Escape the Estate – The Hideout [Review]

Those mobsters and their puzzles.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: January 20, 2017

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $15 per ticket

Story & setting

In a cabin behind the Hotel Whitmore (the fictional setting of all Escape the Estate games), Prohibition-era mobsters have hidden their loot. We had 20 minutes to find the valuables before the police or the gangsters returned.

The set was a small wood cabin in the back of the Escape Estate’s former Petco retail space. We had to break into the cabin and then puzzle our way to the loot.

It was an adorable, little space.

In-game: The exterior of a wood cabin. The door is chained shut, and the window blackened. A sign reads,

Puzzles

While The Hideout was a short game in a tight space, it required a surprising amount of searching. It was amazing how much could be hidden in such a small area.

There were only a few puzzles, but one of them took a little bit of doing.

Standouts

The Hideout, like all other games at Escape the Estate , was gamemastered by an in-character and in-costume bellhop. Our gamemaster was never in the way. The character was used to introduce the game and as a general presence outside of the cabin, adding a wonderfully whimsical flavor to the experience.

Breaking into the cabin to get the game going was an excellent way to start the adventure.

The exterior of the cabin looked great.

Escape the Estate managed to do a lot with a small space.

Shortcomings

The Hideout was a little heavy on searching and light on puzzling for my taste.

The technology used in the game telegraphed some of the puzzle solutions. While this won’t be evident to newbies, experienced players and techies could reverse engineer some puzzle solutions.

Some of the important props lacked heft and felt like toys in an environment that was otherwise robust. Granted, given their original location in the cabin, more heft might have been dangerous. I’d recommend reworking one segment so that The Hideout‘s props can all feel like they belong there.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Hideout?

I love when an escape room company looks at a small corner and decides to turn it into an intimate little game.

The Hideout was small, but dynamic. It had two sets, searching, and puzzles. It looked good. While I think a small space is more conducive to a more puzzley experience than a searching one, I cannot argue with the results.

Escape the Estate’s The Hideout was small, challenging, and fun. I wouldn’t visit them explicitly to play it, but if you’re already playing one of their other full-length games, you’d be wise to tack on this 20-minute adventure.

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

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

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Escape Room Trade Shows, Conferences, & Unconferences

With the growth of the escape room industry, conferences have emerged in North America and Europe. These gatherings primarily exist to facilitate the sharing of ideas. There is a lot to learn whether you are already active in escape rooms or interested in getting involved.

Here is a rundown of this year’s gatherings:

Trade Shows

TransWorld, Escape Room City

  • March 23-27, 2017
  • America’s Center, St. Louis, MO, USA
  • from $50

Escape Room City is a section of TransWorld’s Halloween & Attraction show in St. Louis.

The massive, decades-old show is for anyone who owns a haunted attraction, corn maze, farm, pumpkin patch, paintball field, family fun center, amusement park, zoo, aquarium, Halloween retail store or anything Halloween-related. As haunters have recently taken an interest in escape room design and construction, TransWorld expanded the show to include escape rooms as well.

We haven’t yet made it to St. Louis for the show, but we hear that it’s quite the sight to behold.

TransWorld’s Room Escape Conference

  • May 1-5, 2017
  • Niagara Falls Conference & Event Center, Niagara Falls, NY, USA
  • from $25

This conference is a dedicated escape room trade show. It is organized by the same folks who put together the Halloween & Attraction show, but it is a separate, escape room-focused  trade show.

Hosted for the first time in Chicago in August of 2016, it drew in a crowd of over 1,700 people. Most attendees were active escape room owners or prospective owners. There were also a few escape room enthusiasts in attendance.

This year’s conference is promising to be larger, including seminars, networking events, and a post-show escape room tour. We’ll be delivering a free seminar on the second day of the conference, as well as moderating a panel.

Stay tuned for more details as we prepare for our trip to Niagara Falls.

A panoramic photo of a room packed with 400 people listening to Lisa & David deliver their talk.
400 people came to see our talk at 8am last year!

Conferences

Up The Game

  • May 9th, 2017
  • Prison Dome, Breda, The Netherlands
  • from €169

Created in a collaboration between two escape room companies in The Netherlands, Logic Locks and Real Life Gaming, Up The Game is a real life gaming and escape room conference.

