensburger – Space Observatory Escape Puzzle [Review]

The Death Star

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

Space Observatory offered a slightly more challenging jigsaw than the other Ravensburger Escape Puzzles, but concluded with a softer series of “escape room” puzzles.

If you’re more of a jigsaw puzzler, Space Observatory is the smart place to start. It worked well from beginning to end. Its meta-puzzle was a little easier to grasp than those in the other Escape Puzzles.

Whether you’re new with the series, already a fan of these, Space Observatory put on a strong show for the Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzle series.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Ravensburger Escape Puzzle Overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory

Story

While exploring an observatory, we’d happened upon a letter from a professor warning us of an impending cataclysm. The professor had build a device capable of saving the world, but couldn’t activate it. It was up to us to save the world.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a map of the planets.

Analysis

➕ When it all came together, the jigsaw puzzle’s art was delightful.

❓ While we were assembling the jigsaw puzzle, a whole lot of it felt really similar… especially the many shelved books. Whether this is wonderful or annoying really comes down to personal preference.

➕ One of the “escape room” puzzles featured a really clever twist that was a bit confounding for more experienced puzzlers.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a microscope and a quill pen.

❓ The concluding meta-puzzle was considerably easier than those in the other 3 Escape Puzzles. This would be great if Space Observatory was your first Escape Puzzle… and may be less interesting if it was your fourth.

Buy Now

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Space Observatory Escape Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ravensburger 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.)

Ravensburger – Escape Puzzle [Overview]

Jigsaw puzzle mixed with a tabletop escape game.

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

We really liked this series of puzzle hybrids: famed jigsaw puzzle producer Ravensburger applied an escape room-esque twist to their core product.

The cover of Ravensburger Escape Puzzle, Witch's Kitchen.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we solved 3 of them while our friend, the wonderfully talented puzzler Tammy McLeod, spent a weekend visiting us.

In the first wave, Ravensburger has released 4 separate Escape Puzzles, each containing 759 puzzle pieces and incorporating 6 or 8 puzzles within the assembled image.

We love jigsaw puzzles. The Escape Puzzle twist was delightful because it added more purpose behind the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle.

An opened jigsaw puzzle box filled with pieces.

Not all of these puzzles were created equal. Some had more interesting art; others had better puzzles. We will discuss each in an individual review.

If this concept sounds like fun, begin with Witch’s Kitchen or Space Observatory for reasons that will become more clear in subsequent reviews.

Series Installments

Presented in order from our favorite to least favorite:

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a kettle over a fire surrounded by magical ingredients and books.
Witch’s Kitchen

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • They are good jigsaw puzzles
  • The added twist of an additional system of puzzles
  • The meta-puzzles

Setup & Gameplay

We’re going to publish short reviews of each puzzle in the series. For the sake of simplicity and repetition reduction, we’re covering the basics in this overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory

While the individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzles each offered a unique picture and puzzle set, they all followed the same structure:

1. Jigsaw Assembly

We began by assembling the 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. This progressed normally with only two deviations from traditional jigsaw puzzles:

First, we had to remove the extraneous rectangular pieces. These appeared to be a byproduct of Ravensburger’s production process. They were a minor annoyance.

A pile of junk rectangular pieces.
Not part of the puzzle… but included anyway.

Second, the edge of the Escape Puzzles was a bit strange. There were only 3 piece shapes and any of the pieces could interconnect with any other. Edge assembly relied completely upon the pieces’ colors, patterns, and textures.

Mismatched, but connected edge pieces.
All edges connect.

Additionally, many of the edge pieces had 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers printed on them. These became relevant later.

Edge pieces with numbers printed on them.

2. Puzzles Within the Puzzle

After assembling the jigsaw puzzle, we identified and solved the 6 or 8 puzzles within it. Some puzzles were obvious; some were more concealed. They were all embedded within the jigsaw puzzle image.

Each puzzle resolved to a number. Once we derived a correct answer, we’d find the piece with the corresponding number printed on it around the edge of the jigsaw puzzle. Then we removed that piece.

If we got stuck, we could reference a hint website for help. The hints were tiered, but usually only had two tiers.

3. The Meta-Puzzle

Each escape puzzle concluded with a meta-puzzle, or a puzzle made from the solutions of other puzzles.

