Escape Goat – A Fisherman’s Tale [Review]

A Little Mermaid

Location:  Winter Garden, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

A Fisherman’s Tale is Escape Goat’s new beginner-friendly game. It was approachable, sweet, and comfortable. It’s easy to recommend to first time players.

Escape Goat is the epitome of a family-run escape room business and a lot of companies could learn a ton from them. Their games were brimming with details, love, and personality.

A Fisherman’s Tale was their only game without an in-room character/ gamemaster. They replaced this with a clever hint system.

If you’re an experienced player, The Quest has quite a bit more to offer in terms of depth and complexity. That said, if you’re a fan of what Escape Goat is doing, A Fisherman’s Tale was a delight. We squeezed this one in with some found time and we were happy that we did.

In-game: Inside of a fishing boat, there are crates, and chests.

Who is this for?

  • Newbies
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A hilarious hint system
  • A cute story
  • Approachable gameplay

Story

While walking the beach we had happened upon a message in a bottle begging for help. The note had led us to a boat captained by an obsessive treasure hunter.

In-game: A captain's desk on his boat.

Setting

A Fisherman’s Tale was set within the beachside hut of a fisherman. We explored the small structure, which had a simple yet effective aesthetic.

Few items seemed out of place and few props jumped out at us as truly memorable… except for the genius hint system… and I’m not spoiling that punchline.

In-game: The wood and canvas walls and ceiling of the boat's interior.

Gameplay

Escape Goat’s A Fisherman’s Tale was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ A Fisherman’s Tale told a cute story.

➕ Escape Goat made the most of a small physical footprint with a detailed set. This made spaces distinct and added intrigue to the game.

➕ Although it was an easier escape room, there was still a lot of content to engage with at any given point. The puzzles were thematic, distinct, and well clued. The game flowed well.

➖ Escape Goat could refine the beginning with a gentler onboarding. This segment had potential, but lacked the clarity of some of the more complex, later puzzles.

➖ There was an opportunity to improve sound design in A Fisherman’s Tale. When speakers played, we mostly talked over them by accident. Additionally, not all sounds were accessible to the entire group.

❓ We worry about the durability of some more delicate props.

➕ The ending was fun. The final prop was enticing and although the story didn’t surprise us, Escape Goat made it special.

➕ With the playful tone of A Fisherman’s Tale, Escape Goat could add entertaining touches, like the adorable hint mechanism.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Goat’s A Fisherman’s Tale, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Goat comped our tickets for this game.

Where To Get Custom Jigsaw Puzzles

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

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

Traditional Jigsaw Puzzles from Ravensburger

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

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

Closeup of Ravensburger puzzle pieces in the box.

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

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

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

Laser Cut Wood Puzzles from Liberty Puzzles

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a Good Jigsaw Puzzle Image?

A few things come to mind:

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

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

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

2020 Escape Game Wishlist

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

The genie lamp from Aladdin high up on a pedistal.

How’d We Do in 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Wishlist

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

New Games, Familiar Companies

Unfamiliar Companies

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

New Travel Destinations

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

Recommendations Welcome

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

Dare 2 Escape – The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind [Review]

Willy Wonka & the Video Store

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was compelling. Stepping into it brought back so many memories.

It was cool to see all of the props and mechanics of a video store thoroughly repurposed into an elaborate puzzle game.

In-game: a cardboard cutout of Keanu Reeves beside a shelf of DVDs.
Whoa. A most excellent cameo.

At Dare 2 Escape, everyone loves Halloween. We haven’t played any of their other escape rooms, all of which are set in a single, scary storyline. The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a break from their tradition (but set in the same universe). It was humorous. The staging fit it into Dare 2 Escape’s world, while delivering a completely different vibe, which was impressive… and especially welcome for our anti-horror teammates.

If you’re in Orlando, and you’re looking for a puzzle-focused escape room in an authentic video store setting, The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a fun trip down memory lane.

Who is this for?

  • Nostalgic movie fans
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Detailed, clever design
  • Lots of nuanced references
  • It was great visiting a video store

Story

Eccentric video rental store owner Joseph Boddy had decided to retire. Rather than sell his lucrative business, he had decided to award it to someone who would truly appreciate it.

Mr. Boddy had randomly issued golden tickets to members of his store for a series of challenges. The person who could solve them would win the greatest prize of all: the deed to a video rental store. That’s a business that can never fail.

In-game: The Harvest Moon Video logo beside a large sign that reads, "Be kind rewind."

Setting

It was a video store through and through. If you’re old enough to have ever visited one, Dare 2 Escape’s creation looked spot on.

The only thing that was missing was a video game rental section.

In-game: Wide view of a video store with shelves of DVDs.

Gameplay

Dare 2 Escape’s The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and enjoying the many references.

In-game: a collection of DVDs in the sci-fi section.

Analysis

➕ The Willy-Wonka-meets-video-rental-store setup was genius.

