Room Escape Lover’s 2017 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

Now US-, Canada- & UK-friendly!

REA logo wearing a Santa hat.

‘Tis the season for gift giving… and stressing over finding great gifts. We’re here to help you find the perfect gift for your escape-rooming, puzzle-loving friends and family.

We’re not repeating anything from last year, so check out our first 2016 Holiday Buyer’s Guide for additional inspiration. 

Tabletop escape games

Let’s start with the obvious…

Escape-Room-Photo

Escape Room in a Box

(Amazon US)

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment was the first tabletop escape room we played… and gun to our heads, probably still our favorite. It was just as much fun when we revisited it this year when the Kickstarter shipped. A new version is now available for purchase just in time for the holidays!

Unlock Box Art

Unlock!

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Unlock! Escape Adventure is a card-based at-home escape game series with 3 games currently available. In terms of dollars for gameplay, these are a great deal… Plus, you won’t destroy them at all while playing the game! Read our full review.

In-game: A mess of cards, the decoder wheel, images of the cabin's rooms, and a book that reads,

Exit: The Game

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Exit: The Game is series of tabletop escape games with 3 games currently available in English (more in German). Again, in terms entertainment value for your money, these are a great deal… But go in knowing that you’re going to destroy this game while playing it. Read our full review.

Journal29 1

Journal 29

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Journal 29 is an intriguing puzzle book with a narrative experienced entirely through puzzles and illustration. It is deeper, more challenging, and more entertaining than your average puzzle book… but it ain’t a cakewalk. This thing will fight you. It’s a wonderful companion for a flight delay. Trust me, I know. Read our full review.

Many of the game's props and components staged. There are ciphers, grids, flags, maps, and photos.

Subscription – Escape The Crate

Among the current selection of at-home subscription games, we recommend Escape the Crate. In each episode, we chase the villain through time to stop him from altering history. Escape the Crate games are not polished (they look like prototypes); however they make up for it with innovative mechanics and consistent quality of gameplay.Read our reviews of Chapter 1 and then Chapters 2 and 3.

Home

A strange clock made of many gears and bicycle chains.

Needlessly Complex Clocks

Lisa and I don’t own one of these, but oh my, do we want the Dual Chain Planetary. If you’d like to spend lavishly on us this holiday season, this is at the top of our “we absolutely don’t need it, but we want it” list.

A while ceramic cup with black 1s and 0s imprinted all over.

inaeent ceramics

This Etsy shop has dozens of beautiful, strange, and unique bowls, plates, and cups. I love the Binary Wine or Tea Cup.

A chain standing upright, magically floating a bottle of wine.

Magic chain wine bottle holder

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This simple illusion proudly floats a wine bottle in our dining room. It’s amusing. Note that it doesn’t like wide-mouthed bottles. 

Tabletop games

These are a few collaborative games that escape room players will love:

Pandemic Legacy Seasons 1 / Season 2

(Season 1 – Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

(Season 2 – Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Pandemic is one of the great collaborative tabletop games. Pandemic Legacy turns it into an ongoing, episodic experience that permanently evolves, damages, and changes the board with each successive episode. It’s gaming with consequences.

Mysterium box art.

Mysterium

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This social game of deduction has one player facilitating as a ghost giving signs and the rest of the group playing as psychic detectives. It’s like Clue and Dixit had a much prettier and considerably more fun baby.

Arkham Horror the Card Game box art.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This Lovecraftian horror game is intense. It plays out over multiple campaigns and it’s shockingly challenging. If your character dies, they are gone for good. I grew so attached to my character that when he nearly perished at the end of an episode, I couldn’t sit still.

This game also has a boatload of expansions with more on the way. I’ve played them all and I love them.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB box art.
This box is far smaller than it appears.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This last one isn’t collaborative, but it’s a fantastic, inexpensive, compact, and quick 2-player head-to-head game that has both players vying for political dominance in a surprisingly well-researched and thought-out card game.

I love small games that don’t require long rule readings. This is a great casual game that anyone can learn.

Puzzles

A silver metal loop made of two interlocking pieces.

Cast Loop

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

This puzzle isn’t a killer, but the trick is clever. No matter how many times I solve it, I love the feel of it. Note that this puzzle is best presented in two pieces. It’s trivial to solve if someone hands it to you completed. 