We had to take our collection of numbered edge pieces from the previous step and determine what to do with them. I won’t say anything else about this, but it was our favorite part of these puzzles.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a shark, and fish swimming around a wreck.
Submarine

Analysis

➕ The “escape room” puzzles at the end were a delightful addition to the traditional jigsaw puzzle. It was exciting to finish the jigsaw and then receive an entirely new challenge to cap things off. This game component was a welcome dynamic.

➕ Ravensburger makes high quality jigsaw puzzles that are printed well and fit snugly. They also have a beautiful blue backing that doesn’t add much from a functional standpoint, but looks more elegant than the traditional grey or brown backings that are common on most cardboard jigsaw puzzles.

➕ 759 pieces was a good piece count. It was serious enough to present a challenge without being so large that we were reluctant to dive in.

➕ Ravensburger cleverly included differences between the box art and the puzzle art. These changes were part of the environment itself and felt logically grounded. They also ensured that we couldn’t solve the puzzles without first solving the jigsaw puzzle.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring suits of armor, and a burning candle.
Vampire’s Castle

➕ Ravensburger puzzles don’t have a crazy amount of puzzle dust. There’s still dust, but we’ve seen so much worse.

➖ Each Escape Puzzle’s box contained numerous square frame pieces that had nothing to do with the puzzle itself. They were garbage. These appeared to be an artifact of the production process. While it was not a big problem, it was a bit annoying to have to sift these junk pieces out of the box.

➕ Each Escape Puzzle had its own quirky story to set up the “escape.” The story was relevant to the final meta puzzle.

➕/➖ The “escape” puzzles were static print puzzles, akin to the kind of thing that one might find shared on social media or within a puzzle book. For the most part, these were executed well (detailed, non-spoiler analysis to follow in the individual puzzle reviews). While there is a limit to how much a designer can achieve with this format, Ravensburger did more with this structure than we were expecting.

❓ Some of these puzzles got a bit math-y. It never involved anything beyond basic computation, but I know that there are some escape room players who are allergic to mathematics in any form.

➕/➖ The web-based hint system was adequate. It did a great job of highlighting the individual puzzles… and an ok job of providing granular, incremental hints. This system could benefit from the inclusion of more dropdown menus to allow the player to better control the flow of hints.

❓ The edge pieces were unusual in that they all fit into one another. This made the edge considerably more difficult to assemble. It was completely doable, but required a lot more attention to detail and effort. For some, it may be easier to start from the middle.

➖The puzzles within the image all solved to a number that we’d find printed on an edge piece. This meant we could get most of the way to an answer and hack our way to the proper solution based on the available numbers.

❓We spent considerably more time solving the jigsaw puzzles than solving the “escape room” puzzles.

➕ Some of the numbered edge pieces ultimately culminated in a final meta-puzzle… and this mechanic was really cool. Ravensburger used it in clever ways in all instances. It was a delightful way to conclude the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: You’ll need a flat surface. The puzzles all measure 27 x 20 inches (70 x 50 cm).
  • Required Gear: None. We like to assemble our puzzles on a large piece of foam core in case we have to move them.

Buy Them now:

Disclosure: Ravensburger 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.)

Perplexium – Incoming Transmission [Review]

Engage!

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Incoming Transmission was a sprawling space epic in the vein of Star Trek.

We’ve learned to count on Austin’s 15 Locks/ Perplexium to produce creative and unusual escape games that tinker with the formula. They did just that with Incoming Transmission.

In-game: The bridge of a space ship with multiple control consoles and many glowing lights.
Image via Perplexium

This space-based escape game was less about discovering a physical space and puzzling through it. It was more about learning the ship’s systems and using them to traverse the universe, completing missions and solving the problems of alien species. This escape room felt more like a giant control panel than a puzzle room.

This structure meant that Perplexium was able to produce a replayable game with plenty of dynamic missions to tackle.

With gameplay that felt more like a hybrid of video gaming and some tabletop gaming, Incoming Transmission could be the perfect game for your team or it could fizzle. We enjoyed ourselves and could imagine going back for a second go at space travel if we’d finished playing out the other escape rooms that interest us in Austin.