Hosted for the first time in Amsterdam in 2016, this year’s conference will meet in Breda. It focuses on in-depth talks and opportunities for attendees to meet, interact, and learn from one another.

We are very excited to speak at Up The Game on May 9, 2017.

Unconferences

Unconferences are more low-key and community-driven than trade shows and conferences. Their structures can vary from event to event, but they typically cost little money and don’t have much (or any) sponsorship. They frequently allow participants to organize discussion topics on the fly.

Ontario Escape Room Unconference (Canada)

Chaired by Scott Nicholson, Professor of Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario, this one day Unconference focuses on an attendee-created agenda and peer discussions instead of speaker-focused sessions.

It is an irregularly scheduled conference, having run in the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2017. The cost is approximately $25 CAD per day, generally drawing about 60 attendees.

The Great Escape Unconference (United Kingdom)

  • April 25, 2017
  • Summerhall, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Approximately £33

Organized by Liz Cable, with assistance from others in the community, this single-day event typically breaks the day up into four consecutive sessions with 4-6 different groups per session. Sessions are chosen by consensus at the start of the day and are peer discussions with one or two more formal presentations.

The Great Escape Unconference is a quarterly event that has been going on for the past year. Thus far the group has met in London twice and Leeds twice. The upcoming April event will take place in Edinburgh.

The first UK Unconference hosted around 30 people, but it has grown steadily, with the most recent bringing in approximately 80 people. The audience is primarily owners with roughly a quarter of attendees being escape room enthusiasts or prospective owners.

We haven’t yet had the pleasure of attending any unconferences.

Escape the Crate – Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress [Review]

The Civil War delivered to our door.

Location: at home

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In a Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego-esque history-changing puzzle adventure, our mysterious dispatchers learned that an equally enigmatic villain was attempting to alter history. We were sent back to 1861 in order to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln from occurring 4 years earlier than it was supposed to happen.

In order to accomplish our mission, we had to seek out the home of Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, rummage through her belongings, and uncover the dastardly plans to murder President Lincoln and his family.

Many of the game's props and components staged. There are ciphers, grids, flags, maps, and photos.
Image via Escape The Crate

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that plans to deliver a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we would build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chased this time time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Escape the Confederate Spymistress was somewhere between a Puzzled Pint event and an escape room.

The puzzling was well-themed on US Civil War history, offering a series of challenges based on events, concepts, and people from the era. These puzzles started off simple and grew in complexity.

The escape room vibe came from a reliance on searching, keen observation, and the “locks” that we opened via the Escape the Crate website.

Standouts

Escape The Crate’s use of US Civil War spy history was a great choice for the game’s setting.

The audio recordings successfully delivered instructions and story while reducing the volume of reading.

The puzzling and flow were generally strong and kept Escape the Confederate Spymistress entertaining.

I like the idea of a subscription service that has players retain key components for future use, thereby reducing the cost associated with each subsequent package while increasing the volume of tools at the players’ disposal.

Shortcomings

Two puzzles could have used a little more playtesting; they were both almost smooth. One in particular was lacking a critical piece of clue structure. Having essentially solved it, we had to go through all of the hints on that puzzle and when we found out what we weren’t doing, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes.

I really wish that the website with the digital locks wasn’t case sensitive. I can’t think of a good reason why it needed to be.

Escape the Confederate Spymistress doesn’t look at all impressive. Aesthetically, it has all of the charm of a pile of paper puzzle prototypes in beta testing.

It would be possible to repack Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress for replay, but you would have to carefully unpack everything and not destroy any components while playing. Additionally, the reusable items would need to be retrieved prior to playing the next game. Thus it is essentially a one-and-done game.

Should I play Escape The Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress?

Depending upon what you value, Escape The Crate will be either great or terrible.

If you’re willing to forgo aesthetics and beauty in favor of a tabletop escape room with fairly strong puzzles and you like the subscription model, then Escape the Crate is a wonderful choice. It’s smart and family-friendly.

The low-key approach to component design might actually make for a sustainable subscription model.

However, if this description sounds like a box of ugly puzzles printed on paper that can’t really be shared with more people than the ones sitting at your table when you play… that’s not an inaccurate interpretation of Escape the Crate either.

This is a value judgment.

