Boxaroo – The Storyteller's Secret [Review]

Once upon a puzzle…

Location:  Boston, MA

Date Played: December 14, 2019

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

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $40-47 per player

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Intimate, mellow, and heartwarming. This combination is one of the least explored territories in the escape game world. Boxaroo set off on an adventure to chart this mysterious land and struck gold.

The set was elegant, compact, and truly impressive, especially when you realize just how small it actually was.

Boxaroo’s engineering was top-notch.

In-game: A beautiful old writer's desk with a journal and a quill pen.

Then there’s the gameplay. A friend said to me that The Storyteller’s Secret felt kind of like playing a really good point and click adventure game; I can confirm that. The way this experience unfolded honestly felt like playing a tangible Lucas Arts game. If you have ever played one, I think you’ll realize how high a compliment that is.

We loved this game. It’s as great a game for first time players as it is for seasoned escape room fanatics. If you’re anywhere near Boston, The Storyteller’s Secret is a must-play escape game.

In-game: Closeup of a pully against some vegitation.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The game was beautifully executed on every level
  • Playful and heartwarming story
  • An incredible feat of engineering
  • It almost feels like playing an old Lucas Arts game in real life

Story

We paid a visit to the cabin of best-selling adventure novelist Emily Carter to learn the secret origins of her incredible stories.

In-game: the wooden wall of a cabin with small shalves and hooks displaying many different trinkets.

Setting

We entered a quaint and elegant writer’s nook. On one side was an adorable desk; on the other side were massive, larger-than-life books. From there, our adventure was entirely up to the storytelling of Emily Carter.

The set was beautiful and playful, filled with vivid details. The technology underpinning The Storyteller’s Secret was ingenious and ever-present, but never showy.

In-game: A corner bench seat with a pillow that reads, "Bee my honey" depicting two bees.

Gameplay

Boxaroo’s The Storyteller’s Secret was a narrative-focused escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a fish caught ina net.

Analysis

➕ The Storyteller’s Secret told a complete story. It was beautiful and intimate. It didn’t put a lot of pressure on us. This was a mellow experience, but not without exciting moments.

➕ This was a game about a writer. It managed to pull that off with fewer than 2 lines of written text.

➖ The opening moments of The Storyteller’s Secret had a potentially cool interaction that went nowhere. It felt like opportunity was knocking and no one answered.

➕ Boxaroo created a wonderful difficulty curve. They focused player attention on relevant content through use of light and sound. They’d designed the game such that as it progressed, we felt like we had grown our skills and achieved mastery over the game’s challenges.

In-game: A wall mounting with two tribal masks hanging.

➕ This game represented our view of what escape room technology ought to be. The engineering was incredible, but most would rarely even notice it. It was just magic.

➕ The hint system was an integrated part of the experience. We never touched it, but we imagine it blending into the story.

➖/➕ The physical construction of the final puzzle was noticeably lackluster. The puzzle itself was quite clever in context, but I’m completely confident that Boxaroo could implement it better because they did so everywhere else in this game.

The Storyteller’s Secret had smart backtracking and reuse.

➕ Boxaroo only allows appropriately sized teams into this game. What a bizarre and novel concept?

Tips For Visiting

  • Boxaroo is easily accessible by subway. Get off at Park Street or Government Center.
  • If you’re driving, the Pi Alley Parking Garage is right nearby.
  • At least 1 teammate needs to be able to duck into a small space.

Book your hour with Boxaroo’s The Storyteller’s Secret, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Boxaroo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Goat – The Quest [Review]

Rolled a natural 20

Location:  Winter Garden, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape Goat’s The Quest channeled a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to breathe life into a high fantasy world where a dragon needed defeating. I love this theme and I truly enjoyed Escape Goat’s execution of the concept.

The puzzles felt chunky and tangible. The challenges were thematic. The world had personality… and that last piece seems like Escape Goat’s superpower. They imbue simple things with life and charm that far exceeds what you’d expect.

If you’re near Orlando, I highly recommend visiting Escape Goat and rolling the dice with The Quest.

In-game: The mounted head of a dragon.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A delightful D&D-esque story and setting
  • Fun tangible puzzles
  • Loads of charm – this game has high charisma

Story

The village of Oakenshire had been living under the threat of a great Garzon dragon. We set out on a quest for the knowledge or weapons needed to save the town.

In-game: Wide view of the Quest's set, a wizard's study.

Setting

The Quest looked very Dungeons & Dragons. I can hear a dungeon master describing this wizard’s laboratory filled with books, potions, magical ingredients, and enchanted weapons.

It had a great look and feel about it with the occasional modern combination lock being the only overtly out of place item in the space.

In-game: Closeup of a wizard's potion desk.

Gameplay

Escape Goat’s The Quest was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A book of magical creatures.

Analysis

➕ Escape Goat used voice-over narration and an in-character gamemaster to set the scene and emphasize their fantasy Dungeons & Dragons-esque world. These helped us connect to our role as adventurers.

➕ The set, props, and technology supported the fantasy world. The gamespace looked good and the technology felt magical. Escape Goat used all these tools to enhance the gamespace.

➕ There was a lot of content in The Quest, but the gameplay flowed well and the volume of puzzles never felt overwhelming. Many of the puzzles had layered solutions. They were placed in different tracks and gated in a manner that kept things organized and approachable.

➖ While most of the puzzles solved cleanly, The Quest presented a few opportunities for additional tweaking. One puzzle seemed to solve primarily through trial and error. In another, the cluing wasn’t clear enough within the props themselves. Additionally, the game bottlenecked slightly in one area of the room where a lot of gameplay was crammed into a small space.

➕ The puzzles varied enormously and required different types of thinking. We especially enjoyed the inclusion of a Survivor-style puzzle.

➖ There was a lot of reading in The Quest. Given the other types of storytelling built into this game, there would be an opportunity to incorporate the lengthy written story or cluing into other mediums.

➕/➖ One late-game puzzle required us to wait on a prop to complete an action, which was neat, and belonged in the world, but could easily be frustrating, considering there were no other actions available to us at this point. It would have been excruciating to lose during this segment.

The Quest concluded with a well-designed decision. Our options all felt appropriate and triumphant.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Goat’s The Quest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Goat comped our tickets for this game.

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Red Sled Redemption [Review]

When Santa crashed into New Joysey

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 18, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $29.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Red Sled Redemption was the most genius inexpensive and small escape room build that we’ve ever seen.

In-game: Wide view of the sleigh repair shop with Santa's red sled in the middle.

It was small. 70% of the props were repurposed toys. We have to imagine that every escape room creator who plays it will walk out wondering why they didn’t build this game… and the answer to why they didn’t build it is because they aren’t Doldrick’s.

A unique blend of humor, storytelling, and craft goes into Doldrick’s productions… and it’s topped off with a dollop of insanity. They are making magic over there. In this case, it was Christmas magic.

If you’ve ever uttered “I hate single room games” or “I need more than a traditional puzzley escape room” go try Red Sled Redemption to see what this looks like at the top of the craft. Is this game as intense, innovative, or over-the-top as Captain Spoopy Bones or Super Bombsquad (review coming soon)? No, but that’s a high bar. Is it a fantastic escape room? Absolutely.

If you’re anywhere near Orlando, Doldrick’s Escape Room is a must visit escape room company. As far as we’re concerned, if they’ve made it, you should play it. 3 games in, they’ve earned our trust.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • It was equal parts adorable and hilarious
  • A fantastic take on the classic escape room format

Story

It was Christmas Eve and Santa had crash landed his sleigh into the The Holly Jolly Holiday Hubcap Repair.

We had to help Richie and Mikey, the world’s worst sleigh repair elves, get the big man airborne in time for him to complete his deliveries.

In-game: a red pegboard with green toy tools hanging from it.

Setting

Red Sled Redemption was set within an auto sleigh repair shop run by lazy elves on Christmas Eve. The tools were toys… because of course the tools were toys.

Everything about the set was deliberate, silly, and spot-on.

This was a small single-room, old-school escape game done right. It had intrigue, character, and surprise born of the props.

In-game: A toy gas pump painted like a cow.

Gameplay

Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Red Sled Redemption was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a golden raindeer hood ornament.

Analysis

 Red Sled Redemption was jovial, whimsical, and fun. It was ridiculous, and we jingled and laughed all the way.

➕ The intro video was bonkers and set the tone for the experience. We were fully engaged from the moment the video started.

➕ Doldrick’s Escape Room repurposed plastic toys into escape room props. They modified the toys, integrating tech and fitting them into a playful repair shop aesthetic. While the build materials were inexpensive, the overall experience was high quality.

In-game: a toy workbench.

➕ The gameplay flowed well. Although there were a lot of puzzles within a small physical footprint, the signposting kept us on track.

➖ One puzzle had us spinning around, struggling against a little too much precision.

Red Sled Redemption included many layered solves that required coordinated teamwork. One was especially scrumptious. Another jacked up our excitement. Doldrick’s Escape Rooms got a lot of mileage out of their main set piece, as we continued to unwrap fun interactions.

➖ The workshop lighting made it hard to read small fonts. We struggled when tight areas of the set were especially dim. Stringing up a few more lights would add more holiday cheer and improve the usability of the space.

➕ One of the toy-based puzzles was an impressive feat of engineering. We’d love to know how they made it work consistently.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least one player needs to be relatively agile.

Book your hour with Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Red Sled Redemption, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doldrick’s Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Outside the Box – Darklight Disco Fight [Review]

Puzzle Dome

Location:  Webster, MA

Date Played: November 10, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 6 (played as 3 vs 3) or 8 (played as 4 vs 4)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

At its core, Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive puzzle battle.

Outside the Box’s game design was deeper and far more nuanced than any other competitive escape game we’ve encountered to date. There were multiple ways to interact with and sabotage the opposition, and a great many opportunities for a team to approach the game strategically instead of just solving puzzles faster than the other folks.

This was a super fun, hilarious, high-energy game.

In-game: a flourscent glowing square with a dice and a big question mark besdie it.

The tragedy of Darklight Disco Fight, however, was that we had to play it to truly understand how to play it well, or with any type of strategy. Now that we’ve solved the puzzles, we can’t play it again the way we would have wanted to play it.

Outside the Box did so many smart things in this low-budget production. The struggle with producing something novel and new like Darklight Disco Fight is that it’s essentially a public beta for all manner of new concepts. Some work; some don’t. In this case, a lot of them could benefit from refinement.

I absolutely recommend Darklight Disco Fight to a group of evenly matched puzzlers who are in the area. To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The massive volume of puzzles
  • Competitive play
  • Opportunity to interact with and affect your opponents

Story

Two teams entered a head-to-head puzzle battle at the blacklight disco.

In-game: wide shot of Darklight Disco. There are an assortment of costumes hanging from the wall, and a glowing square on the floor.

Setting

The Darklight Disco Fight set was split into two identical and mirrored spaces. Each team entered their own space to compete against the team on the other side of the wall.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Darklight Disco Fight had a bare-bones, old-school escape room look. The focus was on the gameplay. The room was basically filled with puzzle components and locked compartments, all bathed in blacklight.

The gamemaster was a key part of the world as we regularly had to show solutions on camera or announce them audibly to earn points. This interaction added to the experience as our gamemaster brought a lot of personality to Darklight Disco Fight.

In-game: closeup of puzzle solution compartment, each is numbered and has a lock hanging from it.

Gameplay

Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight was a competitive escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving quickly. It was also imperative to understand the structure of the game and helpful to strategize an approach. Pay close attention to the rules video and ask questions.

In-game: closeup of a fishtank with a yellow submarine inside of it.

Analysis

➕ Darklight Disco Fight had an infectious energy. It was dark, but fluorescent, with an energetic soundtrack. It pitted us against our friends in competitive play. This upped the stakes and our exuberance.

➕ Our gamemaster added great energy. He interacted with us, verifying our solves, calling out when we triggered new challenges, and DJ-ing the game.

Darklight Disco Fight didn’t look like much. It was all about the puzzles. However, it had a gameshow aesthetic and it didn’t need anything else.

➕ Darklight Disco Fight was jam-packed with puzzles. These varied enormously in type of challenge and difficulty of solve. The puzzles also varied as to how they affected the gameplay, which added a level of complexity. There was something for everyone and every goal.

❓ The puzzles required more outside knowledge than typical escape room puzzles. We had to solve serious math equations, among other things. This worked fine because no team needed to – or would have time to – solve all the puzzles within the 60-minute game clock. If we didn’t know a reference, or couldn’t remember an operation, we could just skip the puzzle. This might irk some players, however, because it is different from typical escape room gameplay.

In-game: A strange puzzle that seems to take inspiration from Super Mario Brothers.

➕ We were equipped with the tools we needed to solve, including cipher charts and whiteboards.

➖ Outside the Box introduced Darklight Disco Fight with a video. This did not adequately explain the unorthodox gameplay. It covered too much information too quickly. While our gamemaster did give us a chance to ask questions at the conclusion of the video, we didn’t understand well enough to know what we were confused about. We had to figure out how to play as we played.

➕/➖ There could be tons of strategic approaches to this game. As an unusual set up with lots of variables, there could have been plenty of ways to approach gameplay. Unfortunately, our playthrough felt like a free-for-all due to our lack of strategic understanding. This neutered a lot of the depth that Outside the Box built into the game.

 Darklight Disco Fight lacked a clear way to keep track of puzzle progress across both teams. Although we had a scoreboard, it was limited. A bigger, more detailed board could have conveyed the action and taken over some of the organization that was put on the teams.

➖ The game structure enabled the teams to interact – to steal away puzzle components, rendering puzzles impossible for the other team, or to create other forms of sabotage. Not all of these were created equal. We could also trigger something we didn’t want to have happen.

Darklight Disco Fight was a canvas for our own fun. Solving puzzles was gratifying… so was heckling, sabotaging, and otherwise enjoying competitive gameplay with friends.

➖/❓/➕ Darklight Disco Fight needed better onboarding before we entered the gamespace. We spent the first few minutes explaining to each other how to play. There were plenty of key nuances that far too many people missed, but would have made play smoother. At the end, we all wished we could play again with a strategy. But unfortunately, as it was an escape room, we’d already solved far too many of the puzzles for it to be replayable. In its current form, Darklight Disco Fight is trapped in a Catch-22 where players need to play once to learn how to play well, but after playing once, can’t ever play again.

We hope Outside the Box will consider making a “B” version with new puzzles. There is a ton of replayability within this structure, and with new puzzles, we expect many teams would return with a competitive strategy. We certainly would!

Tips For Visiting

  • The entrance is behind the building.
  • There is a parking lot behind the building and street parking out front.
  • We highly recommend you play this one with friends where everyone feels comfortable together and wants to compete in a high energy puzzle showdown.

Book your hour with Outside the Box’s Darklight Disco Fight, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Murder in the West Wing [Review]

Government jobs are murder.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 15, 2019

Team size: requires exactly 6

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Murder in the West Wing was our third journey with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries. We aren’t huge fans of murder mysteries in general, but we love doing them with Ghost Ship. Interestingly, we all took Murder in the West Wing very seriously and the result was that we kind of broke the game in an amusing and strangely fun way.

We played these characters realistically by present-day American politics standards. We were all laughably partisan and not a %^&*ing one of us ever openly admitted to wrongdoing (even when confronted with evidence). We all dodged, denied, and generally employed the Shaggy defense (which has a well-developed Wikipedia page).

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking silly.
Yes, I did in fact commission that painting… and it is a brutally accurate description of what went down.

The world was burning and we were all protecting our reputations and interests. Each one of us was far more concerned with our own careers and saw the murder as more of an inconvenience. None of us cared about the victim (which was the only significant flaw with the script). It was legitimately weird when we all claimed to know nothing, but we were all so busy covering our own asses and hoarding one another’s secrets to ever confront truth. By the end of the game we had all unwittingly turned Murder in the West Wing into a giant prisoner’s dilemma, and collectively lost in spectacular fashion… which was kind of amazing.

I think that there is a much tighter game within Murder in the West Wing than we allowed, had we followed the prompts more directly. That said, I love that we unintentionally turned this immersive game into an on-the-nose nihilistic microcosm of present-day politics.

If you like the idea of hosting an intimate murder mystery for 6 people, Murder in the West Wing is great… and I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have a different experience than we had – probably because your friends will take this a little less seriously than we did.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Sorkin fans
  • Aspiring detectives
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Ghost Ship takes all of the labor and annoyance out of hosting a murder mystery gathering
  • To experience an unusual tale of political intrigue
  • Fantastic facilitation that pushes just the right amount to keep things moving

Story

Five government officials – each embroiled in their own scandals – and a mysterious stranger were summoned to the West Wing to meet with the President.

No one knows why they are all present.

Closeup of an Old Fashion with an orange.
If you’re looking for the right drink to pair with calamitous political decisions, the Old Fashioned is the drink.

Setting

Murder in the West Wing was set and structured exactly as Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers. You can take a look back at that review to learn how they went about bringing a crime to our home.

This time, instead of dressing as space cowboys and space wizards, we wore suits.

Gameplay

As with the setting, you can reference our past review to get a handle on how Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries works.

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking very serious.
Serious face.

Analysis

➕ The tale of political intrigue was a fun, approachable theme with easy costuming.

Murder in the West Wing was a 6-player game (no more, no less). This was noticeably smaller than the other games we had played with Ghost Ship. As a result, it felt a lot more intimate. The trade-off was that it didn’t have the same scope, scale, and chaos of the other mysteries we had experienced.

➕ The first act was a gentle lead-in. It was a soft, approachable scene that let us all get comfortable.

➖ For us, the biggest flaw was that none of the characters had a great reason to care about the victim as a human being. The stakes were misaligned. We all had intrinsic motivations that felt generally greater than the murder in question.

➖ Too much of the hidden information was found too early and by the wrong people. This led to character breaks and some general holes in the story.

➕ Our facilitator did a great job of prompting and gently pushing for scenes to unfold… which was good because each and every one of us was slippery and evil. In our case, we didn’t do what was expected of us given those prompts.

➖ In our game, the information just didn’t flow. We didn’t necessarily know when to reveal certain information, and we were all so busy blackmailing or leveraging one another that we were tight-lipped about each other’s secrets even when they were revealed.

➖ Every handwritten note looked like a woman’s handwriting, which threw us for a loop.

➕ The use of cell phones in the game was great.

Tips For Visiting

  • This can be played in a small space. A larger space is better but not necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to tidy up your home before hosting.
  • A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in terms of loosening people up.
  • It’s fine to invite people who aren’t outgoing, but don’t invite people who are too cool to play.
  • Your home needs adequate cellular service to play Murder in the West Wing.

Book your hour with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Murder in the West Wing, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Esscape Room – The Real Kitchen Nightmare [Review]

Out of the frying pan & into the fryer.

Location:  Long Island City, Queens, NY

Date Played: November 25, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: starting at $30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set within a commercial kitchen with a horror twist… and it felt right because the creators of this game own a couple of actual restaurants nearby. The environment delivered with an authenticity that greatly exceeded the norm.

In-game: A frying pan on an restaurant stove beside a deep fryer.
Image via Esscape Room

Esscape Room’s gameplay was brutally hard. It felt like 2014-level difficulty, which was jarring after half a decade of the industry at large shifting to more approachable gameplay. But it was fair. Our team of 5 very experienced players finished the game with 5 minutes to spare and used 0 hints. It was winnable, but we were only the second team to do so. This was a shame because the best part of the game was, without a doubt, the cleverness of the ending… which most players never see.

Our biggest knock against The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a rule about “not making a mess of the kitchen” which ultimately ran contrary to the search-heavy nature of the game. Beyond this, there were a lot of smaller issues, which is common for a company’s first game.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was an impressive first outing from a brand new company. The game was memorable. The New York City escape room scene has really aged and it’s exciting to welcome a newcomer. This is one of the stronger games that the market has. If you like horror, we recommend it. Bring a mighty team, or it will smoke you.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A realistic set
  • Tons of puzzle content
  • A fantastic ending – if you can get to it

Story

After mysteriously closing, 3 Michelin star celebrity chef Francois ‘Le Boucher’ (the butcher) Hellerstein had finally reopened his flagship restaurant. Hellerstein was world famous for his incredible food and intense rage. We were investigating him because the entire staff of his last restaurant had disappeared without a trace.

In-game: a portrait of a beautiful woman smoking, hung on a brick wall.
Image via Esscape Room

Setting

The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set in an old, run down restaurant kitchen. It felt real. Essentially all of the props were originally from a restaurant kitchen, and the owners/ creators of this game also own a pair or nearby bars/ restaurants… so they have a pretty good idea of what a restaurant kitchen is supposed to look like.

In-game: A red tinged view of an restaurant kitchen.
Image via Esscape Room

Gameplay

Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a standard escape room with a very high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A door covered in padlocks with an exit sign above it.
Image via Esscape Room

Analysis

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare felt real and raw. The set was a restaurant kitchen.

➕ Esscape Room used sounds and practical effects to amp the intensity.

➕/➖ The gameplay was solid, yet dated. The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a search-heavy, lock-heavy game, where much of the gameplay was in uncovering what props connected to which puzzle and which lock. Many of the puzzles were only there to give players a hint for another puzzle. The puzzles were thematic, but grounded primarily in escape room logic. Despite feeling dated, the gameplay worked. Connections became clear and each solve marched us forward.

➖ At times instructions and cluing felt at odds with the gameplay. For example, because of in-game cluing, we thought we’d encountered an order preservation puzzle. Everyone knew how to solve it, but nobody touched it for far too long because of misleading cluing. We’d also been instructed “not to make a mess of the kitchen,” but in a search-heavy room, those explicit instructions misguided us to gameplay errors that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

➖ This kitchen didn’t have a timer. In easier escape rooms, we’d rather not have gameclock present because clocks don’t usually make sense, and we’d rather play for the experience than for our time. In The Real Kitchen Nightmare, however, the absence of gameclock was problematic. It was a difficult game where hints and time were a resource to manage. We knew we could easily lose, and without a clock, we had no way to gauge whether we should ask for a hint. Having seen this game through to the end and won, we think teams would have a better experience if they were armed with a kitchen timer.

❓ The Real Kitchen Nightmare was really hard. We won with 5 minutes to spare, having taken zero hints. We like challenging puzzle games, but they present a structural challenge. Since the linchpin of this escape room is near the end, if players don’t get to that moment, they miss out on a lot. At the time we played, less than a handful of teams had reached this moment, regardless of win or lose. Since Esscape Room doesn’t show players the rest of the game when they fail, losing teams can walk a way with a substantially lesser experience.

➕/➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a stellar introductory scene. It set up the experience. From a tonal standpoint, it delivered. From an experiential standpoint, it enabled the game to come full circle. That said, it primed players for a different type of escape room gameplay than they would experience in the next hour.

➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare needed onboarding. It had an intense introduction, in character with a horror game. That said, players will be able to enjoy the game more if they are presented with a fair onboarding that explains things such as where to find the the bathrooms, hint system instructions, and in case of emergency safety instructions.

➕ Esscape Rooms had a really interesting design aesthetic that is shared with their real restaurant. It was cool.

➖ There were legitimately dangerous, movable props in this escape room. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Esscape Room should strongly consider further dulling down these items. This was a horror experience and people will be jumpy.

The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a cool transition.

➖ While Esscape Rooms set up a story, they didn’t deliver it through play. There was opportunity to make the story resonate as we solved the puzzles within the main sets of this experience.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare built up in intensity. Horror escape rooms typically struggle with players becoming comfortable as they get to know the space. Esscape Room didn’t fall into this trap. They were able to keep us on edge.

➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare delivered quite the mind%&*#. Cheers to Esscape Room for pulling this off.

Tips For Visiting

  • Esscape Rooms is located in Long Island City, just off the Queensboro Plaza Stop – N,W & 7 train – and a few blocks from Queens Plaza & 21st Street Stops – E & F train.
  • The folks behind Esscape Room also own the The Huntress, a restaurant and bar on the same block. We recommend stopping by after your game.

Book your hour with Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Esscape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Captain Spoopy Bones [Review]

And The Magnificent Quest For Some Other Pirate’s Treasure

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $39.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Captain Spoopy Bones at Doldrick’s Escape Room in Orlando has been the most requested review of 2019… and it lived up to the hype.

Captain Spoopy Bones was a riot. If you don’t laugh during the opening video, you’re dead inside. Consult a doctor.

In-game: the brig inside of a wooden ship.

The gameplay, set, and tech were refined and fantastic. Interestingly, from a gameplay standpoint, a few of the puzzles weren’t anything special… but the execution of those puzzles made them feel mighty.

And the ending was a ball.

Look, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but if you’re in Orlando, Doldrick’s should be in the mix with your visit to Disney and Universal. I’d encourage you to play all of their games, but if you only have time for one, make it Captain Spoopy Bones.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Clean execution of escape room gameplay
  • An exciting reveal
  • The humor… especially in the intro video
  • Highly polished

Story

Our comically cursed leader Captain Spoopy Bones needed help on his magnificent quest for some other pirate’s treasure.

In-game: The ceiling of a ship. A lantern hangs above cargo nets.

Setting

Our adventure began within the brig of a cursed pirate ship. Our dearly departed and then delightfully undead Captain Spoopy Bones introduced us to our situation with hilarity… and then we were off to escape our cells and explore the old ship.

The ship was quite elegant. As things progressed, they also escalated in wonderful and childish ways.

This was one of those sets where I stopped puzzling at one point and just walked around taking everything in.

In-game: The wooden interior of a ship, a large barrel in the middle of the shot.

Gameplay

Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Captain Spoopy Bones was a standard escape room with a split team beginning and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The introduction was amazing. Captain Spoopy Bones was a strong and an entertaining character. It set quite the tone.

➕ The story of Captain Spoopy Bones was ridiculous, funny, and charming. Doldrick’s Escape Room combined the typical “jail cell” with the popular “pirate ship”… and then layered on comedy to chart an unusual course to a different adventure.

➕ There was a ton of content in Captain Spoopy Bones. With our team of 4 players, we were solving with all hands on deck. We needed to be observant and communicative to tackle the majority of the puzzles. When we did this, it was smooth sailing through solves.

➖/➕ Although the puzzles were funny, thematic, and enjoyable, there was room to make them more story-driven. Many of them didn’t have any narrative elements. That said, given the cheeky tone, the gameplay didn’t feel like puzzles for puzzles’ sake. It felt like a part of Captain Spoopy Bones’ odd world. We frequently got a chuckle out of how things came together.

➕ Doldrick’s Escape Room used a lot of common puzzle types and props. The artistry was in their execution. One early puzzle was a type that we’ve long hated every other time that we’ve seen it, but Doldrick’s managed to make it fun. In another instance they took a pretty tired concept and executed it so perfectly that it was like it was the first time that we were seeing it.

➖ We struggled with the UI for one more explosive puzzle. Additional feedback should clarify function. Another modification to the tech would improve solution input.

Captain Spoopy Bones had an impressive late-game reveal that added energy and set up the exciting finale.

➕ The difficulty curve worked well, culminating in a fantastic conclusion.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Captain Spoopy Bones, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doldrick’s Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Themescape – The Terminal [Review]

Chuga Chuga Chuga Chuga. Search! Search!