If you’re a little intrigued by all of this and near Austin, Texas, then you should beam aboard Incoming Transmission. At the very least, you’ll be in for an novel ride.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • 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?

  • Unusual, replayable game structure
  • Great set
  • A humorous script

Story

As cadets in the fleet, we had been beamed aboard the SS Adventure. We had to get the ship running and then traverse the universe to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly solve intergalactic problems.

In-game: A series of large control toggles.
Image via Perplexium

Setting 

We were beamed aboard a Star Trek-inspired spaceship with an angular, futuristic aesthetic, complete with dozens of blinking lights, buttons, switches, and dials… all of which were active game components.

In-game: A space ship control panel with multi-colored glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium

Gameplay

Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission combined standard escape room gameplay with atypical elements. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Incoming Transmission could be played in “story mode,” which combined more typical escape room-style gameplay with video game-like elements. It could be replayed in “points mode” which opened up the star system and allowed crews to go off and have a real-life video game-like adventure without some of the more tangible escape room moments.

The gameplay was similar to something like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

Core gameplay revolved around figuring out how to interact with the environment, following instructions, and communicating.

In-game: A space ship control panel with glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium

Analysis

➕ The spaceship set was interesting and beautiful.

➕ As we brought this ship to life and completed missions it reacted with different effects. These upped our excitement about the missions and our feelings of triumph.

➕ There was a heavy video component that involved alien characters appearing on a large screen to ask for help, make demands, or threaten us. It was both Star Trek-y and funny… kind of like The Orville… but without dick jokes.

➕ We enjoyed the escape room-style gameplay of configuring the ship. We especially enjoyed operating the ship’s transporter.

➖ The gameplay often felt more like following instructions than exploring or solving puzzles.

❓ The second act of the game took place at consoles, much like a multiplayer video game. It was fun, but the novelty wore off quickly. We would have liked more puzzle variety or a quicker pace during this segment. Reactions to this segment will likely vary based on individual player preferences.

➖ Incoming Transmission lacked an intense boss flight. The gameplay felt one-note, even as our ship came under fire. We would have liked to build toward the climactic battle.

➕ The replayable “points mode” concept was interesting. There were so many console-based puzzles packed into the game that we could return again and again to play though the challenges from our consoles aboard this intergalactic ship.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This room involves crawling, ducking and tight spaces. At least one player will need to do this.
  • This room includes flashing lights, fog, and loud noises.

Book your hour with Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Perplexium comped our tickets for this game.

What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks [Review]

Unleash smell!

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

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

Duration: 10 – 15 minutes

Price: $13.00

Publisher: WowWee

REA Reaction

An ever-so-slightly-used copy of What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks was handed to me by my dear friends Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson in an oversized Ziploc bag. It was in the bag because they were smart. They gave it to me because it’s clear that they harbor some hidden ill will towards me. It was only slightly used because it was not that fun.

We managed a couple of rounds and found a few laughs before we stuffed everything back into the bag… and had more fun and more laughs making a gif.

Animation of David throwing away Whats That Smell.

When I was finished, my nose felt angry, like my smell receptors had just been subjected to an olfactory DDoS attack.

Who is this for?

  • Masochists
  • Sadomasochists
  • Drunk people
  • Children

Why play?

  • A shared and harmless yet mediocre experience among friends can be pretty funny.
  • Bad smells, like poop jokes, are funny.

Gameplay

WowWee’s What’s That Smell? was a scent mystery game where players competed to guess smells.

Core gameplay revolved around scratching, sniffing, guessing, writing funny memories, and questioning your life decisions that led to playing What’s That Smell?.

Whats That Smell's box in the bag.

Setup

The box contained 48 scratch & sniff scent cards. Everyone drew a card, scratched, and sniffed.

The outside of a smell card.

Then everyone proceeded to fill out three questions on a form:

  • Smell category? (chemical, floral, fruity, sweet, etc.)
  • Smell guess?
  • Smell association: Your funniest memory?
An answer sheet with multiple questions.

At the end of the round, points were scored based on getting the answers right/ wrong… and whoever had the funniest memory associated with the scent.

A smell card with instructions where to scratch.

We repeated this until it grew old.

At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score had to pull from 1 of 4 extra terrible punishment smells (old toe cheese, diaper blowout, hot chunky vomit, or smothered in B.O).