For what it’s worth, we received a free reviewer copy of Chapter 1, but have since subscribed at full price. We had a good time and want to see where this goes.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Confederate Spymistress is now a “retired” game that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Escape the Crate provided us a free reviewer’s copy of Chapter 1. We have since purchased a subscription. 

 

Lock & Key Escape Room – The Virus Outbreak [Review]

I’ve been cured of the zombie virus… a lot.

Location: Buffalo, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $25 per ticket

Story & setting

After zombies invaded our research lab, we had to find the cure to a zombie bite or become one of them.

The research lab was sparse and sterile in a lab-meets-clean-basement-workshop sort of way.

In-game: A team ini a dark room interacting with a door that is chained shut.
Image via Lock & Key Escape Room

Puzzles

The Virus Outbreak’s puzzling was more or less tactile, but well-integrated with the theme.

The puzzling could have been more built into the set. However, the game shined in some of the places where the puzzle design truly used the set.

Standouts

We quickly found the thread of gameplay and followed the puzzles easily from one to the next. The Virus Outbreak was a non-linear game with excellent puzzle flow and a strong clue structure.

We particularly enjoyed one spacial reasoning puzzle with a fun nod to the zombie invasion. It wasn’t too challenging, but it was unique and fun.

Shortcomings

The lab environment wasn’t particularly exciting. It barely evoked the drama of a zombie apocalypse or the unfortunate zombie bite from which we were trying to cure ourselves.

The Virus Outbreak felt sparse… both in ambiance and in puzzles. It was a little lean on content and interactions.

A few elements in The Virus Outbreak were re-used in different ways. While the game was well-structured such that this didn’t trip us up (although I imagine that this would trip up many teams), the repetition contributed to a feeling that there wasn’t a ton of gameplay in the room escape.

Should I play Lock & Key Escape Room’s The Virus Outbreak?

The Virus Outbreak was a buttoned-up, standard escape room. Lock & Key Escape Room crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s.

While this room escape didn’t deliver outstanding ambiance, drama, or puzzling, it did deliver a product that worked. Everything flowed smoothly and made sense.

This would be an approachable game for new players. It could also be a good for an experienced player looking to go at this solo or attempt a speed run.

Book your hour with Lock & Key Escape Room’s The Virus Outbreak, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Lock & Key Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Trap Door – Witch Hunt [Review]

“She’s a witch! Burn her!”

Location: Morristown, NJ

Date played: February 13, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

With an accused witch waiting at the gallows, we had an hour to search her residence to find evidence of her guilt or innocence.

Set against a fictionalized 17th century witch hunt, the game was staged inside a dark and creepy home. Witch Hunt flirted with horror, but remained approachably intense for all but the most timid of players.

In-game: A close-up of a mantle with candles, a stone bust, and a a copper plate sitting atop it.

The home itself was dimly lit and fairly compelling. There were a few brilliant details, but also a few modern items that stood out a little too strongly. Post-game we learned that the local fire marshal was very assertive in Trap Door’s design process.

In-game: A fire burning in a small cauldron hung by chains.

Puzzles

Trap Door leaned heavily on narrative, but not at the expense of gameplay. The puzzling felt strong and kept our whole team involved.

We’ve knocked Trap Door for issues of gameflow and puzzle design in our previous visits to their Red Bank, NJ location. I am happy to say that those issues were not present in Witch Hunt.

Standouts

Trap Door has always leaned into their exceptional video production skills. This was absolutely true of Witch Hunt. Their use of video was brilliant.

The puzzles largely felt born of the narrative. This was true of the hint system as well.

The set and props had some magnificent details that both brought the room escape to life and tied everything together.

In-game: A table with a cutting board, herbs, and other cooking utensils and ingredients lit by candle.

Witch Hunt instilled a sense of adventure in our team that lasted the entire experience, which ultimately escalated to a wonderful climax.

Shortcomings

Lighting was our greatest foe in Witch Hunt. We were provided with one lantern for our team of 6; dim LED candles could be used for light in a pinch. Making light into a scarce resource slowed the gameplay and created situations where a player’s primary role became light holder… and in the words of Errol of REDivas, “No one wants to be lamp holder.” Witch Hunt could benefit from either more lamps or the addition of some built-in lighting in key locations.

While the hint system was excellent, most of our team had a hard time hearing the hints or even knowing that they were being delivered.

I would love to see Trap Door continue to level up their skills as immersive set designers by finding ways to create smoother physical puzzle interactions and hide their tech a little more. If the wires, magnets, and seams were to disappear, Witch Hunt would have felt considerably more magical.

Should I play Trap Door’s Witch Hunt?

Witch Hunt feels like the game that Trap Door has been trying to make for 2 years. Each time we’ve visited them, we’ve understood their desire to make us feel a story through their room escape, but it just didn’t come together. Until Witch Hunt.

Witch Hunt is a force to be reckoned with in the ever-strengthening northern New Jersey escape room scene. It’s a game that could be enjoyed by both newbies and experienced escape room players as long as everyone is comfortable with the darkness and the intense theme.

Regardless of your skill level, play hard. Witch Hunt is a trial by fire.

Book your hour with Trap Door’s Witch Hunt, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trap Door comped our tickets for this game.

Austin Panic Room – Phase III: Human Trials [Review]

Why don’t mad scientists maintain clean labs?

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 9, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

We had been kidnapped by an evil surgeon doing evil things in his research lab / murder basement. After being injected with something evil, we had to find the cure and the way out in order to survive.

The grimy set looked relatively compelling, and at the very least, unwelcoming. It was less convincing as a lab where we might make the antidote we needed. Still, it looked pretty much in character as a place for murder.

In-game: Corrugated aluminum wall, a brick floor, and a rusty bed with medical equipment on a table beside it.

Puzzles

The puzzles relied primarily on basic decipherment and determining what was relevant when.

Many of the puzzles were buried under a fair bit of text.

Standouts

Phase III looked thematically appropriate; the ambiance worked.

In a few instances, Austin Panic Room incorporated interesting ciphers.

We appreciated the warnings on the website that Phase III has low ceilings and includes a short segment of flashing lights. We wish more companies included similar cautions.

In-game: A coffin with a transparent top. Inside are bloodied bones.

Shortcomings

At times there was a lot of accessible information that wasn’t actually in play. In fact, because of this, halfway through we worried that we may have somehow bypassed some of the puzzling. It turned out that we hadn’t.

One larger prop was breaking in such a way that it required the use of excessive force. We weren’t sure how to interact with this item and, under our gamemaster’s direction, I’m pretty sure we made the damage worse even as we tried not to.

The tech in Phase III didn’t elevate the experience. This included a beeping noise that persisted throughout the entire game, long after we’d interacted with it. Also, in one instance, poor interface design misdirected us for quite some time.

Finally, there was an exposed fan blade in this room escape. This was an unnecessary safety hazard.

Should I play Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials?

Phase III wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t particularly fun or satisfying either. It had too many elements meant to confound or annoy. The difficulty came more from these factors than from the puzzles.

If you’ve played a room or two and are excited by the evil murder dungeon concept, I recommend visiting at night when you won’t have any light coming in from outside and you can enjoy the unpleasant setting of the experience.

In terms of puzzle design and logical flow Cabin Fever, while not challenging, was the more enjoyable escape room of the two we played at Austin Panic Room.

Book your hour with Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Austin Panic Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Buffalo – The Bank Robbery [Review]

The police will arrive… just as soon as they finish their wings.

Location: North Tonawanda, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: 3-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

We entered the bank intent on stealing the contents of the vault before the police could catch us.

The Bank Robbery looked like a bank, in that drab bank kind of way. We had plenty of room to move around within the bank and interact with the various set pieces.

In-game: A bank counter. The wall reads "AP savings bank"

Puzzles

Escape Room Buffalo did a good job of keeping most of the puzzles tangible. The puzzling was largely built into the set and required physical interaction.

A few challenges forced teamwork, communication, and careful observation.

Standouts

While we were in the bank to steal the contents of the bank vault, there were additional gems that could be stolen as a bonus puzzles. The added bonus puzzles offered a layer of intrigue and complexity for more experienced teams.

There were a few brilliant puzzle design moments. Many of them were exceptionally simple and elegant, which only made them more impressive.

Shortcomings

The Bank Robbery was spacious but barren. While the set and puzzles remained true to the bank theme, a local savings bank wasn’t the most exciting of environments.

There was a surprisingly confusing puzzle implementation that left us thinking that we hadn’t solved something when we had.

The set of The Bank Robbery looked and felt hacked together. The problem here was that Escape Room Buffalo actually had interesting, unusual, and unique puzzle design… but the cleverness of their work was diminished by the room escape’s lack of aesthetic.

Should I play Escape Room Buffalo’s The Bank Robbery?

Escape Room Buffalo got a lot right in The Bank Robbery. The puzzling was solid and the game flow was generally good. Additionally the set was sturdy, even if it didn’t look particularly enticing. With an added focus on exciting environments and refined set design, I think that Escape Room Buffalo could really shine. They are getting a lot of subtle things right.

The Bank Robbery would be approachable for newer players while appealing to experienced folks due to the addition of the game-extending bonus puzzles.

Book your hour with Escape Room Buffalo’s The Bank Robbery, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Buffalo comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

 

Escape Haus – Kid’s Classroom [Review]

If the teacher doesn’t show up, how long do we have to stay?

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 6-12 (mostly kids)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Audience: children

Story & setting

The teacher went home sick, the substitute no-showed, and we were locked in the classroom. We had to puzzle our way out in time to make the school bus.

Kid’s Classroom looked like a classroom for young kids. The decor included tiny desks, small chairs, little lockers, and all of the brightly colored educational wall hangings that you expect in an elementary school classroom.

It wasn’t a fancy looking game, but to the best of my memory, they nailed the look.

In-game, small school desks set in a classroom with brightly colored posters on the walls.

Puzzles

I think there were 21 puzzles in Kid’s Classroom. There was a lot to do; especially for our 2-person team. The good news was that all of the puzzles were designed for children, so they were fast solves… unless we overthought something… which may have happened a few times.

The few interactions that took some doing were process-driven. For most teams, these would occupy lots or all of the children for a little while.

Standouts

I have no problems imagining a small hoard of older elementary schoolers having a blast in this room escape that was clearly designed for them.

Kid’s Classroom was, for all intents and purposes, a classroom.

In game: The wall displays the alphabet and also reads,

There was one larger prop that was used brilliantly in a few ways. It was simple, clever, and slick.

Shortcomings

Kid’s Classroom was not a game for adults. This isn’t so much a shortcoming as it is a warning.

One item in the room perpetually seemed like it should hold the right answer to a puzzle. We kept returning to it and inspecting closely. That grew old fast.

The game was broken up into a few tracks and it was challenging to identify where the tracks began. Especially in a game for kids, stronger cluing could remove unnecessary uncertainty.

Children spend a lot of time in classrooms. I can imagine far more fun environments designed for children to investigate. An escape room is an opportunity to explore something fantastic, rather than the all-too-familiar classroom.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Kid’s Classroom?

We saw a group of tween girls leave Kid’s Classroom and they were all smiles and exuberance.

If you’re looking for a kid-friendly escape room, Kid’s Classroom would be a great option. If you’re adults looking for an escape room at Escape Haus, I’d suggest you explore their other offerings. Kid’s Classroom is not designed for adults.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Kid’s Classroom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Escape Room Adventures WNY – Escape from Wonderland [Review]

“It’s always tea-time.”

Location: North Tonawanda, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

We found ourselves locked away in the Queen of Hearts’ dungeon. We had to puzzle our way our of Wonderland before we lost our heads.

Escape from Wonderland spanned a few settings within Wonderland. The early dungeon set was vibrant, as you’d expect from a dungeon in that world, but also bland, in that there wasn’t a lot to interact with. The later sets were lushly decorated.

In game - the Queen of Heart's dungeon. The walls are painted red with card suites on it, and many locked boxes sit on shelves.

Puzzles

Escape from Wonderland’s puzzling experience was broad and varied.

The earliest puzzle was simple, yet tedious. After that, the puzzles became more interesting.

Escape Room Adventures WNY created some unusual puzzles. There was a recurring answer mechanism early in the game, a recreation of a classic Survivor puzzle, and a complex third act.

Standouts

The final set looked great and compelling.

There were some excellent puzzles to solve and a fair amount of complexity for experienced players to sink their teeth into.

The simple fact that we were ourselves in Wonderland, neither as Alice nor as some other established character, allowed us to simply be us. It was a minor detail that we greatly appreciated.

The Survivor puzzle was a great concept.

Shortcomings

While I loved the Survivor puzzle, there wasn’t enough room for more than two people to work on it at once. This amplified its difficulty and left a lot of our team with nothing to do.

There was a particular type of challenge that players can either do, or they can’t. I can’t, which was frustrating.

There came a point where the room escape relied on a little bit of Alice in Wonderland knowledge. While I am sure that most teams will have at least one player with this outside knowledge, it’s not guaranteed.

While working on the complex third act, we called for a hint and received an outright solution to the bulk of the final act. This left us with an abundance of puzzle pieces, a solution, and no idea how it all came together or which bits were still unused to complete our escape. Upon slogging through to completion, our gamemaster remarked how difficult it was to watch us in those closing minutes… which was funny… because we found it pretty difficult to experience.

Should I play Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from Wonderland?

Escape from Wonderland was an interesting game. It was equal parts expected and outlandish, which beautifully captured the essence of Alice in Wonderland.

Its strengths were challenging puzzles and some great set design. It was abundantly clear that this experience was created with passion and love.

Its weaknesses were an uncomfortable bottleneck, a challenge that some will literally find impossible, and in our case, a derailment in the form of overeager hinting. They are all correctable.

Beginners will likely find themselves facing some large challenges in Escape from Wonderland. Experienced players will discover a final act that is a truly worthy opponent. I wish that we could have received a more gentle hint and tackled that beast.

Book your hour with Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from Wonderland, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Adventures WNY comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

 

Escape the Planet: An Educational Program at the American Museum of Natural History

There is no single place more emblematic of my childhood than the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

It brought my fascination with dinosaurs to life. There are few memories that can compare to the first time I looked up at the towering skeletons of these beasts so alien, yet so real.

When I received an email from American Museum of Natural History asking if I could help them evaluate a children’s escape room educational program, the only answer was “yes.”

A tyrannosaurus rex skeleton standing tall in the American Museum of Natural History.
Rawr!

Escape The Planet

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I walked into the iconic New York Museum. All I knew was that I was to “evaluate” a children’s STEM program called Escape The Planet and that had something to do with escape rooms.

It was a 20-minute escape room game designed by a group of approximately 2 dozen teens over the course of a week, as part of a STEM program. As an evaluator, I played the game with a handful of other evaluators and provided feedback to the teenage designers.

In the game, we were astronauts who had experienced a system failure on Mars. We had to identify our location and determine a course back to Earth. If we aimed ourselves incorrectly, we would either launch ourselves into the sun or float about the vacuum of space indefinitely. It was a great setup.

The puzzling centered on two interaction types:

  • Searching
  • Augmented reality using a Microsoft HoloLens

The outcome

The teens who designed this room escape had less than a week to conceive of the game and get it ready for us to test it. They had a couple of faculty advisors, one of whom coded like crazy to get the HoloLens applications (there were 2 of them) working.

Given the time constraints and lack of background in escape room design, I was amazed by how cohesive Escape The Planet was. It told a story, taught us science, and integrated technology that most people hadn’t handled. We had fun.

It needed improvement in many of the areas where so many escape room businesses need refinement: extensive written instructions and choppy clue structure. That said, we were literally the first beta testers playing the game.

I was a little nervous providing feedback because I wanted to be encouraging. However, these teenage designers wanted to know the flaws! They asked more questions and sought more pointed feedback than most escape room businesses; they took the feedback like professionals.

I was so damn impressed with both the participants in this program and the advisors.

Learning Programs at the American Museum of Natural History

Through volunteering to evaluate Escape the Planet, I learned that my favorite Museum employs a ton of educators and runs lots of programs for people of all ages.

Check out what they have to offer.

Escape rooms as an education medium

Breakout EDU and all of the educators who have created educational escape games for their students have proven that the escape room medium can be an effective teaching tool.

I love that the folks behind Escape the Planet flipped the model so that the kids learned through designing the game. It was a brilliant twist on the educational escape room concept. I hope that they continue to run programs like this and that others follow suit.

If you’d like to learn more about this particular program, check out this blog post by one of the people who ran it.

Image via The American Museum of Natural History.