Cards Against Humanity & Escape Rooms?

Last year we played and reviewed The Last Defender at the end of its run in Denver, Colorado. We absolutely loved it and awarded it a Golden Lock Award.

Promotional art for The Last Defender.

The Last Defender blended elements of escape rooms, puzzle hunts, and immersive theater into one 16-person game. Exploring Cold War nuclear deterrence and the notion of mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.), The Last Defender was as challenging as it was grimly hilarious.

One of the most impressive aspects of The Last Defender was that while we played it in late 2019, it debuted in 2016. We had been hearing about it for years. It was clearly ahead of its time.

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.

After we published the review we learned that The Last Defender was returning home to Chicago, and the team behind it was launching a new game – Nova To Lodestar, and both of these games were going to live inside of a board games cafe funded by Cards Against Humanity.

We recently spoke with the folks behind this incredible collaboration:

  • Nathan Allen, Writer & Director
  • Sandor Weisz, Puzzle Designer
  • Max Temkin, Cards Against Humanity co-founder

Cards Against Humanity’s Board Game Cafe’s Intentions

Temkin: “The board game cafe is Cards Against Humanity’s ambitious plan to provide a community center of sorts for Chicago’s gaming community,”

Tables at the beautiful Chicago Game Cafe

The venue has everything that you’d expect from a board game cafe plus a small event space for talks, learn-to-plays, and other gatherings… and it has room for 2 permanent escape rooms by The House Theatre.

The Last Defender’s Success Wasn’t Overnight

Allen: “House Theatre has its name because ‘the house’ is the audience and we were trying to find ways to make the experience of being an audience member more vital and exciting. We were called immersive long before immersive theater was a thing.”

In-game: a character in a black rabbit costume standing before a multi-colored world map.

The Last Defender’s Goals & Ambitions Drove Its Success

The House Theatre’s aspirations when creating their first foray into escape rooms were to:

  • Translate narrative into game design.
  • Build empathy through characters and story.
  • Make the players themselves the protagonists, so they relate to one another.

Cards Against Humanity Wanted To Collaborate With Theatre People

Temkin: “We went to SCRAP in 2012. I had just been chasing after escape rooms. I felt like escape rooms needed theatre people because they bring in sound, light, actor, narrative, and prop design. They understand that this is really about story.”

Nova to Lodestar is a Response to the Lessons of The Last Defender

Weisz:The Last Defender was my first attempt at building something that immersive and complex. I’m really happy with where we landed, because while the puzzles on the whole are difficult, I feel like the puzzle design is elegant, which is the quality I value most.”

“As we approached Nova to Lodestar, we both wanted to stretch the bounds of what we know an immersive game to be, and to focus less on any kind of conventional puzzle format. With every design decision, we’re asking ourselves how this affects the emotional stakes and emotional payoff. Everything is in service of that.”

Nova to Lodestar preview poster art depicts a doomed space crew.

Allen:Nova to Lodestar is a response to what we learned. To further deepen the connection of the player and their agency.”

“We’re doing things like eliminating the clock, I hate clocks in games. It is inherently destructive to didactic feeling. In The Last Defender, skilled players race the clock, rather than trying to prevent the missiles from launching. In Nova to Lodestar, you can’t see the clock – it’s resource management that is the time limit, but you’re never confronted with time. The clock is a resource of ore – which keeps the players in a constant state of decision making – not just winning or losing. Nova to Lodestar is also less puzzle-based and more focused on a broader notion of gameplay.”

“We’ve turned the game from tactical to strategic. It should feel very different in the way you play.”

The House Theatre Is Avoiding Binary Win/ Lose Conditions

Allen: “I want to make experiences that aren’t so binary. Did you get out?”

Initially The Last Defender had binary win/ lose scenarios, but they added a third in-between scenario and it made the game far more interesting. We didn’t experience this particular conclusion, but I personally loved the threat of it while playing.

The Last Defender May Continue to Tour

I cannot confirm particular locations, but The House Theatre is hoping to tour The Last Defender to different parts of the country with Chicago as its home base.

Cards Against Humanity is Far More Than A Board Game Company

Temkin:Cards is weird as a company and a game. None of us are game designers, I dabbled in it but never thought that it would be a career. Our goal isn’t to make a lot of board games, our goal is to make people laugh. Not gamers, just people. A lot of Cards Against Humanity is just sitting around with your friends laughing and not on your phones.”

“We aren’t always thinking that we need to make another comedy card game to create that feeling.”

Cards is a catharsis of laughing at something you aren’t supposed to laugh at… and The Last Defender is the same way.”

Back in 2016, Cards Against Humanity made a 6,000 person month-long escape room/ ARG… is that happening again?

Weisz: “When that game ended, I was so high on the goodwill of this little community we had built that I couldn’t imagine not doing it again and keeping that community going. But it turns out it didn’t need me; it kept itself going on its own. The Slack communities from that game are active to this day!”

“I’ve since built another ARG — for Field Notes — that was smaller in scale but had the exact same effect: a really lovely, and loving, community of solvers, who are still friends today. To me that’s the best possible outcome of an ARG game like that.”

“I love making ARGs and definitely want to do it again. It’s just really hard to start one up on my own. I have no idea if there’s a model there where I can charge people to participate. If I get enough encouragement from the community, maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

Closing Thoughts

Speaking with these guys, I felt a strong connection to their goals and approaches.

I’ve always seen the rise of escape rooms and tabletop gaming as part of an equal and opposite reaction to the shift of socialization largely happening on a screen.

Additionally, their theatrical approach to game design is completely in line with our larger vision for the future of escape rooms and immersive gaming. The ideas that we talked about are among the many concepts that are underpinning the RECON, the Reality Escape Convention that we’re hosting in Boston this August. I hope that you come join us and help build a stronger community and future for escape rooms and immersive games.

Learn More

Where To Get Custom Jigsaw Puzzles

A great gift for a jigsaw puzzler is a one-of-a-kind puzzle. I know this because I’ve given a few of these gifts and they are always a hit.

I’ve found 2 different companies that do a wonderful job at this, depending upon the price point and level of quality that you’re seeking.

Traditional Jigsaw Puzzles from Ravensburger

Ravensburger makes some of the nicest traditional jigsaw puzzles on the market. They vary their piece shapes, use good card stock, and have less puzzle dust than most of the jigsaw puzzles that have crossed my table. Also, I really like their trademark blue backings.

If you’d like to have Ravensburger make a custom puzzle for you, it’s easy.

Closeup of Ravensburger puzzle pieces in the box.

They call them Custom Photo Puzzles. All that you have to do is:

  • Take a good photo that is jigsaw puzzle-worthy. (I’ll talk about that at the bottom of this post.)
  • Upload a photograph that’s at least 150 dpi to their website
  • Select a size
    • $27.92: 100-300 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $31.92: 500 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $35.92: 1000 pieces, 27″ x 20″
    • $39.92: 1500 pieces, 31.5″ x 23.6″
  • Pay and wait 1 to 2 weeks
Custom Ravensburger 500 piece puzzle of Love Locks

The final product arrives in a beautiful tin with a sticker of the image on the outside.

Laser Cut Wood Puzzles from Liberty Puzzles

If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, Liberty Puzzles, the makers of fine laser-cut wood puzzles, also offers custom jigsaw puzzles… and they are gorgeous.

Image of an intricate wooden jugsaw puzzle depicting art from the San Francisco World's Fair. "The Jewel City" shows a tower with lights matching teh colors of the rainbow emerging from it.
I made this for our dear friends Amanda & Drew as a memento of one of their favorite escape games.

Like Ravensburger, Liberty Puzzles is easy to work with. All you have to do is:

  • Take a quality, jigsaw puzzle worthy image
  • Upload it as a jpg or gif (and I’d suggest 150 dpi as a minimum starting place for quality)
  • Select a size:
    • $130: Small – 9 x 13in., 225-250 pieces
    • $160: Large – 13 x 17in.,  425-500 pieces
  • Pay and wait for delivery. Remember that Liberty Puzzles is a small business and they can become overrun during busy seasons. (This year they stopped selling custom puzzles in the middle of November, which is why this wasn’t on our 2019 holiday buyer’s guide.)
Close up of the intricately shaped Liberty Puzzle pieces assembled.
Liberty Puzzles don’t come in sealed boxes… so I might have assembled it before giving it to them. Don’t judge me. I never claimed that I was a perfect person.

The final product looks just like any other puzzle from Liberty Puzzles. It will arrive in an elegant navy blue box with a sticker of the image. Within, you’ll find the wooden pieces neatly wrapped in tissue paper and smelling of burnt wood.

What Makes a Good Jigsaw Puzzle Image?

A few things come to mind:

  • A good variety of colors and textures
  • Sharp imagery. Blurriness isn’t great in a puzzle.
  • Depth is really cool (if you can get it without too much blurriness). A pronounced foreground, middle, and background makes the puzzling experience far more interesting
  • You own the image. The companies will send you packing if you submit an obviously copyrighted image. (The Jewel City art was in the public domain.)
  • The image matters to the person who’s receiving it as a gift.

I usually use my own photography to create a custom puzzle. In one instance I used an illustration that’s in the public domain.

Whether you choose Ravensburger or Liberty Puzzle, you’ll be giving a quality, personalized product.

2020 Escape Game Wishlist

At the beginning of last year I wrote a lengthy aspirational list of games that we hoped to play in 2019. At the request of one of our Patreon supporters, I’m going to take a look back at that list, see what kind of dent we put into it, and add new games that are on our radar.

The genie lamp from Aladdin high up on a pedistal.

How’d We Do in 2019?

Of the 11 new games from companies that we’ve visited in the past, we visited 3:

We were supposed to play 13th Gate’s Asylum… but a hurricane thwarted our plans. Sigh.

Of the 14 unfamiliar companies on the list, we visited 4:

At two of these companies, we played Golden Lock Award-winning games!

In all cases, we played all of the most highly recommended games at the companies… no regrets!

Of the 4 new countries that we were hoping to visit in 2019… we visited exactly zero of them.

2020 Wishlist

I’m going to use the same breakdown as last year, and include all of the games and places that we didn’t visit. New 2020 additions will appear in bold.

New Games, Familiar Companies

Unfamiliar Companies

  • Bewilder Box – Brighton, UK
  • Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space – Urbana, IL
  • Clue IQ – Frederick, MD
  • Crime Runners – Vienna, Austria
  • Cyber Racoon – Falls Church, VA (how great is that name?)
  • Edge of Escape – Zion, IL
  • Enter The Imaginarium – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Enter/Locked – Jackson, MS
  • Escape Room Herndon – Herndon, VA
  • Immersia – Montreal, Canada
  • Locked In Edinburgh – Edinburgh, UK
  • Maine Escape Games – Portland, ME
  • MindTrap Escape Rooms – Murrieta, CA
  • Myss Tic Rooms – New York, NY (if they are able to reopen)
  • Mystery Mansion Escape – Little Rock, AR
  • Nick of Time Escapes – Swain, NY
  • Olde City Escape Games – Philadelphia, PA
  • Paradox Project – Athens, Greece
  • Pier Pressure – Brighton, UK
  • Ravenchase Adventures – Richmond, VA
  • The Chamber – Prague, Czech Republic
  • The Sanctuary – Oklahoma City, OK
  • Xscapes – Binghamton, NY (to play their licensed Twilight Zone room)

New Travel Destinations

  • Athens, Greece
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Beijing & Shanghai, China
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Paris, France
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Tel Aviv, Israel

Recommendations Welcome

If you have additional recommendations that should be on this list, please add them in the comments! (Please note if you’re recommending your own game.)

Coming Soon: Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award 2019

Tune in this Saturday, December 21, at 1pm PST / 4pm EST / 9pm GMT / 10pm CET / 11pm EET / 8am Sunday AEDT for the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award (TERPECA) 2019 winners!

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2019 logo.

All the Time Zones

The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the rankings of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world… and to do so, the team behind TERPECA reached out to escape room players from across the globe.

In phase 1, the most experienced players (over 200 games played) nominated their top 20 escape rooms. In phase 2, highly experienced players (over 50 games played) ranked these rooms. And then TERPECA creator Rich Bragg did lots of black magic complex math to bring you the winners.

TERPECA is not a Room Escape Artist project; however David and I are on the advisory committee. We’re excited about this announcement! We’ve seen the results and we’ll be publishing an analysis after they are made public.


Follow the TERPECA Facebook Page for updates and details on how to watch the livestream.

Following the livestream, the results will be published on the TERPECA website.

More Information

Learn more about TERPECA in this earlier announcement calling for nominators and voters.

This is the second year of Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award. Read about last year’s winners here.

To reiterate, this award is not produced by Room Escape Artist. It is not the same as our Golden Lock Award, our award for our favorite rooms we played in any given calendar year. Our 2019 Golden Lock Award livestream and announcement will take place on Saturday, January 4, 2020.

Reminder: New York City Escape Room and Immersive Meetup on Wednesday!

This Wednesday join us for the New York City Everything Immersive Meetup, co-hosted by Room Escape Artist and our friends at No Proscenium.

Glo and Bulder looking into one another's eyes with the mountain in the background.


Please RSVP on Facebook or by contacting us.

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2019
  • Starting at 6:00pm and continuing for a few hours
  • Shades of Green Pub (125 E 15th St between Irving Pl and 3rd Ave)
  • We will be congregating in the back room

This is a casual gathering. There is no formal programming. Stop by at your leisure.

For more information, read the meetup announcement or check out the Facebook Event.

Should I Attend?

We love meeting other folks who enjoy immersive entertainment. This is a space to share ideas, find collaborators, talk about experiences (with spoilers!), and give/ get recommendations.

If you’re part of the New York City escape room and immersive community – or if you happen to be in town this week – we’d love to meet you.

Also, we’ll have some popular friends joining us from the other side of the world!

Easy Ways to Design Escape Rooms For Colorblindness

8% of men and 0.5% of women are colorblind. (Colorableness & National Eye Institute).

This is probably something that we should talk about a little more often.

A flower depicting the color spectrum in normal vision
Normal Vision

I’m going to give you a little background information. Then I’m going to show you a few easy ways that you can adapt your escape rooms to make them fully playable for players with colorblindness.

You can make your escape rooms playable for people with colorblindness with minimal effort and without spending any additional money.

Finally, the improvements that you make for players with colorblindness will improve the game for normal-sighted players as well.

Accessible Design

Accessible design is a design process in which the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered.” (

There are times where it isn’t possible to create something that can be universally experienced in the same way. However, there are ways to ensure that the thing can be experienced at all.


Professionally in my life as a digital UX designer, I’ve been practicing and advocating for accessible design for over a decade. I’ve written a white paper on this and given talks on the subject. (I no longer work for Phase2, but I’m still proud of this talk.):

Designing Escape Rooms For Colorblindness

How do we design escape rooms for colorblindness?

Most people with colorblindness can see color. They just don’t see it in the same way that normal-sighted folks see it. While monochromacy is a thing, it is incredibly rare.

With that in mind, here are 3 techniques that I recommend.

Colorblindness Simulation

The Coblis — Color Blindness Simulator is a free web app that allows you to upload images and see what they look like to people with different types of colorblindness.

And yes, you read that correctly, there are a number of different forms of colorblindness. Red-green colorblindness is the most common by a wide margin and gets all of the attention.

How Do I Use This?

Run images of your puzzles, designs, and interactions through the simulator and ensure that there is enough contrast that the colors appear different from one another.

In general, high color contrast helps.

That’s the key. Just make sure that every player has the opportunity to visually differentiate relevant colors from one another.

This is the same image run through the simulator to visualize different forms of colorblindness:

Additional Indicators

If you’re planning to use color as an indicator, add another layer such as a texture or a symbol.


Magic the Gathering color symbols. A white sun, a blue water drop, a green tree, a red fire, and a black skull.

Combining colors with symbols means that players aren’t in the position where they have to communicate color. They can communicate by the corresponding symbol if they so choose.


Similarly, adding a unique background texture that corresponds with the color can provide another way to differentiate between, say, purple and blue.


We beat this drum often: provide adequate lighting.

If you’re using low lighting for atmosphere, that can be cool. Please provide spotlighting for workspaces, puzzles, and inputs.

This will help improve the experience for all of your players, not just your players with colorblindness.

The Bottom Line

Make the experience a bit smoother for everyone by improving color contrast, giving people more than just color to identify gameplay components, and providing good lighting.

There are disabilities that are truly difficult to design around. We may explore those in the future. Colorblindness, however, is one that doesn’t have to be a problem most of the time.

Last Chance for New Orleans Tour Tickets!

The purple, gold, and blue Escape Immerse Explore New Orleans Logo

If you’re on the fence about Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans this July, you have 1 week left to decide… unless other people claim the last few tickets first.

The last day to purchase tickets is Tuesday, May 28.

This tour takes place Friday July 12 – Sunday July 14.

Your Ticket Includes

This tour includes 9 escape rooms and numerous other awesome things!