Whiff of shame cards featuring "Hot Chunky Vomit," "Extra Old Toe Cheese," "Smothered in B.O.," and "Diaper Blowout."
Living the dream.

Analysis

➕ For better or for worse, What’s That Smell? was easy to set up, learn, and play.

What’s That Smell? included little cardboard pieces for you to scratch the smells. This prevented the scents from getting on and under your fingernails.

➕ The inclusion of a free-form, “What’s the funniest memory you associate with this smell?” added an element of creativity.

➖ A lot of these scents were unpleasant. Most weren’t vile… but as my nose was bombarded with more and more scents, the entire experience soured.

Whats That Smell's box out of the bag.

➖ It was really difficult to tell most of these scents apart. There wasn’t a lot of definition.

➖ After playing for about 10 minutes, my nose became utterly confused.

➖ I cannot see myself opening the box in my home. It reeks.

If you made it this far, here’s a nifty TED Ed video explaining how your sense of smell works (or at least a basic overview of what humans currently understand on the subject).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Play in a room that you can easily air out and will not be eating in

Buy your copy of WowWee’s What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks, 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 Escape Room,” a Novel by Megan Goldin [Review]

“This isn’t an escape room.” (page 295)

Author: Megan Goldin

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Page Count: 368

Price: $26.99

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

REA Reaction

The Escape Room is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.

The escape room gimmick seems like a good opportunity to integrate puzzles into a mystery storyline, but readers intrigued by the title will likely be disappointed that The Escape Room is no more of a brainteaser than the average thriller novel.

The gold covered novel for "The Escape Room" by Megan Golden. There is a person peering through a narrowly opened door.

The bleak setting, clichéd characters, and unrefined puzzles made the reading experience feel almost like being stuck in an elevator right along with these four unpleasant people.

If you’re an avid reader of thrillers with some time on your hands, you may decide it’s worth indulging your curiosity. But don’t be deceived by the title—at its core, The Escape Room isn’t really about an escape room at all. If you’re looking for engaging puzzles or an elegant mystery, don’t think twice about skipping this one.

Who is this for?

  • Voracious readers who can’t get enough thrillers
  • People who like seeing investment bankers suffer

Why Read?

  • To find out who made it out alive

Story

Four shady investment bankers from Stanhope and Sons were summoned to play an escape room as a team-building exercise. They got more than they bargained for when they were locked in an elevator together and forced to solve the mystery of why they were really there and what happened to their former colleague Sara Hall.

The title of "The Escape Book" bleeding through from the next page beside a Sun Tzu quote, "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

Gameplay

The puzzles are not a particular selling point for The Escape Room. It’s marketed as a thriller, with no particular emphasis on a game component except as part of the plot.

The story includes a handful of simple riddles and word puzzles, some of which must be solved with knowledge only the characters have. There is no interactivity or game structure to the puzzles—you can’t really solve along as you read.

Analysis

➕ The concept of describing two timelines at once in alternating chapters made the reading experience more interesting. Guessing where the storylines converged was one of the more enjoyable things about the book.

➖ The writing style felt repetitive and clichéd. There were extravagant details about suits, ties, makeup, jewelry, gourmet food, and other accoutrements of wealth. All this description seemed like overkill, especially for a book that also emphasized the dangers of greed.

➖ The escape room itself wasn’t much like an actual escape room at all. The handful of puzzles had no structure or progression, so there was no game to play along with. Also, the escape room took place entirely in an elevator. This limitation put the immersion factor much lower than the recent Escape Room movie, for example. But the game aspect of The Escape Room also fell short of some of the incredible real-life escape rooms we’ve seen set in small spaces, such as The Basement’s Elevator Shaft, which made an elevator setting far more interesting and dramatic. Since a novel can have unlimited special effects, it would have been exciting to see a more innovative use of the escape room setting.

➖ Spending hundreds of pages stuck in an elevator with such despicable main characters made The Escape Room less fun than it could have been. The four investment bankers embodied variations on the standard greedy villain, with backstories that didn’t do much to give them emotional depth. If their characterization had provided more insight into how they felt rather than just what they wanted, the plot would have felt more like a robust narrative than a chess game.

➕/➖ Near the beginning, the characters’ interactions in the elevator scenes were amusingly reminiscent of bumbling escape room first-timers. But in later chapters, they easily made logic leaps that would be challenging for real-life players.

➖ The mystery structure felt haphazard and lacked the element of surprise. The pacing dragged, and the plot played out quite predictably. (The cover text even hints at the endgame.) The story could have benefited from some crafty red herrings, an aha moment where everything falls into place, or some form of redemption for any of the greedy, selfish characters.

The Escape Room is a book about how money and status corrupts, but it simultaneously implies that money can buy happiness. There is no middle ground, and both ends of the spectrum are portrayed as unenviable, with no way out. It was a bleak point of view.

➖ One character in The Escape Room was an autistic math genius who was repeatedly described as having “poor social skills” and dehumanized with descriptors like “robotic” and “otherworldly.” Beyond these harmful stereotypes, she was also treated badly by other characters, and her story was told largely through other people’s speculation about her motives. It was disappointing to see her treated like a plot device rather than a fleshed-out character with her own agency.

➕ The opening of The Escape Room teased a thrilling story of an escape game gone wrong. The excitement of that prologue made it clear that the escape room scenario could provide an intriguing hook for plenty more thriller novels in the future.

Tips For Reading

  • The Escape Room is a quick, easy read that won’t provide too much of a challenge on a long flight or a lazy weekend.
  • Be aware that the plot includes detailed descriptions of sexual assault and violent death.
  • If you can’t figure out a puzzle, don’t beat yourself up. It’s probably just because you’re not a high-powered investment banker at Stanhope.

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

Disclosure: St. Martin’s Press provided advance readers’ copies for review. Some details may change before publication.

(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.)

Escape Space Games – The Play House [Review]

Birth Control: The Game

Location:  San Marcos, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key*

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Play House offered some interesting puzzles. It was a search-and-puzzle escape room, with quite a bit of stuff to sift through in a minimal set. We weren’t huge fans of the rummaging (there were a lot of diapers). This was also complicated by playing the game in darkness with flashlights.

That said, we especially liked when Escape Space Games had repurposed children’s toys into puzzles.

If you’re in San Marcos and need a puzzle fix, check out Escape Space Games.

In-game: 2 locked toolboxes beside children's toys in a dark room.

Who is this for?

  • Locals
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles

Story

We found ourselves trapped in a daycare after hours. The lights were out… and the toys wanted to play with us.

In-game: The numbers 1 through 5 hanging diagonally on the wall of a dark room.

Setting

We were in a child’s bedroom and playroom in darkness, with a few flashlights. The room was populated with tons of toys, diapers, and the kind of furniture that one would expect to find in the bedroom of a tiny human.

On the one hand, the props and furniture felt accurate… like they may have been migrated from the designer’s home after their child outgrew everything. On the other hand, there wasn’t anything exciting about the setting.

In-game: An image of a cartoon turtle hanging on the wall of a dark room.

Gameplay

Escape Space Games’ The Play House was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Some of that difficulty was derived from darkness.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, and puzzling.

In-game: A racket hanging on the wall in a dark room.

Analysis

➖ The gamespace was a mess of toys and diapers. It had also been far too long since it had seen a vacuum cleaner.

➕ The gameplay in Play House flowed logically. It had some interesting puzzle content.

➖ When we encountered props that had been defaced with numbers, and painstakingly searched out these numbers by flashlight, we were disappointed to find they were just a red herring, or perhaps they were a ghost puzzle, or maybe they were there by accident? I don’t know.

➕ Escape Space Games turned a few children’s toys into interesting puzzle interactions. One in particular was quite the enigma. This was solid repurposing.

➖ / ➕ We played Play House entirely in the dark, with our phones as flashlights. There was no reason – in the narrative or the gameplay – that the space needed to be dark. This was just a nuisance. It did leave Escape Space Games the opportunity to illuminate when and how they saw fit. To their credit, they seized the moment better than most. But the payoff wasn’t worth the hassle.

➖ *The door was locked, but the game master told us the “emergency code” that would unlock the door in the event of an emergency. We recommend that Escape Space Games print the emergency code next to the lock so that players don’t need to recall it in the event of an emergency. Better yet, we recommend that they upgrade to a “push to exit” button. Since the fire in Poland, this kind of lock-in isn’t acceptable anymore.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Enter through a glass door at the corner of the plaza and walk down a long hallway to get to Escape Space Games.

Book your hour with Escape Space Games’ The Play House, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Disclosure: Escape Space Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

15 Locks – Dead Man’s Cove [Review]

Worth the doubloons.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 1, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Dead Man’s Cove combined puzzles and adventure into an epic sea voyage. Through the decor, sound, and effects 15 Locks delivered incredible and memorable gameplay moments.

In-game:A jolly roger flag hanging on the wall of a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

While we struggled with the dim lighting, we enjoyed the puzzles. This little ship was jam-packed with them.

Dead Man’s Cove was a highly creative take on the traditional escape room. 15 Locks added tons of details and transformed a game that could have felt like a basic escape room into something magical.

If you’re anywhere near Austin and you’re looking for an escape room adventure, regardless of experience level, you’ll find a lot to enjoy aboard this vessel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle pirates
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exciting moments
  • Detailed set
  • Excellent puzzles
  • The hint system

Story

Our ship was trapped somewhere between the land of the living and the land of the dead. We had to battle mystical evils and navigate ourselves out of troubled waters.

In-game: A locked door and a powder keg inside of a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

Setting

15 Locks staged Dead Man’s Cove inside of a cursed pirate ship. The setting was appropriately dim. It used a variety of effects to convey the various ghosts from the ship’s past that we needed to appease or defeat.

In-game: The captain's desk and a locked chest aboard a pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

Gameplay

15 Locks’ Dead Man’s Cove was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The inside of a pirate ship There are ropes and chains running from the ceiling and walls, and number painted into a beam.
Image via 15 Locks

Analysis

➕ 15 Locks’ introduction worked really well… and revealed a charming and fun hint system. We enjoyed taking hints.

➕ Dead Man’s Cove looked exceptional. The wood paneling combined with heavy wood furniture, lantern lighting, choice of locks, and nautical props transported us to these troubled waters.

➖ The gamespace was unbalanced. Since so much of it was beautifully crafted into a specific aesthetic, a latter set felt under-designed in comparison. There was opportunity to do more with this part of the gamespace.

Dead Man’s Cove wasn’t a large space, but it packed a lot of gameplay.

➕ The puzzles flowed smoothly and solved cleanly.

In-game: A table with a map on it inside of a lantern-lit pirate ship.
Image via 15 Locks

➖ The dim lighting was frustrating. Especially given the reliance on combination locks and short passages written in a small font, we struggled with lack of light. A few spotlights on one or two work surfaces would have made a world of difference.

➕ 15 Locks used light and sound to surprise us. Dead Man’s Cove continually delivered exciting, interactive moments. We enjoyed experiencing these as a group.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Dead Man’s Cove, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Clocked In Escape Room – Priceless Gift [Review]

Ma chérie

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played: February 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $116 per team of 4 (minimum number), more for larger teams

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Priceless Gift asked us to find a treasured object in our grandmother’s home. This premise and the corresponding gamespace were oddly charming.

In-game: An antique white couch in a white room with paintings of France hanging on the walls.

Clocked In Escape Room built a search-and-puzzle escape room with standard puzzle types. Despite a few bumpy solutions, the puzzles generally made sense and the gameplay flowed well.

If you’re in San Antonio and you’re looking for a gentler, puzzle-focused escape room – one that isn’t about saving the world or a fantastical situation – visit Priceless Gift. It won’t blow your mind, but it will deliver competent, classic escape room play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A tender story
  • Fun puzzles

Story

Our grandmother had passed away. Her will clearly stated that she wanted us to have a diamond necklace that had been in the family since the 18th century. Unfortunately, when she wrote her will, she couldn’t remember where she put the priceless jewelry.

The executor of the estate informed us that her house had been sold. We had only 60 minutes until the closing in which to find our inheritance.

In-game: a Singer sewing machine.

Setting

Priceless Gift was set in a bright, white room, with faux stained glass, and antique furniture.

Clocked In Escape Room built a visually unusual environment that wasn’t fancy, but still was striking. The inclusion of a few select antiques like a Singer sewing machine added a bit of authenticity.