A cast metal diamond of silver and black materials. They snugly fit together.

Cast Diamond

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

The Cast Diamond is another puzzle that won’t break your brain. It’s just a joy to solve and feels so satisfying. Note that this puzzle is best presented in two pieces. It’s trivial to solve if someone hands it to you completed. 

A bronze cast metal layer cake puzzle.

Cast Cake

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

You want something hard? Try separating this layer cake into 4 pieces. I’ll wait.

This thing took me forever to figure out and I’m not ashamed to say so. It’s tough.

Rubik's Triamid assembled but color jumbled.

Rubik’s Triamid

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

I wrote a full review of this long forgotten puzzle that captured my imagination as a child.

A multi colored ball made of up of tiny gears.

Gear Ball

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

I am terrible at Rubik’s Cube-type puzzles and have zero chance of solving this thing. Ever. However, this crazy ball of gears is so psychologically satisfying to manipulate that it doesn’t matter.

It’s absolutely purchasable as the thinking person’s fidget spinner.

The art for the Harry Potter Flying keys 1000 piece puzzle.

New York Puzzle Company – Harry Potter Flying Keys

(Amazon US, Amazon UK)

At 1,000 pieces, Harry Potter Flying Keys (and yes, it’s licensed) is the perfect jigsaw puzzle for escape room lovers. It’s beautiful. The New York Puzzle Company produces high quality puzzles (we reviewed a different one earlier this year).

They have many more puzzles to choose from if you’re looking for something different.

I am Lion, Wolf, Panda, & Horse

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

These animal head jigsaw puzzles are beasts to solve. They have irregular edges, large swaths of repeating patterns, consistent coloration, and unusual piece shapes. They range from 550-700 pieces.

“I am” is a pun because if you want to have a prayer of solving these, begin with the animal’s eyes.

If you love difficult jigsaw puzzles, this is a must-buy… but know that you’re playing on hard mode.

Tools

Sugru

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

It molds like silly putty and hardens into rubber. It’s insulated against electricity and it’s heat- and cold- resistant. This was one of the first things that we published about on Room Escape Artist over 3 years ago… so like 5 people have seen that post. I use it all of the time to repair and customize things around our home.

Fun fact: I once brought Sugru to a humanitarian crisis and fixed a whole bunch of things around a UN field office with it.

3M SandBlaster ultra flexible sanding sheets logo.

Sandblaster Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Hey escape room owners! I sure hate picking up splinters while playing escape rooms. This especially flexible sandpaper is fantastic for smoothing over all sorts of nooks and crannies. I am a big fan… and no, I’m not kidding… I think sandpaper is fantastic.

Video Games

Nintendo Switch+ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(Nintendo Switch – Amazon US, Amazon UK)

(Zelda– Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Breath of the Wild is a modern masterpiece and a brilliant display of adventure puzzle game design. Hopefully Nintendo makes enough Switches available this holiday season. If you can get your hands on one, you will not regret the time you spend exploring Hyrule.

A hand holding the tiny Super Nintendo Classic in the palm of a hand.

Super Nintendo Classic

My brother procured an SNES Classic for me and ever since our Escape Room Tour of NYC ended, I’ve been enjoying some of my all-time favorite video games once again. Mega Man X, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are three of the finest examples of game design out there.

There is so much to learn from and enjoy about these games.

The catch: These things are maddeningly hard to acquire at the moment, but if you get one, you win Christmas. I’m pretty sure that’s how this works. 

Books

The three installments of the End Game series. The gold covered first volume is on top of the pile.

Endgame Series

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Endgame is The Hunger Games for puzzle lovers. For anyone who enjoys dystopian teenager fiction and puzzles, this trilogy offers both. The first person to solve the puzzle in the first book Endgame: The Calling won $500k in gold. It’s a crazy hard puzzle.

Break Out book cover features an Apple II with Oregon Trail's load screen.

Break Out – How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

If you’re interested in the history of game design, the early PC gaming era is a treasure trove of stories and learning. Break Out chronicles the creation of many classic Apple II games. I loved the Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego chapters.

The cover art for the first volume of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Winston Breen is a puzzle-loving teenager. In this story, Lisa puzzled along with Winston as he got swept up in a treasure hunt. The book presents puzzles within an entertaining narrative. (Full review forthcoming.)