  • Escape My Room, New Orleans (2 escape rooms)
  • Clue Carré, New Orleans (2 escape rooms)
  • 13th Gate Escape, Baton Rouge (5 escape rooms… including their new horror game Asylum!)
  • An immersive puzzle event set in the French Quarter, designed and produced by Escape My Room
  • A weekend with Lisa and David as escape room tour guides
  • A talk by Lisa and David
  • A catered group meal
  • Bus transportation to 13th Gate Escape
  • Exclusive discount coupons to book additional escape rooms at these venues
  • Networking with other tour attendees
  • The option to play an escape room with Lisa or David
  • Event t-shirt

We have an incredible group of folks coming to this event from all over the country… and even from the other side of the world. Yes, 1 person is coming from Australia! On this trip you will have teammates who are as excited about these escape rooms as you are!

This is all included in your ticket for $799 per person.

Take Advantage

While in town, you can take advantage of the amazing food, drink, and partying that New Orleans has to offer.

Escape My Room will have Escape Extinction: Sharks running at the aquarium. Clue Carré will have new games open at their new location in Surge Trampoline Park. While these games aren’t officially part of the tour, you will have time to book them while you are in town. You will be some of the first players in the community to see these new attractions.

Don’t Wait

These tickets are only available until Tuesday, May 28th. There are only a few left and we anticipate they will sell out before the week is up. Buy your ticket today!

Any questions? Read the FAQ or contact us. We’re happy to help you figure out if this tour is right for you.

San Francisco: Join us for Escape the Palace & a talk!

As part of Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace this June, Palace Games will be running a special session of Escape the Palace.

We invite San Francisco locals and anyone who might be in town that weekend to join us for this event.

Escape Immerse Explore Palace logo, uses art deco design elements.


  • Sunday, June 2
  • Palace Games (3362 Palace Drive, San Francisco, CA 94123)
  • 9:30am – Talk by Lisa and David, light breakfast served
  • 11:00am – Escape the Palace

Why Join?

  • Escape the Palace is only available for groups of 30 or more people. This is your chance to play.
  • Lisa and David will give a talk. It will be informative and funny.
  • You’ll get to meet enthusiasts from all over the country who are in town for this event. This is a great group of folks to hang out with!
  • You can spend some time chatting with Lisa and David.
  • If you’ve already played The Great Houdini Escape Room, The Roosevelt Escape Room, and The Edison Escape Room and you’re eagerly awaiting their 4th escape room… this is your chance to be back at Palace Games in between.


To learn more about Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace, visit the Palace Tour page of our website.

If you have specific questions about booking Escape the Palace / Talk Tickets, please contact us.

Solved: Mystery of the Meow Wolf Postcard

It is with great pleasure and relief that I report to you the closing of a most vexing mystery. 

And last night, we saw the Meow Wolf documentary… more on that below.

A Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return postcard.

The Mystery of the Meow Wolf Postcard

Back in early June we received an unsigned postcard summoning us to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I explained the particulars of the case when we put out a call for clues. 

A postcard addressed to "The Spiras" reads, "Meow Wolf is calling to you and you must go." No signature.

We had our suspects, but we couldn’t solve it… until Lisa caught a break. 

Case Closed

For the past 7 years (with one exception), Lisa and her longtime friend Roslyn have chosen a single day to walk the ~35 mile perimeter of Manhattan. The event is called The Great Saunter (although they never do it with the group or even on the same day). This year, they did their Great Saunter in November.

When you walk 3 dozen miles with a person in a single day, the conversation tends to cover a lot of ground. Roslyn, who had been a character in our wedding puzzle, mentioned that she had visited Meow Wolf. 

With that little bit of information, Lisa unravelled the puzzle that had been vexing us for 5 months. 

We had suspected so many people from the escape room and immersive theater worlds that we completely neglected to scrutinize suspects from other facets of our lives.

Meow Wolf Documentary

In other, related news, while we still haven’t had a chance to visit Meow Wolf (and we truly want to), we did go see their documentary in the theater last night. It was equal parts entertaining and interesting. 

If this kind of thing interests you, it’s now available for rent or purchase via the interweb.

A few hot-take thoughts:

  • The documentarians who pulled this together from old and new footage did a fantastic job. The film was energetic.
  • Meow Wolf’s origin story was legitimately riveting. Watching a collection of talented anarchistic artists struggle with success, organization, process, and commercialization was compelling. 
  • The friends who’ve been to Meow Wolf and described it to us did an amazing job. 
  • The film ended exactly where I was expecting, which was a declaration of aspirational commercial goals. This was an elaborate and artful commercial. I can’t blame them
  • Hearing someone say something like, “we don’t want to become like Disney” with contempt in their voice made me smile.