➕ While The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was visually busy – such is the aesthetic of a video store – every prop had a purpose. Every item belonged in the gamespace.

➖ We encountered some gating issues. In the middle of the game, we sunk a lot of time into puzzles that weren’t yet solvable.

 The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a nostalgic escape room, crafted with a devotion to the subject matter.

➕/➖ Dare 2 Escape created multiple strong puzzles around DVDs and other common rental store items. That said, it was challenging to keep track of all the different DVD puzzles.

➖ The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind lacked work surfaces, which exacerbated the DVD organization issue. We had a lot of props to organize and solve, but no work area on which to do so. We spread out across the floor, creating a bit of a tripping hazard.

➕ In The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind outside movie knowledge was an asset, but it certainly wasn’t required. With certain knowledge, we moved more quickly through one segment, but without it, the task wasn’t arduous. The solve was neat. Added bonus: if you know the movies, you’ll feel like a rock star.

➖ Although the early gameplay made sense for staging and story building, it dragged. We were hampered by the dim lighting in the first act. The gameplay worked, but the pacing felt off. The opening would have felt more powerful if it had flowed more quickly.

➕ Dare 2 Escape built a sweet transition into this game.

 The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was full of Easter eggs: nods to Dare 2 Escape’s other games, the creators’ family and friends, and so many movies.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Dare 2 Escape’s The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Artists – NINJA [Review]

Asian Fusion

Location:  Orlando, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape Artist’s NINJA was a bit of a roller coaster. Some portions were attractive, engaging, and funny. Others were finicky, underdeveloped, and tedious. It could change from one moment to the next.

Overall, it was pleasant to experience an atypical escape room scenario, but the great parts left us really wishing that everything was more cleanly executed.

If you’re in the area and are looking for a mixture of puzzles, pop culture references, and an assortment of pan-Asian concepts, NINJA is anything but expected.

In-game: a japanese building with a cherry blossom out front.

Who is this for?

  • Nerds – so many references – so many
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s really different in look and play
  • Some of the set pieces are beautiful
  • The references were as outlandish as they were funny

Story

An evil ninja had been hired to assassinate and sabotage our town. We needed to defeat this ninja and bring proof of our victory to our Shogun.

In-game: a large black and white symbol hung from a wall of bamboo and spotlit in the darkness.

Setting

NINJA had a mostly Japanese – and occasionally pan-Asian – aesthetic. The Japanese architecture and faux cherry blossoms were quite striking.

Every room of NINJA was loaded with nerdy sight gags, some subtle, some overt. These were the highlight of the game for half of our team.

In-game: a lantern hung outside of a japanese building.

Over the course of the game, it became clear that the set design was incredibly uneven with some sections clearly receiving a lot of love and investment. Other sections felt like an afterthought.

Gameplay

Escape Artists’ NINJA was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a puzzle with slots for many disks arranged in a circle.

Analysis

➕ NINJA was goofy. It pulled from all different “ninja” associations, creating an amalgamation of loosely associated themes. The tone was lighthearted and some of the props were especially amusing to read or interact with.

➖ Some of these NINJA associations seemed only vaguely relevant. It was almost as if anything Asian was also somehow “ninja.”

➕ There was a lot of puzzle content, in different styles, which we enjoyed.

➖ Some of the more traditional escape room-style puzzles lacked clarity. There were opportunities to refine the cluing, which was at times ambiguous.

➕ NINJA shined in its physical interactions. We tackled many unusual dexterity challenges. We enjoyed being the ninjas – shooting, punching, tossing, and throwing our way to puzzle solves.

➖ The engineering in NINJA was sloppy. The tolerances on the tech were too tight, which made everything feel finicky. We frequently solved puzzles correctly, but did not receive feedback from the solve.

➕/➖ Parts of the set looked great. In these places, Escape Artists minded the details and added finish. Parts of the set looked hacked together, messy, and unrefined. Even in the low lighting, we could see the seams.

➖ The last gamespace felt especially underdesigned, as if Escape Artists had run out of time or budget.

➕ Escape Artists crafted some most excellent doors within NINJA. We’re always fans of unusual doors; we greatly enjoyed this reveal.

➕ There was one written passage that when read out loud made our jaws drop… before the laughter set in.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking nearby.
  • NINJA is located at Escape Artists’ Orlando location, not their Sanford location.
  • Be advised that NINJA takes place in low light.

Book your hour with Escape Artists’ NINJA, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Artists comped our tickets for this game.

Red Fox Escapes – The Heist [Review]

Artfully Puzzley

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 13, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We loved Red Fox’s The Heist. It was quirky, unique, and loaded with great puzzles. To make things even better for an experienced escape room team, there was no searching; the puzzles were confidently on display.

In-game: Wide view of the gallery, many pieces are on display, the two most prominent is a painting of the Queen of England with her eyes closed.