Movie

Movie cover for Raiders! depicts the 3 main characters dressed in their costumes.

Raiders! : The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

(Amazon US)

This documentary tells the insane story of a group of teens in the 1980s who decided to recreate Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark shot-for-shot. It took them years and thus their ages change from shot to shot. They almost killed themselves creating this. It’s a hell of a story.

The intensity and ingenuity demonstrated in this film reminds me of some of the most interesting escape room companies that I’ve encountered. It’s also streaming on Netflix at the moment.

Stocking stuffers

3 in 1 flip book cover

Flip book!

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Ok, I was skeptical too, but this thing is mesmerizing, beautiful, and so damn cool.

Packaging for 4 different gear ties. Art illustrates the flexibility and versatility of the product.

Nite Ize Reusable Rubber Twist Tie

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

We’re always on the move, electronics in tow. These reusable rubber twist ties are perfect for securing the cords for our phones and earbuds.

A quirky PowerCurl neatly wrapping a MacBook power cable.

Quirky PowerCurl

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

For our laptops, we swear by the Quirky PowerCurl for taming our Macbook power cables. Be sure to get the right size for your power cable. 

Escape room

Escape Again logo stylized.

This one might seem obvious… but you can give the gift of an escape room.

I recommend, however, that you plan out the entire excursion instead of buying a gift certificate. It’s better to provide the full experience rather than a gift card that’s likely to get lost.

Kids

Cover art. Young Pedro standing in front of a castle made of puzzles.

Pedro and the Puzzle Palace

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

I found Pedro and the Puzzle Palace in a local bookstore earlier this year, on a shelf promoting local authors. In this adorable picture book Pedro learns core values through puzzles. This is for real, little ones.

Spy Code Games

(Break FreeAmazon USAmazon CA)

(Operation Escape RoomAmazon US, Amazon CA)

(Safe BreakerAmazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

Spy Code offers 3 games for children: Break Free, Operation Escape Room, and Safe Breaker (reviewed individually). Each game teaches different puzzling skills through brightly colored plastic props, with some remarkably satisfying and fun interactions.

Box art and traffic jam puzzling components of Rush Hour Jr.

Rush Hour Jr.

(Puzzle Master US/UK/CA)

Rush Hour Jr. is a fun spatial puzzle for kids as young as 6. If this one seems a little too basic, try the version for adults instead.

Book cover for Top Secret, looks like a brown folder being held by a pair of black gloved hands.

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing

(Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA)

This fantastic book is perfect for helping kids learn the basics of cryptography… as well as the roots of so many escape room puzzles. It’s also a great read if you design escape rooms (full review).

Charity

Child's Play logo

Child’s Play

Ok, I lied. I’m repeating one thing from last year: supporting Child’s Play.

I’ve written about this a few times because I love this organization. They allow you to buy and send toys directly to children’s hospitals. There are plenty of good causes to give to, but since we’re focused on fun and games, I can’t think of a better way to give back than to provide some fun for kids who desperately need an escape.

Thank you!

If you purchase via our Amazon, Etsy, or Puzzle Master links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.

Please share this buyer’s guide far and wide.

We truly appreciate your support.

Boss Keys – An Analysis of Zelda Dungeons

For about a year I’ve been addicted to Mark Brown’s Boss Keys, an episodic analysis of the dungeon design and game mechanics of The Legend of Zelda videogame series.

The Boss Keys logo

Zelda’s legacy in escape rooms

Regardless of whether you’ve played Zelda, its fingerprints are all over escape rooms. The earliest escape room owners in the United States were big fans of Zelda. Whether you realize it or not, all of the US-based escape rooms are building off of these early videogames.

So… escape rooms are standing on the shoulders of The Legend of Zelda series… which was why it was so interesting when the concept came full circle and a Zelda escape game began touring.

Game Maker’s Toolkit

Mark Brown’s YouTube channel features his primary show, Game Maker’s Toolkit, where he dissects videogame mechanics and design decisions. This is a fantastic series, but not the subject of this post.

In preparation for a Game Maker’s Toolkit episode on The Legend of Zelda, Brown replayed every single game in the 30-year-old Zelda series and created a spinoff show Boss Keys as a sort of publicly posted series of notes. His analysis is fantastic.

Boss Keys

Each episode looked at a different Zelda game, mapped out the dungeon design, broke down the game’s mechanics, and then evaluated how it all worked. Brown’s insights intrigued me as a lover of both Zelda and escape rooms.

Since escape rooms are at least partially rooted in Zelda game design, an analysis of Zelda design also teaches lessons about escape room design.

A few key episodes

While I wholeheartedly recommend watching the entire Boss Keys series in order – the episodes build on one another as Brown’s insights compound – there were a few episodes that I think are critical viewing for the escape room community:

Link’s Awakening

This episode looked at a critical and often overlooked installment in the franchise, exploring all of the ways that the designers expanded the language of dungeon design. Watch for the breadth of locking techniques applied in the game and the smart use of backtracking to allow the player to learn from the game environment and puzzle their way towards mastery of the space.

Majora’s Mask

This episode explored dungeon design where the physical space itself drove the puzzling. These kinds of puzzles are brutally difficult to design – and real life has a lot more restrictions than video games – but they are incredibly satisfying.

A Link Between Worlds

Brown’s analysis of the pros and cons of an almost completely non-linear game design directly correlates to escape room design.

Minish Cap

This episode lightly explored the perils of bad hint delivery and went into depth on the issues of linearity and choice.

Breath of the Wild

Brown has not yet published an episode on the latest game, Breath of the Wild, but I cannot wait to hear his thoughts.

I highly encourage anyone who is interested in either escape room design or game design in general to lose themselves in Brown’s YouTube channel. His knowledge, joy, and ability to break down complexity is so much fun to watch.

Mark Brown – YouTube

Hidden My Game By Mom [Review]

Weird A.F.

Platform: iOS & Android

Price: Free – ad supported

Overview & setup

Hidden My Game By Mom! and its sequel Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 were short, episodic escape room-style puzzlers with the same basic problem running through all 60 levels:

My mother had hidden my handheld video game console and I needed to find it.

It was utter nonsense. It was bizarre, funny, and entertaining.

Hidden My Game By Mom title screen features the main character, his mom, a couch, and a chest.

Puzzles

Each level took place in an exceptionally simple 1-room or 2-room structure. Within each room, I needed to find the items necessary to recover my beloved gaming handheld.

Everything was minimalistic, but the levels were filled with instant failure traps like snakes and of course… mom.

In game: Game over screen. The main character looks distressed after opening a closet and revealing his mother.

These puzzles ranged from predictable to some of the strangest lateral thinking that I’ve seen in any puzzle game.

Standouts

Many of the puzzle solution and failure states were hilarious. I actually laughed out loud at the crazy shit that went on in these games.

One of the puzzles in Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 might have had the most genuinely funny puzzle solution that I have ever encountered.

In game: The stage clear screen featues the main character triumphantly holding his gaming device in the air.

These were fast-paced, quick plays. Together, both games took me about an hour.

Both games were free.

Shortcomings

The music, sound effects, and some of the menus got a little annoying.

Some of the puzzle solutions felt repetitive.

A few of the puzzle solutions were a bit too out there for me.

Should I play Hidden My Game By Mom!Hidden My Game By Mom! 2?

I got a kick out of both Hidden My Game By Mom! & Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 when I played them on long flights. They were straight up strange and equal parts clever, annoying, and funny.

They were games of trial and error; level failure was inevitable. I was fine with this. In fact, as I got better at the games, I found myself deliberately failing levels when I suspected that it would achieve a particularly humorous fail-state… Hidden My Game By Mom! frequently made me giggle.

These were not high production value games, but they each provided a solid half hour of entertainment. I’m still amused that these games even exist.

Download Hidden My Game By Mom! &  Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Sherlocked – The Vault Mobile App [Review]

An app to train for the real thing.

Platform: iOS & Android

Price: Free

Overview & setup

Created by the famed Sherlocked in Amsterdam, The Vault mobile app was a free iOS & Android game that served as a training/advertisement for real life The Vault escape room.

In game: An old safe's number dial with the Sherlocked cross-keys logo on the knob.

This short game was a heist-style escape room complete with puzzles and mechanical interactions. Most of these bore no resemblance to puzzles or interactions in the real The Vault escape room.

The game emphasized learning how to operate an antique safe. This set piece did play a role in the real life The Vault escape room where its operation was a serious challenge.

Puzzles

The puzzles were pretty typical digital escape room-style puzzles; they were neither great nor terrible.

In game: An old safe on a small table in the middle of a large room.

Standouts

The Vault was entertaining. It was also free.

While it was not required training for the real life game, it was great for getting in the right mindset and learning how to operate a particularly cumbersome safe.

In game: An invitation to play the game in real life. It reads: "Well done. You've passed our test. Your job awaits you in Amsterdam."

It may have been an advertisement… but it was a really good one.

Shortcomings

There was no hint system and a few of the interactions were not quite intuitive. When an interaction didn’t click, the game ground to a halt. At that point the only options were to:

  • Poke and swipe at every object until something happened.
  • Hand the game off to a friend and hope that that particular thing would be a little more intuitive to them.
  • Check out a YouTube walkthrough video

Should I play Sherlocked’s The Vault Mobile App?

I’d say so. Here’s my math:

If you’re going to play The Vault in Amsterdam (which I highly recommend), then it is a cute primer for that escape room’s most challenging input mechanism.

If you’re not going to be able to play The Vault in Amsterdam, then it is an interesting innovation for both escape room pre-game care as well as advertising.

It’s fun and it’s free. Why are you still reading this?

Download Sherlocked’s The Vault Mobile App today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Tormentum: Dark Sorrow [Review]

Point & click escape rooms had a baby with Iron Maiden’s entire catalog.

Platform: iOS, Android, & Steam

Price: $4.99 on iOS, $3.99 on Android, $11.99 Steam

Story & setting

Your mysterious cloaked protagonist began Tormentum: Dark Sorrow imprisoned in some sort of medieval fantasy steampunk inquisition dungeon. In typical escape room fashion, the goal was to escape.

The entirety of Tormentum was beautifully painted from the characters to the panoramic settings. The art had a Frank Frazetta heavy metal style about it that gave the game a unique feel.

In game: A dark dungeon with a menacing horned knight stating: "This place will purge you of all evil hatched within your bowels.
All of the character talk purdy.

Puzzles

Tormentum: Dark Sorrow was a point & click, pixel hunt digital escape room. It leaned heavily on searching. There were some entertaining puzzles, but they were not the centerpiece of the game; the art was.

In game: A dungeon with a woman trapped in a small cage that hangs from the ceiling. A strange looking demon statesL "But why am I telling you this. Leave and don't wassste my time, human!"
A demonic guard just casually forgetting his place and giving puzzle hints. The usual.

Standouts

The art was gorgeous. Everything looked like a bleakly beautiful hellscape. It worked.

In-game: The hooded main character in a room filled with mummies and sarcophaguses.
Book your vacation in the next 5 minutes to receive one additional night at no cost to you!

I enjoyed the fictional world of Tormentum. It felt like a heavy metal album had been turned into an escape game.

There were some great puzzle designs.

Shortcomings

While I liked a lot of the puzzle designs, I found myself wishing that they had leaned into their ideas, pushed beyond basic execution, and asked me to more thoroughly master those puzzles.

The pixel hunt searching overstayed its welcome. It was easy to completely miss critical things within the game’s elaborate art.

In-game: A massive demon stating, "It is easier for a thousand crows to fly through a fiery mountain than it is for you to pass safely through my entrails, wretched human."
And they squeezed in a few stage bosses from Contra for good measure.

On more than a few occasions I made critical in-game moral decisions, by accident, without any intention or understanding of what was about to happen. These moments kind of pissed me off. If I’m gonna murder someone, I want to know that I’m about to do it.

Should I play Tormentum: Dark Sorrow?

Tormentum went all in on the art. If you like point & click escape rooms and this game’s art direction appeals to you, then it’s worth a few bucks and a few hours to play it.

If both the game format and the art don’t speak to you, then I don’t think it’s worthwhile. There were some great puzzle designs, but they left me wanting more. I found Tormentum’s interactions were often too opaque, especially when it came to moral choices, which frustrated the hell out of me.

If Tormentum feels like a fit for you, it’s got a dark and twisted beauty about it.

Download Tormentum: Dark Sorrow today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Download Steam (Don’t play it on Steam, $12 is too much to pay for this game)

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game [Review]

Haunted with ads.

Platform: iOS & Android

Release date: November 12, 2016

Price: Free – ad supported

Story & setting

A self-described “escape the room” virtual reality game playable with Google Cardboard or as a standard point and click escape game, Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was straightforward: I was trapped in a haunted house and needed to escape.

In game: a ghost in a hallway holding a chainsaw.

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was broken up into 6 episodes, each playable in less than 5 minutes.

It looked and sounded pretty good:

However, look and sound only carried it so far.

Puzzles

Calling Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game an “escape the room” was a generous description. The puzzles were non-existent.

In game: a piece of paper reads, "5-30-7" above it a message displays reading, "This might be a clue!"
No kidding?

At best this was a virtual scavenger hunt. Items either screamed “USE ME! I’M BRIGHT RED!” or, on a couple of occasions, they required pixel hunting because they were the same drab color as the background.

If I touched a thing that needed “solving” it straight up told me what to do.

In game: a door, a message reads, "It's locked. Maybe I can try shooting it?"
I’m not sure what I should do. Could someone give me a hint?

Standouts

It looked pretty great, especially for a free game.

Shortcomings

There was no depth to the story, puzzles, or frights. It was staggeringly one-dimensional.

The puzzles were lame and would barely even qualify as puzzles.

There were jump scares, but they didn’t impress. These were seriously overused.

Every milestone triggered an ad. Exiting the game triggered an ad. Opening doors triggered ads. (Don’t get any ideas, escape room owners.)

Should I play Rabbit Mountain’s Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game?

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was not an escape room game. It was a reasonably pretty ad-supported tech demo.

This app got a lot of press, so I figured it would be worth playing at the low cost of free. I was wrong. It wasn’t worth my time.

Room Escape Artist 2016 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

rea-holiday-buyers-guide-2016

The holidays are around the corner, so we figured we’d make your gift giving experience a bit easier with some creative gifts for your room escaping loved ones.

Enjoy.

Puzzles

indian-lock-replica

Puzzle Locks

Multi-staged, strange, and layered physical interactions are required to unlock and relock these nutty things.

Two of my favorites have been this ugly bastard, and this beautifully intricate one.

Note that we do not recommend these for use in room escapes. These are for fun puzzling outside of the game.

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Yellow to Red Gradient Jigsaw Puzzle

Are you looking to terminate a friendship this holiday season? Nothing says “you deserve to suffer” quite like a 500 piece gradient jigsaw puzzle.

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Laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzles

Got a jigsaw puzzler in your life who you truly care about? Give them a Liberty or Artifact puzzle.

These beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles are laser cut into intricate and unusual interlocking patterns.

Brace yourself, they are challenging, but rewarding. A 300-piece Liberty Puzzle is far more challenging than most common 600-piece jigsaw puzzles.

While we have less experience with Artifact Puzzles, they are also awesome and have their own charm.

Tabletop games

Mystery at Stargazer's Manor contents.

ThinkFun’s Escape the Rooms

There are a number of wonderful at-home escape room games, but at the moment the two most approachable, affordable, and available ones are produced by ThinkFun.

We’ve reviewed both Stargazer’s Manor and Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.

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Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Lovingly reviewed by Shut Up and Sit Down, Consulting Detective is an intellectually heavy tabletop puzzling experience.

Tools

kickstart-lock-picks

Lock Picks

I’ve been picking locks since high school. It’s fun and challenging. There’s always something new to learn. Occasionally it’s also useful.

A small set of lock picks would make a great gift for a responsible and ethical loved one. Don’t go too crazy and buy a massive pick set, beginners only need a few basic picks, rakes, and tensioners to get started.

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iFixit Toolkit

iFixit, the website behind all manner of product teardowns and repair instructions, sells their own toolkits.

I’ve kept this one on hand for years. It has helped me open every strange screw that I’ve ever attempted to remove.

iFixit has a ton of different kits available for every manner of tinkerer.

makerspace_logo-500x1192

Makerspace Membership

Makerspaces are magical places where creators of all sorts of stuff and skill levels gather to share knowledge, tools, and ideas.

From robotics and rocketry to sewing and knitting, most makerspaces welcome all makers. In my experience, most teach classes, have 3D printers, and woodshops.

Each one is a little different in terms of equipment and culture, so find the ones nearest you. I would recommend stopping by a few times before committing to a membership. Find the right fit.

Video games

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Nintendo 3DS XL

Nintendo’s handheld system is a great platform for puzzle gaming.

Decades of exceptional Zelda games are available:

The Zero Escape games are also available:

There’s plenty more puzzling on the 3DS.

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VR

After decades of failures it looks like it may finally be virtual reality’s time. While we’ve dabbled with three of the big platforms, we’re not picking sides… yet.

We’ll keep an eye on the space and let everyone know which is best for adventure puzzling.

If you have a computer powerful enough to power it (or plan to buy one), the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift both have solid libraries of games available.

PS4 with Playstation VR is less established, but it is easier to set up and use.

Books

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Design of Everyday Things

If you only ever read one book about design, it should be this one. It’s approachable and dead-on. Its lessons apply to literally everything. (Paperback) (Kindle)

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Atlas Obscura

A traveler’s guide to the world’s oddest stuff. This guide to Earth’s curiosities is worth reading even if you never travel to see the strange things it reveals. (Hardcover) (Kindle)

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Path Puzzles

Simple to learn and difficult to master, these puzzles are a ton of fun.

We have an in-depth review of the book.

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The Code Book

A brilliant and approachable walk through the history of code/cipher making and breaking. I am in the middle of reading this one and I learn new and exciting things each time I turn the page. (Paperback) (Kindle)

Movie

Do people still gift movies in the age of streaming? If you do…

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Tim’s Vermeer

If you know someone who loves the overlap of art and technology, Tim’s Vermeer is a strangely moving documentary about Tim Jenison’s mission to recreate Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s photo-realistic painting “The Music Lesson.” Produced by Penn & Teller, the documentary follows Jenison, a Texas-based tech entrepreneur who had never lifted a paintbrush in his life, through his discoveries, triumphs, and failures as he seeks to uncover a 350-year-old secret.

I may have shed a tear or two while watching. (DVD) (Blu-ray) (Stream)

Stocking stuffers

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Zelda Boss Key Keychain

The only door it opens is a door called “nostalgia.”

A small comination lock used as a keychain.

Master Lock 4688D

This TSA-friendly lock is a joke of a lock… but it’s a convenient keychain.

Room Escape Gear

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The Original Cryptex®

A Cryptex is a common locking mechanism in room escapes, but most use the junkie Da Vinci Code replicas (and yes, both are junk, even the more expensive version).

Justin Nevins, the creator of the first Cryptex, handcrafts this insanely solid Cryptex. They start at $300 for the normal version and become increasingly expensive for exquisite versions inlayed with wood and marble.

They are the perfect escape room prop, conversation piece, or proposal puzzle device. (I considered using this when plotting out my wedding proposal.)

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That dog looks so guilty.

Blacklight

The obligatory blacklight.

Charities

If you’re feeling charitable, these two organizations do wonderful work creating opportunities for children who desperately need to play.

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Able Gamers Foundation

These folks help make video games accessible for people whose disabilities would otherwise prevent them from playing.

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Child’s Play

This charity works to get games and toys into the hands of children who are in hospitals and domestic abuse shelters. You can send the gift directly to the hospital or shelter.

Thank you!

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

 

Escape Games Canada – Geist Manor VR Demo [Review]

Frightening, fast, and fun.

Location: played at the Chicago Room Escape Conference, but available in Toronto, Canada

Date played: August 13, 2016

Team size: 1

Price: Free at the conference, pricing TBD by hosting facility

 

Story & setting

Played via the HTC Vive, Geist Manor was a one-player virtual horror escape room experience. I played the 7-minute demo (of a 10-minute game) that was available at the Escape Games Canada booth at the Chicago Room Escape Conference.

This is a game that Escape Games Canada created in partnership with a EscapeVR. The game will be available for players to experience in Escape Games Canada’s facility, as well as a number of other escape room facilities that have purchased the rights to use the game.

Set in a haunted house, the game was dark, creepy, and a little bit freaky. Everything from the staging to the lighting to the sound pushed me deeper into the experience.

In a beautiful way, I felt like I was in a horror movie.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit haunted room.

Puzzles

The puzzles were your basic seek, observe, and input interactions that I’ve encountered in my previous Vive escape room experience.

Standouts

Escape Games Canada likes to toy with their players’ minds and this game was no exception.

It looked great and sounded even better.

Escape Games Canada did a masterful job of throwing off my equilibrium and playing with my senses.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit cabinet. A drawer is open and containing a cup of dice. Beside the dice the words "ROLL THE DICE" appear in blocky chalk writing.

The setting truly enhanced the experience. Lisa was a bit rattled by the horror; during her playthrough she had more trouble focusing on the tasks at hand.

The hinting was heavy handed, but well executed; it was clearly designed to keep the player moving.

Shortcomings

There were some physics problems, both those within the game and those inherent to the Vive.

It wasn’t particularly puzzley.

If you don’t like horror, then that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit long spooky hallway. A small femine figure stands in the shadows at the opposite end.

Should I play Escape Games Canada’s Geist Manor?

Escape Games Canada put me in an experience that I knew wasn’t real and managed to make it feel intimidating.

This is only for folks who are open to a horror adventure and don’t get motion sick in a VR environment.

If you’re down for an excellent immersive experience that is light on puzzles and heavy on brain-tricking interactions, then this is your game.

It’s brief even at full length, which makes it a great add-on to a room escape outing at Escape Games Canada’s Toronto facility.

Contact Escape Games Canada to book your session with Geist Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Pre-PAX West Interview: Debra and Alex Beardsley, It’s A Trap!

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Debra and Alex Beardsley of It’s A Trap! (Winter Park, FL) about how their experiences in gaming and theater continue to influence their escape room designs.

In-game image of a dragon locked behind bars.

Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your games. What’s the style?

Debra and Alex: Our games look at the more comedic side of escape rooms instead of the adrenaline side. A lot of people are nervous about getting locked into a room for an hour, so we like to make sure everyone laughs through the game. We achieve this through a detailed narrative that is delivered through our performers, props and clues. Our performers are masters of puns and will help lighten the mood for the more novice or nervous players.

Explain your concept of “reversible rooms.” How did that come about and how does it work?

A game room is a basically a theatrical set. When you see a play, multiple scenes happen on the same set multiple times throughout the show. So why couldn’t our game rooms work that way? We are able to show two sides of a story within one game room. For instance, one week you will break into the superhero’s apartment as the villain’s henchman. The next week, after we have changed all the clues, disabled/enabled some different tech props, and introduced a different character guide, you can now play as the policemen aiding the superhero (which, chronologically, happens after the henchmen broke in!).

A princess looking at her reflection in a mirror.

It sounds like your escape rooms are heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. How has that game, as well as video games, influenced your escape room design?

Adventure games lend themselves to escape room-style puzzles. We are big fans of point and click puzzle adventures like Zork, Monkey Island, and Myst. Were also huge RPG (role-playing game) fans (Final Fantasy, tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). When we made our escape rooms, it was obvious we would go for the geeky themes, but we also fed off of the narrative aspect of these games. We didnt create a live action sudoku puzzle or Tetris. We created a game with consequence and motivation that players could lose themselves in for hours, just like the millions of hours weve lost to those RPGs!

On the topic of geeky themes, we have a story about a wizard with nearly 30 pages of backstory describing realms of magic, plight of wizards, royal hierarchy and important NPCs (non-player characters). This enables us to influence our puzzles in a way that is incredibly detailed. Forgotten Realms has nothing on us.

Your game also incorporates live actors. What influence has theater had on your escape rooms?

In NYC and London, immersive theatre is taking off and producing amazing shows that make the audience members part of the story. These shows require you to move through a labyrinth-style space, interact with actors, and search for hidden narratives in props. After working on these shows for a few years, we felt there was an easy mash-up of the immersive theatre concept with the budding escape room industry. With the aid of the actor in the game room, we can help people let go of the outside and keep focused. We can dissolve frustrations with a well-timed joke or a “punny” riddle. Most importantly, we can deliver a richer story since we can tell you parts of it throughout the game instead of having to push it all in during the pregame briefing.

You concept takes video games, theater, and puzzles and meshes them into one genre of entertainment. Where does it go from here? How do you plan to evolve?

Having deep roots in immersive theatre, we plan to create bigger immersive projects that contain both strong narrative and gameplay mechanics. Right now, we consider our escape room to be 75% game and 25% theatre. Wed like to scale up to a full-length production that is closer to 50/50 utilizing all of the gameplay insight weve gathered. We would like to get closer to creating a real-life, fully immersive adventure game complete with a full cast of colorful NPCs and an epic story.