In & Of Itself [Review]

Profound magic.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: April 20, 2017

Team size: Book individually, it’s theater

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $53-148 per ticket, depending on seats

Story & setup

Over the course of 75 minutes, closeup magician Derek DelGaudio used storytelling and magical performance to take us on a journey exploring the nature of identity: his as well as our own.

The show was produced by Neil Patrick Harris (yes, that one) and directed by Frank Oz (as in Yoda, Frank Oz). While it was absolutely a magic performance, In & Of Itself was about our collective attempt at building identity and finding meaning in life.

A wall that says, "In & Of Itself" covered in individual cards that read "IAM" and have a variety of labels.

Interaction

While this was largely a magic and storytelling performance where the audience sat in the seats and the performer resided on stage, every audience member made at least two decisions that affected the show. A few people played far more in-depth roles in the performance.

Standouts

Derek DelGaudio’s performance was calmly magnificent.

The storytelling and idea exploration ran cohesively through the entirety of In & Of Itself.

DelGaudio used magic not for its own sake or for spectacle; he used it to make points, advance his story, and instill feelings into his audience.

Shortcomings

A few audience volunteers play critical roles in each performance of In & Of Itself. Your mileage will vary depending upon the chance encounters of who ends up on stage. In our show, these audience participants were not particularly engaging. Under different circumstances, however, I could easily imagine these show segments being among the most moving moments of the performance.

Should I visit In & Of Itself?

I love magical performance, but I rarely enjoy it for its own sake. Magic is a powerful tool for telling stories, underscoring points, and engaging an audience in dynamic ways. Derek DelGaudio did this so beautifully. His performance was refined and executed perfectly. It moved us.

As we walked out of the theater and onto the streets of New York City, we wandered with purpose, contemplating what we had seen and seeking to satisfy a curiosity that DelGaudio had instilled in us… He didn’t let us down. We’re still reflecting on what we saw and we’re thrilled that we had the opportunity.

In & Of Itself has been extended through September 3, 2017 and you should seize the opportunity to see it before it vanishes.

Book your showing of In & Of Itself, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Escape the Estate – The Playwright [Review]

Something’s missing.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: April 29, 2017

Team size: up to 8-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23-28 per ticket

Story & setting

Opening night had arrived, but the script was missing. We needed to search the playwright’s room in order to find the script and alleviate the superstitions of the show’s cast.

The Playwright had an old-timey, lived-in hotel room vibe. More than any other room escape at Escape the Estate, The Playwright felt at home within the backdrop of the Hotel Whitmore.

In-game: An old typewriter atop a desk in an old hotel room.

Puzzles

The Playwright was puzzle-driven. Some of the puzzles felt brilliant and refined. Others didn’t seem quite finished.

Standouts

The Playwright had a number of wonderful mechanical interactions that surprised and delighted us.

Susan, our gamemaster, was a wonderful and unobtrusive in-game actor. I was particularly fond of the quirky and subtle way that she would indicate when we were on the right track for any puzzles where we were a bit unsure of what the room escape wanted from us.

Shortcomings

Segments of The Playwright’s set had strange gaps and clear construction flaws. They didn’t seem like they should have been there, as they were neither part of the puzzling, nor the ambiance.

Some of the puzzles were missing clue structure and required logic leaps, or in one instance, unapologetic trial and error.

The Playwright lacked drama.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Playwright?

The Playwright was a puzzley escape room with some great mechanical moments, but it needed more drama written into it.

I never really felt any stakes in this experience. At one point, I found myself wondering why: “If this is opening night, why doesn’t everyone have a copy of the script?” Or, “It’s opening night, why doesn’t everyone know their lines?”

This lack of drama was systemic throughout the gameplay, which didn’t build towards anything.

Beginners will likely find The Playwright a strong challenge, as we were able to make a few of the logic leaps by virtue of understanding how escape rooms work.

Experienced players will likely find some of aspects of The Playwright underwhelming or simply wish for more polish.

There were great moments within this room escape, but this show was well past opening night and the script felt unfinished.

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

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

 

3600 Escape – Mineshaft [Review]

Digging for puzzles.

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Legend said that an expensive diamond had been hidden in a mine in central Pennsylvania. We donned our hard hats and puzzled our way towards the treasure.

From the floor, to the walls, to the lack of space, Mindshaft was a compelling stage for this excavation.

In-game: A wooden mine shaft with a coal-filled mining cart.
Believe the gamemaster when you’re told, “You don’t have to touch the coal.”

Puzzles

Mineshaft was a puzzle-driven escape room in a particularly cool environment. It included an eclectic mix of typical escape room-style puzzles. Most of the puzzles made use of props that we uncovered in the gamespace.

Standouts

Beyond the entrance to Mineshaft we entered a world so unlike the lobby of 3600 Escape. The wood planks, scattered stones, and pieces of coal brought the little mine to life.

The best puzzles were the ones that tied directly into the set.

It was fun to extract clues from within the mine itself.

The puzzling started with the set and props working in tandem to engage the entire team as we got our bearings in the mine.

Shortcomings

While in theory we liked this opening, it focused everyone on the same task, which, coupled with unclear cluing and lack of direction, created a bottleneck right off the bat.

In a few instances, the cluing – and even some puzzle solutions – seemed rather ambiguous. We resorted to hacking our way through parts of this experience with trial and error.

3600 Escape built an outstanding set, but didn’t elevate the puzzling to match. This left us wanting something more.

Should I play 3600 Escape’s Mineshaft?

The most exciting element of Mineshaft was its set, which demonstrated 3600 Escape’s attention to detail in building the staging for this escape room. In this regard, Mineshaft was a leap forward for 3600 Escape.

Despite appearances, Mineshaft was actually a puzzler’s escape room: it was packed with very standard, escape room-style puzzles.

That’s also how it fell short. The game looked so good that we yearned for more integrated and experiential puzzling. We wanted the puzzle design to leap forward with that set. It felt like a missed opportunity.

If you enjoy room escapes for new and exciting environments, you’ll enjoy Mineshaft. If you enjoy escape room-style puzzles, you could also find a lot of like here. If, however, you really want to experience puzzle and set integration, you may not quite be satisfied by this escape room.

Regardless of experience level, there will likely be both moments of thrill and frustration in Mineshaft. 

We hope the 3600 Escape continues to work their puzzle design into the world of this delightfully compelling little mine. There is gold in this game if they dig just a little deeper.

Book your hour with 3600 Escape’s Mineshaft, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 3600 Escape comped our tickets for this game.

 

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest [Review]

So many feels.

Location: Los Angeles, California

Date played: June 2, 2017

Team size: 1-2; we recommend 1-2 (see below)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $65 per ticket

Story & setting

As the next of kin for a recently deceased relative that we’ve never met, we were given access to her long-lost storage unit.

Staged within a beautiful and dark storage unit, we explored the life of this stranger. We got to know her through her personal effects and her audio recordings on cassette tapes that narrated most important moments of her life.

In-game: A close up of an old portable cassette player with a tape that is labeled in a child's handwriting: "My 12th Birthday"

Puzzles

The Nest used a variation of the escape room format to tell an intimate and moving story. There were puzzles within this experience, but it was not a puzzle game.

The puzzles were easy obstacles that served as gates between chapters of the story. The puzzles weren’t the point of The Nest.

A row of lockers. The closest locker has the words "Goodby Josie" painted on it and is sealed with a combination lock.

Standouts

The story was painfully moving.

The set was gorgeous and brilliantly designed.

In-game: a closeup of a flashlight illuminating a crumpled piece of paper that appear to be notes from a journalism class.

The puzzles served as clever gates that also made sense within the narrative.

The voice acting on the cassette tapes was magnificent.

Shortcomings

The darkness added to the atmosphere, but necessitated carrying around a handheld flashlight along with the cassette player. This was clunky and distracting.

The flashlight was in bad shape and frequently flickered out on us.

Should I visit Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest?

Lisa and I emerged from The Nest and couldn’t bring ourselves to speak about what we heard, saw, and felt for hours. The Nest wasn’t a puzzle game and it wasn’t an adventure: it was a journey through another person’s tragedy.

It was powerful and beautiful.

If you approach The Nest as a game to win, you will completely miss the point. Don’t look for clues or meaning in the props as you would in an escape room. The puzzling simply leads you through the experience. You aren’t at risk of losing.

The Nest is incredible, but it’s not for everyone. The content is mature, not in a violent or sexual way, but because it’s emotionally heavy. It’s also an experience that requires some crawling, so if you aren’t up to that, don’t buy a ticket.

Additionally, when you buy a ticket you can choose to go alone or with another person. Both options are viable, but will profoundly change the experience. I have to imagine that a solo experience would be haunting and intense and maybe a little cumbersome when dealing with the flashlight and cassette player. I was happy to experience The Nest with Lisa, but she is the only person that I know with whom I would have wanted to feel those feels.

The Nest left me feeling exposed and I am so happy that I was there. Tickets are limited, but if you can get your hands on one, take as much out of it as you can.

The next wave of tickets go on sale on June 18th at 12pm Pacific.

Book your visit to Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Help us find closed room escapes

We could use a little bit of help…

We’re gearing up to run our 2017 escape room industry growth numbers (2016). One of the big questions that we will be addressing is the number of closures.

While our incredible team of map maintainers has done an amazing job of finding new escape rooms companies on nearly a daily basis, nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to finding closures.

Stylized photo of a map of the north eastern quarter of the United States

Help us share the knowledge

Would you be so kind as to look at our map or spreadsheet and tell us if anything in your area (or areas that you’re familiar with) is missing or incorrect?

  • Did something new open?
  • Do we have a name or address wrong?
  • Has a company closed its doors or moved?

Our directory covers escape rooms in the United States, Canada near the US border, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Please email any updates in your area to RoomEscapeArtist@gmail.com or fill out the contact form. In your update, please let us know the company’s website url and physical address.

We appreciate your help keeping this directory up to date, and plan to fold these updates into our next report on the growth of the US market.

 

Escape Room Netherlands – Girl’s Room

Brace yourself for this one…

Location: Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Date played: May 8, 2017

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €119 per team depending upon size

Story & setting

Not for the faint of heart, Girl’s Room was a magnificent horror / thriller escape room. Aesthetically, the set was nearly flawless in a dark, twisted, and dirty sort of way.

You should probably just watch the video:

Puzzles

The puzzles in Girl’s Room were tech-driven and tied to the narrative (sometimes directly, other times in more abstract ways).

There was plenty to puzzle through. It felt like the game delighted in initially making things seem tantalizingly attainable, only to throw a wrench into the gameplay with evil twists in the puzzle mechanics.

Standouts

Girl’s Room contained some of the most memorable moments that I’ve had in a room escape.

In-game: The Girl's Room with a bed, a baby carriage, a dollhouse, a magnificent chandelier, and a cage.

The set. The level of detail in Girl’s Room was insane. There was a gigantic set piece in the middle of this game that really didn’t need to be there at all, but they put it there and integrated it into the experience. It was amazing.

The tech was well embedded and used to powerful effect.

The story, horror, and thriller elements were incredibly well executed. When the game wanted us on edge, we were on edge.

Escape Room Netherlands’ lobby was awesome.

Shortcomings

Some of the jump scares were really effective, but as Girl’s Room progressed, many of the late-game scares felt annoying and unnecessary. (Find more information on jump scares in room escapes).

I think that the final puzzle may have been a little buggy. It was still solvable, but it got tedious.

The hinting wasn’t tailored to a team’s specific experience. This was a major issue for Lisa’s team (who played after my team). When they were stuck on an early puzzle that maybe should have had more clear cluing, the hints only delivered information they already knew, apparently unaware of the team’s actual misinterpretation of the puzzle. For Lisa’s team, this soured what was an otherwise brilliant room escape.

Should I play Escape Room Netherlands’ Girl’s Room?

Girl’s Room was exceptional. It was frightening, well built and brilliantly designed. It still managed to include a strong puzzling component.

It’s not an escape room for people who struggle with mobility or are averse to horror.

I also do not recommend that brand new escape room players take on Girl’s Room. It’s a profoundly special game, but it is also intense and difficult. So many of the things that make it incredible will be completely lost on a newbie.

Located about 50km outside of Amsterdam, Escape Room Netherlands is challenging to get to. If you’re seeking a truly special thrill, however, it is absolutely worth the trip.

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

Full disclosure: Escape Room Netherlands provided media discounted tickets for this game.

The Crux Escape – Clara [Review]

I see metaphors, all the time. They’re everywhere.

Location: Niagara Falls, ON

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: $21-26 per ticket

Story & setting

We entered the mind of Clara, a young girl with a dark past. Could we rescue her from her own trauma by uncovering her experiences?

Clara’s mind was a spacious room with basic furniture around the perimeter. Artwork hung on the walls. The decor was sometimes quirky, but not particularly interesting.

In-game: Image of a large back locked box that reads, "CLARA"

Puzzles

Clara challenged players to make connections between the various props and set pieces that together presented the puzzles.

The Crux used standard escape room concepts, executed at varying degrees of difficulty.

Standouts

We particularly enjoyed one set piece. As the experience progressed, we uncovered more of it and the intricate, detailed artwork within.

There were a lot of locks in Clara, but The Crux clearly connected puzzles with the corresponding locks. Thus the escape room rewarded puzzle completion with more game. The volume of locks never hindered the flow of the experience.

Clara was a basic room escape with a twist. At times, the seemingly standard puzzles tripped up our experienced team, not because they were too challenging, but because they deviated from the norm just enough to trip up anyone jumping to conclusions too quickly.

As the room escape progressed, the puzzles revealed more about Clara and her traumatized past. Upon reflection, the underlying puzzle design and story were artfully intertwined. After we’d learned her story and escaped, we appreciated the links between the puzzle structure and narrative.

Shortcomings

While in retrospect the puzzles and story came together, throughout the game itself the puzzling didn’t build a strong narrative. Clara was primarily a puzzling experience, without a memorable climactic moment.

As we progressed through Clara, we rode a roller coaster of puzzle challenge. The difficulty curve seemed off. Especially given an intended audience of less experienced players, more ramp up and down would help with flow.

Clara was a room of locked furniture and basic wall hangings. Certain props had visual appeal, but it was not an intriguing set to explore.

Should I play The Crux Escape’s Clara?

Clara was a puzzle-focused room escape. If you like puzzles, there is a lot to enjoy here. Additionally, players of all experience levels can enjoy Clara; they will likely be tripped up in different places.

If you are more interested in set design, story, or technology, Clara will not be the right escape room for you.

As Clara’s story progressed, it was always in the background, with the puzzles front and center. It wasn’t until reflecting back that we came to appreciate the subtle connections between the mystery and the puzzles. If you’re looking for a heart-racing, puzzling adventure, we recommend The Crux’s Dead Air, where the story and puzzles were more closely intertwined as you experience them.

That said, there was a simple beauty in Clara.

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

Full disclosure: The Crux provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Logic Locks – Eliza’s Heart [Review]

Blurred reality.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 7, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 63 minutes

Price: €19,50 – 39,50 per person depending upon team size

Story & setting

The descendants of Elizabeth van Leeuwenhart, the renowned 19th century Dutch world adventurer, have opened her private study up to the public for 63 minutes at a time. Could we be the first to find her unimaginably valuable gold necklace, the “Lionheart?”

Logic Locks created a creepy atmosphere that felt strangely believable. From the character of Elizabeth van Leeuwenhart, to the Willy Wonka-esque gamemaster, to the set itself, the scenario felt bizarrely real.

In game: A room corner with a large leather chair, a globe, and artifacts from around the world.

Puzzles

Puzzle-driven, Eliza’s Heart felt like a traditional escape room. What made these puzzles stand out was Logic Locks’ prop selection. Everything felt like it belonged in this strange escape room.

Standouts

Logic Locks went to great lengths to make their character and story feel real. Going in, I knew that the experience was fiction, but I could feel my brain desperately wanting to accept everything I saw as truth.

The puzzling in Eliza’s Heart was strong and satisfying.

Logic Locks made brilliant use of Amsterdam’s most abundant resource: used bicycle chains.

Our creepy Willy Wonka-esque gamemaster took his time and sold the fiction. It was tough to tell if he was acting or was truly this strange individual.

Shortcomings

Some of the antique furniture and props were heavily worn. In one instance, we spent a long time failing to open an antique lock with the correct key because the mechanism was in rough shape.

While the puzzles were enjoyable, Eliza’s Heart would have been all the more impressive if each and every puzzle carried a little more narrative.

There was a puzzle that required outside knowledge. It left us wondering whether the knowledge that we needed to apply was from the current era or Elizabeth van Leeuwenhart’s era.

Should I play Logic Locks’ Eliza’s Heart?

Eliza’s Heart was a beautiful execution of the traditional escape room format. It was an analog puzzle game in an elegant set. The story was so compelling that I wanted to believe that it was true, even when I knew that it was fiction.

If you discovered escape rooms because you love adventure puzzling, then you will likely love Eliza’s Heart.

Beginners can play Eliza’s Heart, but they are going to have to communicate well, as this was not the most simple of escape rooms.

Experienced players will likely enjoy all of the detail, love, and careful attention to experience that Logic Locks poured into Eliza’s Heart.

Book your hour with Logic Locks’ Eliza’s Heart, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Logic Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Thoughts on Destructible Props in Escape Rooms

It’s rare, but it’s fun when a game includes a destructible prop. When I say destructible, I mean something that the team is required to break into order advance the game… not a breakable item.

I love a good destructible, but in my experiences so far, I see a room design flaw: the destructible arrives too early in the experience.

Black & white image of three padlocks that have been cut and destroyed with bolt cutters.
Fun with bolt cutters.

Timing and unspoken rules

The timing of a destructible matters because players learn the rules of an escape room in three ways:

  • Past experience (if they have it): Players who have played escape rooms will draw on the rules and expectations of their previous games.
  • Explicit rules: Players should learn the basic boundaries of your experience in the pre-game briefing prior to playing.
  • Implicit rules: Players learn through play. They usually aren’t even aware of this.

A destructible will screw with every one of these.

Past experience

Players with experience know that one of the basic expectations of escape room play is that they will not break shit.

Explicit rules

Pre-game rules are usually pretty clear about not breaking things… although games with destructibles usually have a tell in the pre-game briefing. The gamemaster usually says something cagey along the lines of, “at some point you might have to break a rule… but you’ll know it when you see it.”

Implicit rules

Finally, destructibles mess with player expectations. Once you have to break something, the room starts looking different. “Do I have to break that thing?” is suddenly a viable path to explore. This can become a dangerous thing for both the players and the room.

Late game destructibles

Destructibles are best placed somewhere near the end of the game.

This allows players to explore the vast majority of the game under the typical rule structure, without having destruction factored into their reasoning.

Queen City Escape – Strange Escape [Review]

Pack some Eggos and don’t split up the party.

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

A sort of parody of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, our group of friends needed to venture into the Upside Down to save someone’s cat.

Loaded with Stranger Things references, Strange Escape was split into the real world and the Upside Down. Aesthetically, this was a fairly simple escape room, but it did a pretty good job of capturing some of the look of both sides of the series, even if you had to squint a little to see it.

In-game: The alphabet drawn on a wallpapered and wood paneled wall. Above each letter is a christmas light. "ACE" are illuminated.

Puzzles

Largely linear, Strange Escape had solid, well-clued puzzles that were satisfying solves.

The puzzles didn’t really carry a narrative, but most were fun references to the source material.

Standouts

The setup and rules delivery was legitimately funny.

As a fan of Stranger Things, I enjoyed finding all of the references that were littered throughout the room escape.

In game; blue Christmas lights illuminate the Upside Down as black tendrils cling to the walls.

I really enjoyed the puzzling in Strange Escape.

Shortcomings

Our whole team struggled to tell different colors apart in the low light.

There were a number of gameflow issues, especially given the linearity and our 7-person team. It was impossible to keep everyone occupied on relevant puzzles.

Similarly, early on we were given access to far too many items that simply weren’t relevant until later in the game. This lead to a lot of unnecessary wheel-spinning. It did keep a number of players busy, but then frustrated these same players when the puzzle they had been working on to no avail was ultimately solved simply when someone else found the missing components a few minutes later.

Queen City Escape built up Strange Escape as scary, but wasn’t. I think it was for the best that it wasn’t frightening, but accurate expectations would have improved the experience.

While the references were fun, it didn’t capture the thrill, adventure, or grandeur of Stranger Things.

Should I play Queen City Escape’s Strange Escape?

This was one of those strange reviews where the shortcomings list is really long, but I still had a great time. Strange Escape was a fun room escape. With fewer people and small adjustments to the lighting and flow, it could be much more fun.

There’s fun for newbies and experienced players alike in Strange Escape. Be mindful of team size, as the space fills up quickly and room around relevant puzzles will always be limited.

Fans of Stranger Things shouldn’t expect a grand adventure, but instead, an intimate, cute, and humorous homage to the series.

Those who haven’t watched Stranger Things… umm… fix that. Now. In addition to missing the jokes in this escape room, you’re also missing out on some of the finest television in recent memory.

Book your hour with Queen City Escape’s Strange Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.