Gameplay

Clocked In Escape Room’s Priceless Gift was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Priceless Gift told a sweet story through escape room gameplay. We don’t see enough of this genre of escape room. It was refreshing.

➕ The puzzles were generally sound, satisfying solves that flowed logically.

➖ A few of the puzzles asked for a larger step in logic.

➖ Priceless Gift could have benefited from a little dusting and maybe a couple of lock replacements.

➕ /➖ Clocked In Escape Room attempted an artistic puzzle in this mostly lock-and-key escape room. We liked the concept, but it didn’t quite stick.

➕ I loved seeing the old Singer sewing machine. Personally, if I were associating a single object with my grandparents, that’s probably it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Clocked In Escape Room’s Priceless Gift, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

EscapeSF – Space Bus [Review]

Ride on the Magic School Bus

Location:  San Francisco, California

Date Played: February 21, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $155 per team of 4 players to $275 per team of 8 players

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The aptly named Space Bus was exactly as its name implied: a retired school bus transformed into a spaceship… and a beautiful one at that.

In-game: The Space Bus' exterior with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background.

When we heard “converted school bus” we pictured a rundown hacked together mess… not a slick Star Trek-esque setting.

In addition to looking good, Space Bus performed where it counted: strong puzzles.

While there were a few aspects and moments that could have been smoother, EscapeSF’s mobile sci-fi game was a solid escape room through and through.

If you’re in San Francisco, this should be among the escape rooms that you play.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Best for any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great puzzles and flow
  • An elegant spaceship set
  • Space Bus can come to you (within reason)

Story

We boarded the Space Bus bound for Space Academy. While in transit with our fellow cadets, the bus was damaged. We needed to figure out how to get everything running properly before the system failure became terminal.

In-game: A wide angle view of the starboard side of the Space Bus.

Setting

Space Bus was set in a converted school bus. From the outside it was incredibly clear that this was a bus, but once inside, we were in a spaceship.

The glowing lights and sleek sci-fi design greatly exceeded anything that I had ever imagined I’d see in a school bus. The only details that gave away the gamespace’s original purpose were some rooftop emergency exits, air conditioners (all painted silver), and the exit door leading to the front of the bus.

In-game: The glowing thermal control system routing console.

Gameplay

Escape SF’s Space Bus was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It was unusual because it was on wheels.

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

In-game: The glowing energy consumption level by sector console.

Analysis

➕ EscapeSF turned a classic yellow school bus into a spaceship. The bus had been through an impressive metamorphosis. It was jarring – in a good way – to see a school bus look so futuristic and beautiful.

In-game: The Space Bus school bus with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

➕ The physical interactions in Space Bus were immensely satisfying. This spaceship had great button-y buttons.

➕ We enjoyed the structure of “turning puzzles on” and then returning to them when we were ready to solve them.

In-game: The Space Bus Flight Manual

➕ Space Bus was a successful checklist-style escape room. Although we were following set instructions, it wasn’t exactly a runbook. We had to correlate instructions with puzzles, which added a reasoning element, and the gameplay wasn’t strictly linear. Additionally, the checklist made sense in the scenario. We could imagine a larger world where we’d be completing a different set of tasks should our spaceship have encountered a different sort of trauma.

➖ For the most part, the instructions were in small booklets. Although we had multiple copies, one was pretty worn, the text was small, and we couldn’t remove the pages to correlate them with the physical puzzle elements. We were constantly flipping through these books trying to find something we knew we’d seen before, which was frustrating. Even adding section tabs would make a big difference.

➕ The puzzles were intelligent. In some cases, they had multiple possible solutions. EscapeSF had programmed the technology to recognize multiple correct solves, and all correct solutions, even if the solutions were – as happened in once instance – input out of order. EscapeSF also had bypasses ready should anything not function properly. The tech was fun, forgiving, and fair.

➖ Space Bus started strongly, but lacked a finale. The last scene was the weakest in terms of both set design and puzzles.

In-game: The front of the Space Bus filled with post-game signs.

Tips For Visiting

  • Space Bus is mobile. You can play it parked outside of EscapeSF or book it to come to you.
  • You will need to go up a few steps onto the bus.

Book your hour with Escape SF’s Space Bus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: EscapeSF provided media discounted tickets for this game.