This was a challenging game, in a fair way. While we loved it, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people preferred Red Fox’s U-Boat (also a lovely game – review coming soon). On its surface, this game feels more normal, but if you really look at the details, that’s where this game shines.

If you’re an experienced puzzler near Boston, we highly recommend The Heist. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more of an adventure, try out U-Boat first. Either way, Red Fox is a company that we’re looking forward to visiting many more times in the future. They’re off to a stellar start.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Cat burglars
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Unusual and challenging puzzles
  • There was essentially no searching
  • Beautiful art

Story

A private gallery in the Back Bay was exhibiting the world’s largest diamond, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Naturally, we’d assembled our team of master thieves in our hideout to plan our heist.

In-game: A portrait of Marilyn Monroe made out of pennies beside a geometic sculputre.

Setting

The Heist began inside of our secret hideout [not depicted because it’s a secret]. Once our plan was sorted out, we broke into the gallery… and it really looked like a gallery.

Aside from nailing the art gallery aesthetic, the thing that really set this one apart was that the art looked unique, and like art. It was great to see pieces that weren’t obvious knockoffs of famous art that is housed in specific museums.

In-game: A sculpture of a tree and root system without leaves.

Gameplay

Red Fox Escapes’ The Heist was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: an image of a woman made out of wire mounted to a board.

Analysis

➕ The secret hideout was classic. It looked good and provided a solid on-ramp that warmed us up for the main event.

➕ The artwork was high quality. It was beautiful. Some of the pieces were truly impressive creations.

➖ As beautiful as the set was, a couple of the props we handled felt worn out. They weren’t on the same level as the rest of the space.

➕ The Heist was a challenging, puzzley escape room with fair, well-clued puzzles. Red Fox wove the puzzles through the art unlike any art heist we’ve played to date. The game was challenging for all the right reasons… and there wasn’t any searching.

➕ Red Fox drew on classic heist tropes, but made these their own. We couldn’t maneuver through them in the normal way. This was smart.

➖/➕ Red Fox introduced one concept too early. It had to work this way for the story, but this design decision could easily come back to bite them – or more likely – one of their props.

➕ The juxtaposed sets were incredibly different, but part of one world. The transition scene enabled this really well. A lot of love went into a space that we spent next to no time in. Respect.

➖ The first act couldn’t support as large a team as the second act could, which makes it hard to recommend a group size for The Heist. Strong puzzlers can go with a smaller group. If you bring a larger group, you’ll be crowded early on before the space opens up.

➕ Red Fox can adapt The Heist during the reset to make it easier by swapping in additional cluing for some puzzles. They can do this so seamlessly that players would never know.

Tips For Visiting

  • Red Fox Escapes is easily accessible by T. Take the Red Line to Central.
  • At least 1 person needs to be able to crawl.

Book your hour with Red Fox Escapes’ The Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Red Fox Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Denver, Colorado: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: January 8, 2020

Denver has a lot of escape room companies. In fact, Colorado had the most escape room companies per capita in both 2018 & 2019. Here is our guide to the best escape rooms in Denver.

If you’re in the area, check out our guides to Fort Collins and Colorado Springs (coming soon).

Sign that reads, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado"

Market Standouts

  1. Paradox, Rabbit Hole Recreation Services
  2. Mystic Temple, Rabbit Hole Recreation Services
  3. Experiment C73, Conundrum Escape Rooms
  4. Curse on the Emerald Seas, The Puzzle Effect
  5. Grim Stacks, The Puzzle Effect
  6. The Curse, Puzzah!

Set & Scenery Driven

Puzzle Centric

Tech Heavy

Newbie Friendly

Mind Masters – Strange Magic [Review]

Pulling a solution out of a hat

Location:  Clermont, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.10 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Strange Magic was a delightful blend of puzzle design, technology, and set design. Everything came together beautifully in a compact but mighty package.

What made Mind Masters’ inaugural game so fantastic was the stage-magic quality of the interactions.

Additionally, some of the technology was so slick that it’s hard to comprehend how great it is… which really is how tech ought to function.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend finding your way to this company. It’s rare to see such a polished first outing from a rookie escape room business. I have a feeling that we’re going to see more great things from them.

In-game: Closeup of the magician's hat.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great thematic puzzling
  • A fun setting
  • Brilliant and subtle magical tech

Story

In the heart of America, the magician in a traveling circus was using real sorcery to feed on the life force of his audience.

We time traveled into his tent during his hour-long performance to disrupt his sinister magic.

In-game: A magical prop, a box with constellations painted on it, slits cut in it, and a knife embedded in one of the slits.

Setting

Strange Magic packed a ton of might into a compact space. The room felt like it was inside of a circus tent, with all of the right detailing in the vaulted ceiling. That level of detail followed all the way down through the props and to the floor.

Everything was focused on circus magic.

In-game: The vaulted ceiling of the circus tent.

The set was well lit and an easy setting to enjoy.

Additionally, