I Lock You – La Chambre de Nicolai [Review]

Nicholai’s Room (available in English)

Location:  Nice, France

Date Played: October 1, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 90-144 € per team depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

La Chambre de Nicolai was a traditional, old-school escape room. It was entirely focused on puzzles, with a lovingly made but simple set. That isn’t to say that I Lock You lacked creativity.

Some of the puzzle design within La Chambre de Nicolai was unique and inspired. We were particularly impressed with the opening puzzle sequence, which took an escape room trope that we have long despised, and made it smart and fresh.

If you enjoy puzzle-focused escape rooms and can either speak French or are comfortable taking a little gamemaster assistance to work through an untranslated puzzle, then pay I Lock You a visit. They are centrally located in Nice. 

In-game: Nicolai's pirate themed bedroom. There's a treasure chest locked in the middle of it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting puzzles
  • Great transition
  • Fun aesthetics

Story

We were the house staff for Boris and Natalia Povanovitch and they had tasked us with babysitting their little angel Nicolai. This gifted, spoiled, and possibly sociopathic child loved making our lives difficult. This night would be no different. He had locked us in his bedroom. We had to find our way out before his parents came home and fired us.

Additionally, if we found the report card that Nicolai had hidden from his parents, we might be able to… convince him to leave us alone in the future.

In-game: The outside of Nicolai's bedroom warning not to enter in a childish manner.

Setting

La Chambre de Nicolai was bright and vibrant with a decidedly childish aesthetic. It looked like a spoiled kid’s bedroom, complete with toys.

As the game pressed on, the set became darker with muted colors and less detail. 

In-game: A Playmobile pirate ship on a table under a painting of a pirate ship.

Gameplay

I Lock You’s La Chambre de Nicolai was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Nicolai's bunk bed and air conditioner. His ceiling is painted blue with large styrofoam clouds.

Analysis

➕ We appreciated the humorous setup. Nicolai was a fun nemesis.

➕ The hint system – finding candy within the room to bribe our child captor – was thematic and effective.

➕ We enjoyed the aesthetic of Nicolai’s bedroom and how I Lock You turned children’s toys into puzzles.

➕/➖ La Chambre de Nicolai looked homemade. This mostly worked well, given the set up, but at times it felt amateur and messy. 

➖As the game progressed, the aesthetic quality plummeted. Near the end, the attention to design detail went from bad to worse.

In-game: Nicolai's closet door is painted with a tropical island, a parrot, and pirate treasure.

➕ La Chambre de Nicolai challenged us with some interesting, layered sequences.

➕ While we usually dislike overlocking one item, I Lock You made it work using a series of transformations. In this implementation, the act of solving gave us new information. This created an excellent puzzle sequence.

➖ One late game sequence was not well clued. It was a nifty concept that needed a bit more iteration.

➕ One critical transition worked beautifully.

➖ The ending was anticlimactic. It was easy to brute force and we escaped without having even attempted one of the puzzles.

➕ The idea that we had to find Nicolai’s report card so that we could blackmail the brat into letting us do our jobs was pretty damn funny. 

Tips For Visiting

  • The English translation worked pretty well. There was one late-game puzzle that didn’t translate. It wasn’t a problem. 

Book your hour with I Lock You’s La Chambre de Nicolai, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: I Lock You provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Blackout Room – Chambre 1408 [Review]

Room 1408 (available in English)

Location:  Nice, France

Date Played: October 1, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 25-32 € per team person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Chambre 1408 was a slightly spooky escape room in a simple, elegant set. Blackout Room balanced puzzles with elevated intensity and provided some cinematic moments.

Chambre 1408 had an unusual approach to cluing that threw us off for the first few puzzles. Additionally, when we solved puzzles we frequently didn’t know what had triggered as a result of our success.

If you’re in Nice and your escape room preferences lean more heavily towards immersive set design, Chambre 1408 would be a solid escape room to visit. 

In-game: The living room of 1408, an old space with large, dated furniture and a television.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle game
  • Homey yet haunted
  • Dramatic final scene

Story

We sought a room at The Dolphin Hotel. The man at the front desk had told us that the hotel was full except for room 1408, a cursed room where strange things happen and no one leaves alive. We really wanted a room, so we took it, of course.

In-game: The cracked door to room 1408

Setting

Chambre 1408 looked like the living room of a large hotel suite. It had bulky (and comfortable) old-fashioned furniture and a generally creepy hotel vibe.

It was missing many of the items that one would expect from a hotel, most notably a bed or even a door to a bedroom. That nitpick aside, the set of Chambre 1408 was more immersively designed than the other escape rooms that we encountered in southern France.

In-game: The living room of 1408, an old space with large, dated furniture and a television.

Gameplay

Blackout Room’s Chambre 1408 was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: The living room of 1408, an old space with large, dated furniture and a television.

Analysis

➕ The gamespace looked homey and inviting, in a haunted sort of way. It was quite spacious. The set looked pretty good and periodesque.

➖ Chambre 1408 took place in a hotel room, but the set lacked a few hotel essentials, like a bed. It felt more like a parlor.

➕ The puzzles varied. Chambre 1408 included both association solves and meatier puzzles. It worked well.

➖ Chambre 1408 didn’t fully clue the gameplay in the environment. It wasn’t immediately apparent – even to experienced players – what would be relevant in this escape room. As players, it took us a little while to understand the unusual clue structure of Chambre 1408.

Chambre 1408 illuminated some fun puzzle sequences.

➖ We frequently didn’t know what a solve had unlocked. More feedback from the set – when puzzles solved and set pieces pop open – would dramatically improve the experience of Chambre 1408.

➕ The dramatic final scene upped the intensity of the experience. It added urgency and excitement.

Tips For Visiting

  • Chambre 1408 is available in French, English, and Russian. There is one puzzle, however, that is only solvable if you understand French.
  • If you have asthma, other breathing conditions, or scent allergies, talk to Blackout Room before booking Chambre 1408.

Book your hour with Blackout Room’s Chambre 1408, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Blackout Room comped our tickets for this game.

Boogie Boards in Escape Rooms [Review]

Boogie Boards

Boogie Boards are popular writing surfaces for escape rooms across the United States. We’ve discussed writing in escape rooms generally; now we’ll look at what Boogie Boards offer.

As LCD writing tablets, they provide a simple, reusable, rapidly erasable surface for note-taking and and puzzle-solving.

Boogie Board offers different models. After exploring their offerings, I believe that there is a correct model for use in escape rooms… and it’s not the one we usually see.

A small boogie board that reads, "Erase me!" and points at the erase button.
Jot Series

Boogie Board Jot Series

The Jot Series is the traditional Boogie Board. I’ve seen this model almost every time I come across a Boogie Board in escape room. They come in a number of different sizes and forms, but they all work the same way:

Write on the surface with the stylus. Press the round button to erase the slate.

They are easy to explain to players and simple to use.

A small translucent boogie board with card under it that reads "Thank You," with tarot art. Atop, the boogie board reads, "I'm translucent."
Also available in a translucent model.

There are two main drawbacks: 

If you want to erase something, you have to erase everything. 

It’s almost too easy to erase them. I’ve seen players accidentally erase something that someone else was working on. This is the most common gripe that I hear from other players about Boogie Boards.

A large boogie board blackboard, pointing out the eraser button, the erase button, and the lock switch.
Blackboard

Boogie Board Blackboard

On the other extreme, there is the top-of-the-line Boogie Board, the new Blackboard model.

This thing is pretty damn awesome. It’s large and translucent (so it can draw over other things). With one button, it switches to an eraser mode where the stylus works as a focused eraser, like the end of a pencil would. You don’t have to blank out the entire slate to erase, but that is an option too. There’s a mobile app to store your work. 

Closeup of the boogie board blackboard's pointing out the eraser button, the erase button, and the lock switch.

I love using one of these at home. I highly recommend the Blackboard for at-home puzzle-solving and other creative work. It’s awesome.

I do not recommend it for use in escape rooms. It has too many options and requires too much explanation. It’s a little too big. Also, considering that it’s liable to get dropped, I think it’s a little pricey for this use case.

The Boogie Board Dashboard.
Dashboard

Boogie Board Dashboard

If the Jot is too simple and the Blackboard is too complex… the Boogie Board Dashboard is just right.

Dashboard is essentially a Jot with a safety switch that disables the erase button. This adds almost no additional explanation, but provides a significant benefit to the players.

The Boogie Board Dashboard locked.
Erase Lock: On
The Boogie Board Dashboard unlocked.
Erase Lock: Off

I’ve only ever seen these at Locked Murfreesboro in Franklin, Tennessee. The folks from Locked also made a small but significant modification to their Boogie Board Dashboards. They drilled a small hole and wired the stylus to the board ensuring that they travel together.

The Boogie Board Dashboard with the stylus attached to the body.

In my opinion Locked Murfreesboro’s approach is currently the best way to use Boogie Boards in escape rooms.

The two components that they use to wire the stylus board are: 

Boogie Boards certainly aren’t without drawbacks. They can be especially challenging in low lighting and they are pretty small. That said, they are a writing surface, not a tool to fix gameplay. If the lighting is too dim for a Boogie Board or the puzzle requires a ton of writing to solve, that’s a problem with the game’s design, not the writing surface.

We haven’t yet seen Boogie Boards integrated into the set and narrative of an escape room. That’s the next step.

Disclosure: Boogie Board provided Jot and Blackboard models 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.)

Exit The Game – The Sunken Treasure [Review]

SCUBA puzzle adventure!

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $10

Publisher: KOSMOS

REA Reaction

One small change can greatly impact how a game feels. The Sunken Treasure had entirely linear gameplay. This departure from Exit The Game’s semi-linear approach to tabletop escape game design created a smooth and calm puzzling experience. I found it pleasurable. 

We never wondered whether we were working on the right puzzle, or one where we had all of the components. We knocked out the challenges as The Sunken Treasure served them up. This enabled us to focus on the story and play with confidence.

While linearity worked well here, this isn’t an endorsement of linear play-at-home gameplay across the board. As with most design decisions, it’s situational.

The Sunken Treasure is one of the easiest Exit The Game installments that we’ve encountered. This didn’t bother us at all; we rather enjoyed the calmer seas. 

If you’re a fan of Exit The Game, this is one of the must-play chapters. If you’ve never played before, this should be your first. 

Sunken Treasure's box art features a sunken tall ship.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Smooth linear gameplay
  • Tangible puzzles
  • An approachable difficulty curve

Story

We set off in search of the legendary treasure of the Santa Maria. You’ll be shocked to learn that we did, in fact, find it .

The sunken treasure journal, decoder wheel, and an assortment of small components.

Setup

The Sunken Treasure followed the same destructible paper-puzzle structure that I explained in our first batch of Exit The Game reviews, but with one significant difference. For the sake of brevity, you can read about the structure in our original review: 

Unlike in the others, however, the gameplay in The Sunken Treasure was entirely linear. It presented the puzzles one at a time. Solving each one advanced the story and provided us another complete puzzle. This small change significantly – and in my opinion, positively – impacted the play. 

An old gold coin and 6 gems of different colors.

Gameplay

Exit The Game’s The Sunken Treasure was a linear play-at-home escape game with an approachable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Stacks of riddle, answer, and help cards.

Analysis

➕ The linear gameplay removed ambiguity. This was the first Exit The Game that we’ve played where we never found ourselves attempting to solve a puzzle before we had all its components. We never once missed that added challenge. 

➕ As the story progressed, the puzzles ramped up along a comfortable difficulty curve. 

➕ With one exception the puzzles felt fair and solved cleanly. 

➖ One puzzle had us in the weeds trying to figure out what we were supposed to see. In the end we got the correct answer for the wrong reason. We never would have even noticed if I didn’t make a habit of checking the hint cards at the end of each puzzle to verify that we had approached it properly. 

An assortment of help cards.

➖ While we didn’t really need it, the hinting wasn’t granular enough. Should you need a hint on one of the more complex puzzles, you’re likely going to get more of a push than you’ll want or need. Exit the Game could smooth this over by adding a few extra hint cards to the more complex puzzles. 

➕ We adored the tangible interactions in The Sunken Treasure. They exceeded my expectations, based on my experience with previous Exit The Game tangible puzzles. 👍

❓ This felt like the easiest Exit The Game that we’ve played to date. I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I liked it. Your feelings may differ on this subject. 

Tips For Playing

  • Space Requirements: minimal, a small table or floorspace will suffice
  • Required Gear: paper, pencil, and scissors.

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

Disclosure: KOSMOS provided a sample for review. 

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

YouEscape – Magnum Opus [Review]

Escape room video conferencing.

Location:  the Internet

Date Played: October 20, 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per team (regardless of player count)

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

And we have another new escape room format! 

YouEscape offers Internet-based escape games. The creator/ gamemaster pointed his camera at a table with puzzle props. We delivered commands that he executed. 

We didn’t know what to expect from this one and ended up having a good time. YouEscape is still exploring how to build games for this format, but they are off to a good start.

There’s an opportunity to create something unique this way. In its current format, it’s an affordable way to play an escape game from the comfort of your own home. 

If you’ve played all of the games in your area, want to play with friends who live far away, or really love escape room puzzles, give YouEscape a try. They are creating new games on a monthly basis. 

In-game: The revised set with a starscape backdrop and blue table cloth.
Magnum Opus after some iteration.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Friends who don’t live in the same place, but want to play together
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A novel escape game format
  • The challenge of instructing interaction with physical objects
  • Cooperation across different physical locations
  • Fun puzzles

Story

The master alchemist had disappeared and it was up to us – his apprentices – to discover why.

Google Hangout: The initial game setup features many locked boxes and styrofoam cups, some with drawings on them.
Magnum Opus as we played it. 

Setting

Magnum Opus was an online escape game where we joined a video chat with our teammates and the gamemaster. The gamemaster’s camera was pointed at a table with all of the game’s props. We only saw a pair of hands reaching in around the camera and doing as we instructed. 

The physical props, puzzle components, and locked boxes resided with our gamemaster. Additional instructional materials and puzzle components were organized into folders in Google Drive.

We remained in our own homes, communicating with our teammates and gamemaster through Google Hangouts. We issued commands and he interacted with the props and delivered verbal hints. Repeat until solved. 

Google Hangout: The post-game image declaring that we escaped, and depicting the elixer.

Gameplay

YouEscape’s Magnum Opus was an atypical escape game played over the Internet by a remote team giving the gamemaster verbal commands. There was a moderate level of difficulty, some of which came from learning how to control the game.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, instructing, communicating, puzzling… and navigating different tabs and windows.

Analysis

➕ YouEscape’s format enabled cooperative gameplay through physical escape room components, across different locations and time zones.

➕ Playing via the gamemaster’s hands was deceptively challenging. In fact, we missed a critical detail in one puzzle for quite some time. I’m sure we would have seen this if we’d been handling the props ourselves. We appreciated how the format added different twists to puzzle solving.

➕ YouEscape designed some excellent puzzles. We particularly enjoyed the opening and closing challenges. Magnum Opus was at its best when we had to explore the props to solve the challenges.

➖ The physical props and puzzles looked like prototypes. There was plenty of room to craft more captivating game components. 

➖ Although YouEscape set Magnum Opus against a mystical alchemy theme, that theme was absent or unimportant for much of the experience. With the exception of a few physical components, most of the props and puzzles didn’t draw on alchemy.

➖ Much of the gameplay took place in Google Drive. While YouEscape shared well-organized folders, we found it burdensome to continually switch windows and tabs. We can solve puzzles in documents and browser tabs any time, without a gamemaster in a physical room of puzzles. This portion of this experience didn’t take advantage of what made YouEscape’s gameplay format special: the hands and props. It was also clunky to use.

➕ YouEscape offered a different spin on the escape room concept. We see potential in combining physical props and puzzles with Internet-facilitated player communication. We recommend YouEscape lean into the physical components, upping the intrigue there. Those elements made the format special and introduced interesting new gameplay challenges.

➕/➖ The Patreon subscription model is great if you want to play monthly… and a big hindrance if you want to experience a one-off game.  Additionally, the race to constantly generate new content could eventually hold YouEscape back from producing some truly wonderful games, as speed of development will ultimately be in the driver’s seat. 

➕ YouEscape is rapidly iterating. A day or two after we played, we received this image of the newly revised “set.” If YouEscape can continue working on this concept, distill their games down to the best interactions, and gather compelling props to facilitate the fiction, they will have a fantastic product. 

❓I think this format offers an opportunity to create delicate, messy, or dangerous interactions that are safe when handled exclusively by the game designer, but could never appear in a traditional escape game. 

Tips For Visiting

  • You will need a computer than can comfortably handle at least 6 browser tabs and a video chat without freaking out, a stable Internet connection, a microphone, and a notepad (physical or virtual, but we found physical to work best).
  • We recommend that each player use their own computer, from their own space, and communicate through Google Hangouts. This allows each player to move between the tabs/ windows as they’d like.

Book your hour with YouEscape’s Magnum Opus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: YouEscape comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout – Europa [Review]

By Jupiter’s moons! (not available in English)

Location:  Antibes, France

Date Played: September 30, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 20-35 € per person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Europa was a puzzle-focused escape room that offered some unusual interactions and puzzles.

At times this mission felt futuristic and spaceship-y. Other times, it felt like an escape room of locked boxes.

While I enjoyed many of the puzzles, as we escaped, I found myself wishing that the concluding story beats, puzzles, and interactions felt more like they had belonged on this spaceship.

Overall, if you’re in Antibes, France, and looking to play an escape room, this would be a fun choice with interesting puzzles.

In-game: A pilot's chair in front of a computer station in a spaceship.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting and varied puzzles
  • Nifty moments

Story

The European Space Agency had received a signal from a missing ship that was returning with samples from Jupiter’s moon Europa. We had to board the ship and return with the samples.

Setting

Europa was set on a futuristic spaceship.

The set was uneven. Most of the game had a steel and space-y look. Some segments looked like a traditional lock-and-key escape game.

In-game: Closeup of a steel floor.

Gameplay

Lockout’s Europa was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Lockout designed some excellent, layered puzzles.

➖ Europa presented us with a mission and detailed steps to follow to achieve it. It wasn’t clear, however, which puzzles fit with this series of objectives. We played a decent amount of this game in the dark because of this confusion.

➕ We especially liked the use of augmented reality in one puzzle.

➕/➖ One interesting puzzle concept missed a beat. We liked the inventive concept, but the solution was only partially clued.

➕ Lockout executed standard escape room puzzle concepts to facilitate teamwork. This worked well.

➖ Europa was a heavily padlocked spaceship containing a lot of locked boxes. It felt overly locked with props and locks that didn’t aesthetically match the game concept. This contributed to a general feeling that too many items in this game didn’t belong on a spaceship.

➖ The win was anticlimactic. Solving a complex puzzle yielded yet another key. We would have liked to see that solve integrated contextually into the story of this spaceship and our escape from it.

Tips For Visiting

  • You must be able to read and understand French to play Europa.

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

YULU – Fire Quest [Review]

🔥

Location: at home

Date Played: June 8, 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 15 minutes*

Price: $??.??

REA Reaction

Fire Quest torched our expectations. We set this DIY obstacle course up for my 11 year-old cousin at my brother’s 30th birthday party. Within a few minutes, 10 people spanning 3 generations were running around our makeshift challenge course competing for the best time.

Fire Quest can play well for young children or older kids with good motor skills. The players define the course, making it as easy or hard as they desire. With a bit of creativity, it works remarkably well for adults. Additionally, this could make for an epic drinking game.

While there’s room for improved variety in Fire Quest’s built-in components, consider this a strong recommendation for families, children, and adults who haven’t forgotten how to enjoy themselves.

In-game: The torch glowing blue on its cradle and the Fire Quest box.

Sadly Fire Quest was a limited release by YULU. It will not be distributed through their regular channels. This is too bad because it’s a fabulous game. At the end of the review, you’ll find links to a few marketplaces with limited quantities of Fire Quest available for purchase. Buy it now if you want it. This might be your only chance. We hope it gets a wider release some day.

Who is this for?

  • Anyone with a willingness to play
  • People with a bit of mobility
  • Fire Quest was designed for children

Why play?

  • It has appeal for players of all ages
  • The torch balances well but not effortlessly
  • It’s easy to set up, learn, and administer
  • Endlessly adaptable

Story

We entered a temple filled with obstacles and treasure. We had to carry our torch through the challenges in order to earn our prize.

Setup

Fire Quest was fantastically straightforward. We had a torch that cradled a fireball.

To start the game, one player picked up the torch from its base, starting the timer. Upon lifting, the torch randomly started glowing one of five colors. The colors corresponded to a challenge that we had setup around us. Whatever color the torch glowed was the challenge that required completion. That player cycled through all five challenges in the order the torch demanded, returned the torch to its cradle, and checked their time.

In-game: Lisa passing the red torch through a red ring.

Red – Hoop Challenge

We had hung three hoops with big clips on a book shelf. The player had to pass the torch through those hoops.

Yellow – Balance Challenge

Four paper disks each depicted a different task (step on the disk and touch it with your hand, pivot 360 degrees on the disk, etc). The player had to navigate a path of these disks following the instructions while traversing them and acting like the surrounding floor was lava.

In-game: the set of green cards and the green pad.

Green – Action Challenge

The player drew one of five cards. Each card depicted a trick that had to be done with the torch (pass the torch behind your back, between your legs, etc).

Blue – Rope Challenge

The player clipped the torch to a blue rope and had to lead the torch along the rope’s path.

In-game: Lisa placing the purple torch onto the purple pad.

Purple – Obstacle Challenge

This was my personal favorite challenge. Fire Quest asked us to create our own obstacle (climb over/ crawl under a thing, jump over something, etc).

Gameplay

YULU’s Fire Quest was a DIY obstacle course with a customizable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay – as defined by the instructions – revolved around balance, coordination, and dexterity… but you could use this torch to facilitate a wide variety of challenges.

Analysis

+ The torch and fireball were the core of Fire Quest. YULU nailed this. Balancing the fireball isn’t brutally challenging, but if you do something too difficult or stop paying attention, gravity will do its thing. They balanced the… balance. When the fireball dropped the player always knew it was their own fault.

+ The LED lighting of the fireball mixed with the sound effects and timer felt satisfying and drew in new people.

– There was one small problem with the torch: accidentally double-tapping on the slam pads. Less careful players could easily double press the button, effectively bypassing a challenge from the torch’s perspective. This could have been avoided by YULU disabling the button for a few seconds after it has depressed.

+ The baked-in timer made the game really easy to self administer.

+ The hoops fit together snugly but had built in break points. If impacted, they could separate without actually breaking.

– We found ourselves wishing that YULU had done a little more with the paper components like the yellow stepping stones and the green challenge cards. A few more of these items would have added a lot of depth to the challenges at minimal expense.

– The yellow stepping stones would be better laminated or made of a more durable material. They do get stepped on, after all.

Fire Quest brought together three generations for a little while to do something new.

+ By having the timer count up instead of down, it allowed everyone to play at their own pace and ability. It also allowed us to make increasingly lengthy and complex challenges without slamming into a limited timer.

Fire Quest was a game that begged for creativity. I think that YULU did this knowingly. The purple challenge was designed as a “create your own challenge,” which ensured that every player knew that creating challenges was an option. Fire Quest wasn’t rigid. It suggested how to play and then invited customization, silliness, and adaptation… It wanted us to play.

Tips for Playing

  • Batteries not included. Fire Quest requires 3 AAA’s.
  • Some of the torch colors don’t illuminate clearly in sunlight. Yellow was particularly difficult to see in the sun.
  • Use your imagination and feel free to reinvent the challenges as you see fit.
  • If you turn this into a drinking game, please do so responsibly.
  • For playground play or other simplified purposes, Fire Quest could be reduced to the torch and the cradle.

Buy your copy of YULU’s Fire Quest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Fire Quest is available in limited quantities from Zulily and Ebay and Christianbook.com and Walmart.

Disclosure: YULU gave us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

13th Hour Escape Rooms – The Grand Parlor [Review]

The Grand Parlor

Earn the urn. 

Location:  Wharton, NJ

Date Played: October 28, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The “grand” in Grand Parlor was not an overstatement. 

13th Hour Escape Rooms delivered a creepy interactive adventure, for a larger team, on a large scale. 

The Grand Parlor felt epic and delightful. 

In-game: The two story grand parlor featuring a door chained shut under a a large balcony.

While not every puzzle made sense in the experience, or was on the same level, the vast majority of the gameplay elevated the impressive gamespace… and the majority of our critique is about details that wouldn’t even get mentioned in our reviews of more average games. 

The big brother of the Hayden family with murder in his eyes.

We visited 13th Hour in October to experience the effect of actors on The Grand Parlor. We loved this augmentation, but your mileage will vary depending on your gameplay preferences (see below for a full explanation of the actors and how to get or avoid them).

If you are anywhere near northwestern New Jersey, and can enjoy an eerie and sinister vibe, we highly recommend an excursion to 13th Hour Escape Rooms. We’ve loved many of their escape rooms and The Grand Parlor was no exception. It rivaled The Great Room.

The big brother of the Hayden family choking David.
(Atypical customer service, David had this coming.)

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the creepy
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Expansive and immersive set
  • Large-scale interactive puzzles
  • Epic and joyous moments

Story

The ashes of Bishop, a notorious killer and beloved member of the Hayden family, had gone missing. If we could help the Haydens find Bishop’s urn, then they would let us leave their parlor unharmed.

In-game: View over the balcony to a wooden box with a faint red glow emanating from it.

Setting

The Grand Parlor was set in the most spacious area of the creepy Hayden family farmhouse. From the dark and foreboding entryway, it opened up into a massive space with height, depth, and hiding places. The props ranged from parlor staples to farmhouse essentials.

In-game: A view atop the balcony, the railing is casting an intricate shadow.

Gameplay

13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

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

While the puzzles were not especially difficult on their own, the large gamespace and large-team dynamic raised the level of difficulty of the overall experience.

The older sister of the Hayden family with blood spattered across her face and dress.

Actors in October

13th Hour runs a haunted house in additional to their 5 escape rooms. On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentines Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The 6 actors roam the 5 escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters.

The father of the Hayden family looking creepy in a torn up suit.

The set, story, puzzles, and gameplay do not change for October. The escape rooms are open year round.

We visited The Grand Parlor during October to experience the actors in the escape room. Our other reviews of other 13th Hour games do not include this discussion because we did not visit those games when the actors were in rotation.

The younger brother of the Hayden family with a large eye wound.

➕ The actors were impressive. They added character to the experience. They surprised us at well-timed moments. They were a ton of fun. If you’re looking for feels and immersion over focused puzzles, I highly recommend playing these escape rooms with the actors.

➖ At times, the actors were heavy-handed. They were the hint system as well as added character for the space. If you want focused puzzle-play, don’t visit in October. You’ll be frustrated by the interruptions. You’ll also have less control over the hinting.

A visit to 13th Hour in October is an individual decision. The actors don’t make the escape rooms better or worse. They make them different. We loved the creepy, playful horde roaming Hayden’s farm. They improvise and have fun with you. It’s also perfectly reasonable to have zero interest in that added layer. 

Animation of the younger sister of the Hayden watching TV while holding her dolls. She occasionally lunges forward and sticks her tongue out.

Analysis

➕ The set was impressive. It was detailed and designed. The vertical scale and the decor were captivating. It was an incredible environment to explore and puzzle through.

➕ The gamespace opened up over the course of play with exciting, grand reveals as well as more surprising, quiet opens.

➖ It was easy to miss the best moments if they triggered while we were elsewhere in the gamespace, working on something different. The Grand Parlor would have benefited from gameflow that guided all players into position to witness the most exciting moments.

The Grand Parlor was creepy, playful, and joyous. Note for the timid: it was creepy, but not scary.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms produced layered, but approachable puzzles. We had to connect elements across the large gamespace, which forced communication and teamwork. This structure worked really well.

➖ The gamespace echoed a lot. With a large team of players – and the actors as well – the space was full of commotion. Communication became frustrating.

The 13th Hour Hallway
The entire facility is themed. This is their main hallway.

➕ 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ entire facility is themed. Their lobby and hallways look more aesthetically impressive than most escape rooms. 

➕ For one simple puzzle, 13th Hour designed an original take on a common escape room trope. It was phenomenal.

➖ We spent a lot of time trying to solve one puzzle before we had all the information. We would have appreciated additional gating here, especially because the eventual solution didn’t feel like adequate payoff for the wasted time.

➖ A few interactions seemed to belong in a different game. One in particular didn’t make sense – conceptually or aesthetically – in the Hayden family’s parlor.

➕ One standard parlor prop surprised us with an impromptu, silly, and playful interlude. It was delightful. 

➕ The large-scale interactions supported the grandeur of the set. These contributed to nifty and satisfying puzzle solves that felt great in the gamespace.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking available.
  • We recommend Hot Rods BBQ.
  • Most of the team needs to be able to climb stairs. While it is possible for a player or two to play The Grand Parlor without climbing any stairs, if you play this way, you’ll miss significant components of the game.

Book your hour with 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ The Grand Parlor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 13th Hour Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

A special thanks to the Hayden Family for allowing David to photograph them and live.

Heyou Escape – La Terrible Affaire Bambell [Review]

The Terrible Bambell Affair (available in English)

Location:  Le Cannet, France

Date Played: September 30, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 24-30 € per person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

I keep telling people about La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

Heyou Escape’s horror thriller was one of the most interesting escape rooms we’ve encountered in our travels. 

All about story and fear, La Terrible Affaire Bambell relied on traditional escape room gameplay to facilitate the narrative and the feelings it created in players.

This escape room worked because of creativity, hard work, and commitment. 

La Terrible Affaire Bambell wasn’t a good or a bad escape room. It was theatrical. It was terrifying. It was a weak puzzle game… hell, it was barely a puzzle game. It was an intense and interesting experience. 

If you’re looking for traditional, puzzle-driven, non-threatening escape room gameplay, do not play La Terrible Affaire Bambell. If you’re in the south of France and you seek something unique that might shift your perspective on what an escape room can be, then Heyou Escape’s first outing is a must-play.

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

Who is this for?

  • Horror fiends 
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Frights
  • Worldbuilding
  • Thought-provoking conclusion

Story

We were new police recruits on a risky first assignment. Our sergeant had tasked us with investigating the apartment of a suspected serial killer. 

This man had been monitored by police for some time; they were confident that this was the guy. We need to inspect his residence to determine if he was the killer and how many people he had murdered.

There were two catches: 

  • He had a photographic memory. We had to put everything back exactly as we had found it. Because… 
  • He could return to his home while we were investigating. If he returned, we had to hide. 

Given the dangers, our sergeant would be on the radio supporting us the entire time. 

In-game: A "special police" badge.

Setting

Heyou Escape led us to an apartment in a real apartment building. En route, he improvisationally melded the real life environment with the game world. 

Once our sergeant had “picked the lock” to the apartment, he left us in a dark, creepy living room lit only by a few flashlights (that were chained to the wall). 

In-game: a globe in a dark room.

Gameplay

Heyou Escape’s La Terrible Affaire Bambell was an unusual theatrical horror escape room with a higher level of difficulty (more on that in the analysis).

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and enduring the tension. 

In-game: A skinned stuffed animal in a dark room.

Analysis

➕ La Terrible Affaire Bambell was unique. Its story, rules, and approach to gameplay were unlike anything we’d encountered in more than 650 escape rooms. 

➕ Heyou Escape established their story and world by integrating the real world into the experience. This was brilliant and immersive. 

❓ La Terrible Affaire Bambell was scary. This was the first game that we had ever played where one of our teammates quit in the middle of the game (and no, that wasn’t Lisa!). Heyou Escape told us that 30% of teams have at least one player abandon due to fear. Whether this is amazing or terrible is up to you.

➕ Heyou Escape introduced a game mechanic that I spent more than half of the game thinking was stupid… until it turned into my favorite aspect of the game. I cannot say more without ruining it.

➕/➖ The mediocre puzzles only worked because of the heavy gamemaster involvement (which was well integrated into the game). That being said, the puzzles were never the reason to play La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

➕/➖ The set was creepy. It established the right tone, but it didn’t look incredible. It also lacked believable hiding places (which really were critical to this narrative).

➕/➖ The hiding from the serial killer was intense even if I couldn’t believe that we were effectively hiding ourselves from the killer.

➕ The actor/ gamemastering was fantastic. It made this world feel real, even when we could see the seams. We further commend Heyou Escape for delivering all the dialogue in English. (We later received a behind the scenes glimpse that demonstrated just how hard the staff had to work to make this crazy experience work.)

➖ The ending came too late… or the climax came a little too early. By the time that La Terrible Affaire Bambell had come to a conclusion, the story had begun to unravel. 

➕ Heyou Escape left us with an interesting question about the game… and the more I thought about it that evening over dinner and wine… the more I appreciated the uniqueness of La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

Tips For Visiting

  • This is truly a horror game. Be prepared to be scared.
  • Players need to be fairly mobile.

Book your hour with Heyou Escape’s La Terrible Affaire Bambell, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

I Lock You – Meurtre à Hollywood [Review]

Murder in Hollywood (available in English)

Location:  Nice, France

Date Played: October 1, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 90-144 € per team depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

From the premise to the gameplay of the second half, Meurtre à Hollywood was an unusual escape game. Our goal wasn’t to escape, stop a calamity, or find some special item. We needed to figure out how to arrange the set for filming a television show.

With this unusual setup, I Lock You’s second game started out as a traditional escape room and transitioned into something different. I Lock You used these differences to craft an interesting environment and unique puzzles to match it.

In-game: The chalk outline of a body at movie set of a crime scene around a poker table.

While the puzzle flow and set design quality varied heavily throughout Meurtre à Hollywood, the overall experience was memorable and worthy.

If you’re in Nice and looking to explore an escape room that does something a bit different with the medium, I strongly recommend Meurtre à Hollywood.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Puzzle quantity, quality, and intrigue
  • Amusingly dramatic finale

Story

Our Hollywood careers were taking off; we landed roles on a popular crime drama staring Scarlett J. Unfortunately the crew that was supposed to arrange the set had been fired. If Scarlett were to show up at filming time and find the set in disarray, she would surely quit the show. We had to save our acting career and the production by reasoning out how to assemble the set before its star entered.

In-game: the desk and mirror in a movie star's dressing room.

Setting

Meurtre à Hollywood spanned two spaces: Scarlett’s dressing room and the crime scene set that we had to make right.

The dressing room was simple and plain, but had the right props to indicate its purpose. 

The crime scene was vibrant, with lively lighting. This segment of the game was unusual and interesting. 

In-game: A well lit movie set of a crime scene around a poker table.

Gameplay

I Lock You’s Meurtre à Hollywood was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Meurtre à Hollywood delivered unique gameplay; the concept behind the second half was new to us.

➕ We especially liked the tangible interactions that facilitated deeply layered solves.

➖ The set and prop aesthetics varied a lot. While some elements had charm and quality, the gamespace mostly looked homemade and messy. Additionally, I Lock You included a lot of clue structure on laminated paper.

➕ Some of Meurtre à Hollywood’s best puzzle moments shed new light on the movie set and altered our perspectives.

➕/➖ I Lock You went 1 for 2 on transitions. In one instance, they surprised us with an unexpected open. In another, we wanted to move forward, but the cluing was tenuous for a puzzle that seemed a lame choice of gating.

➖ The puzzle flow was rough. It was easy to derive solutions without a place to input them or a clear way to keep them organized for later use.

➕ I Lock You’s destructible worked well. Their cluing on this was smart. 

➕ The final scene was dramatic and entertaining.

Tips For Visiting

  • This game is available in English.

Book your hour with I Lock You’s Meurtre à Hollywood, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: I Lock You provided media discounted tickets for this game.