Location:  Broomfield, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Themescape’s The Terminal had a cool-looking graffitied NYC subway set. It was for the best that it looked good because the game felt like it was about 95% search-based.

In-game: graphittied subway walls with a Pepsi vending machine.

The entirety of the experience was grounded in escape room logic. Nothing made sense. It hearkened back to the earliest days of escape rooms.

We just didn’t like this game. It always feels tragic to see a weak game in a solid set. Themescape’s The Gate was considerably more interesting. I’d strongly encourage playing it over The Terminal.

Who is this for?

  • Searchers & scavengers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Old-school search-based gameplay
  • A couple of nifty interactions

Story

A blackout had killed power to New York City. However, a runaway subway train was barreling towards the end of the line. We had to restore power and engage the train’s emergency brakes.

In-game: A NYC subway wall covered in graphitti and a sign for the NQR Downtown & Brooklyn.

Setting

The Terminal looked like a modern New York City subway station… but created to evoke the graffitied imagery associated with the New York City of a few decades ago.

The set looked pretty good, even if it didn’t ring true to me at all as a New Yorker.

In-game: A NYC subway map mounted to the subway wall.

Gameplay

Themescape’s The Terminal was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching.

Analysis

➕ Themescape crafted a bright and busy train station set. It looked pretty good.

➖ The gameplay was almost entirely search. Once we had everything we needed, puzzles solved in seconds. Any time we paused, it was because of a search fail.

➖ The Terminal lacked gating. We spent a lot of time trying to solve puzzles before we’d found all of the components. There was no in-game cluing to clarify that these puzzles weren’t active yet.

➕ The Terminal had one large set piece that was a fun input mechanism. It had another nifty device that gave some variety to the continual searching.

➖ The cluing was misleading. In one instance, we found a “secret clue.” Due to the labeling of the clue, we thought the game could be solved without it. The thing was, a note on a prop had already led us away from the item now in play due to the “secret clue.” This entire set up was baffling.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Themescape’s The Terminal, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Themescape comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Q The Live Escape Experience – Area Q [Review]

Puzzle Gear

Location:  Loveland, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $24.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Area Q was a unique experience. Some of it was brilliant and some of it was a mess (literally and figuratively).

The crux of the game was built around a heist. We were stealing something and needed to navigate the security system as well as the guard. In a lot of ways, it felt a lot like a Metal Gear game.

In-game: A person sneaking around a wooden crage in a dark room.
Image via Q The Live Escape Experience

The cool thing about Area Q was that there were a lot of different ways to play it. If you played Area Q as a straight puzzle room, however, I think that you would find it pretty dull; the puzzles were decidedly subpar. That said, you don’t have to play it that way. It can be what you make of it.

I’m really glad that we played this game because it was different. Q The Live Escape Experience tried some interesting concepts… and they nailed the actor interactions. The catch here was that the puzzles, cleanliness, and finer points of set design felt all but ignored.

If you’re open to a unique experience that is equal parts exciting and flawed, then this is worth checking out. However, if you’re looking for something that is more grounded in escape room tradition and functions more smoothly, The Conjuror was a stronger all-around game.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Actor interactors
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The guard actor was fantastic and gave the character a ton of personality
  • The scenario built a lot of tension

Story

A meteor had crashed into Earth and had been retrieved by a criminal organization. Their scientists had extracted alien bacteria and used it to engineer a plague. Now they planned to auction it to the highest bidder.

Our assignment: infiltrate the facility under cover of darkness, avoid being caught by the guard, steal the plague sample, and plant a bomb to destroy the remaining samples.

Setting

Area Q sent us down into a rustic research lab. The reality of this staging was a game in a large, dusty, and dark warehouse space. Most of the set pieces were large wooden crates behind a chain-link fence. The laboratory portions felt hacked together.

It was spartan.

In-game: A glowing green exit sign over a door viewed through a chainlink fence.
Image via Q The Live Escape Experience

Every 10 minutes, like clockwork, a security guard patrolled the space. The actor was fantastic and really imbued this character with a personality.

Gameplay

Q The Live Escape Experience’s Area Q was an actor-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, hiding, and engaging with the actor.

Analysis

➕ Area Q was an escape room in principle, but the gameplay was open ended. We could play it straight by solving puzzles, or go for a more dramatic, improvisational approach with the actor.

➕ The guard gave this game intrigue. He walked with personality. He was imposing and threatening, but also amusing. He was adaptive too. He would play the type of game that the players wanted to play. When we chose to mess with him, he gave it right back to us. This was a ton of fun.

➖ The puzzles were downright boring. They felt like tedious work we had to slog through. It didn’t help that we had to abandon them and hide every time the guard approached.

➖ The gameplay was largely search-focused. Search was frustrating because the set was large and dark. Although we weren’t bumping into things, we weren’t keen on blind searching, considering the dirt and splintery props.

➕ Although Area Q was a dark space, it needed to be for the premise of the game. We had enough flashlights for each teammate. The space was also devoid of clutter and tripping hazards. We weren’t going to miss these props.

There is a difference between a dirty-looking set and an actually dirty set. Area Q was filthy. After hiding in this set, we were covered in dirt and dust.

➕ Area Q had a laissez-faire approach to solving. There was no definitive way to accomplish something. We could solve the puzzles or find our own means to accomplish our heist. In fact, they’d designed different paths to get teams to the same ending. Depending on how a team approached the game, different things could happen, but none of them would be game-ending. Instead, they would set the team on a different path to a successful ending.

➖ There were opportunities to make the props more interesting. For example, the plague sample we needed to steal could have looked like something we wanted to get our hands on.

Area Q built a ton of tension with the constant hiding and the actor dramatics. Given this build up, the ending fell flat. Our exit from the gamespace was anticlimactic in comparison.

Tips For Visiting

  • Wear closed-toed shoes and clothing that can get dirty.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Q The Live Escape Experience’s Area Q, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Q The Live Escape Experience comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Locked In Escapes – Rock Star: The Final Curtain [Review]

Playing old hit.

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Rock Star: The Final Curtain was a challenging puzzle-centric game that had a cute intro and stronger final act. The middle was a bit shaky.

This game didn’t need to be as hard and grindy as it was. So much of the difficulty stemmed from the volume of partial puzzle content that we had access to. It could have been smoother and more energetic.

In-game: A microphone viewed from on-stage, the auditorium beyond it.

We think that this is a heavily modified version of the N.E.R.D. game of a similar name. Our teammate who had played the original was pleasantly surprised that he recognized a few puzzles.

Rock Star: The Final Curtain had some bright spots and we were glad to play them. However, you need to fight through the early-game to find the stuff that’s special. If you’re up for that, absolutely give it a try. Otherwise, we strongly recommend Locked In Escapes’ The Infected; that game was lovely.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A fun mid-game transition
  • It was challenging
  • Amusing introduction and conclusion moments

Story

Our favorite band since high school US THEM OR DEAN was on their farewell tour. We’d managed to score backstage passes to meet them (OMG!).

As we’d made our way through security and to the dressing room, we learned that a pop music-hating madman had planted a bomb in the arena. We became trapped inside with no other option than to disarm his destructive device.

In-game: The entry to Rock Star, a velvet rope before the doorway.

Setting

After an adorable in-character introduction, we were led into a dressing room that looked pretty spartan and rough. There were some strong details, but the overall look of the space didn’t give us the sense that we were in a big rock star’s dressing room.

In-game: a view out of a window of the Las Vegas Strip.

From the props to the interactions, the second act staging looked and felt a lot stronger.

Gameplay

Locked In Escapes’ Rock Star: The Final Curtain was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and keeping organized.

In-game: a locked guitar case on the floor of a purple dressing room.

Analysis

➖ We were physically locked in this game with an emergency key hung near the exit door. This was less than ideal, but fine. The problem that we had with this particular setup was that the exit door was in a dark, cramped area of the game. I understand why this game’s setup called for a lock-in, but it would be far safer with a maglock instead of a keyed lock.

➕ Locked In Escapes built excitement with their presentation of the game. Our in-character gamemaster set an energetic tone. This sold the introduction.

➖ The set for the first act wasn’t particularly interesting. It was a bit cramped and didn’t really sell Rock Star’s dressing room.

➕ As we solved through Rock Star: The Final Curtain, we’d be interrupted now and again by newscast videos, which reminded us of our situation and added to the drama of our plight. These were fun interludes.

➖ In the first act, we had access to too many unsolvable puzzles too early. These gating issues slowed the gameplay and caused us to spend a lot of time working on things that we couldn’t solve. Because of this, Rock Star: The Final Curtain was more challenging than it needed to be (or probably should be).

➖ We found an iPad in the dressing room, which we used in a few different ways throughout the first act. While this worked to facilitate gameplay, it bottlenecked like a runbook. We would have preferred less on the iPad and more in the room.

➕ Locked in Escapes justified consumable in-game refreshments. The refreshments and their justification were unusual and appreciated.

➕ We loved the mid-game transition. The second act was also staged quite well. Any sliding energy levels abated.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Locked In Escapes’ Rock Star: The Final Curtain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locked In Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.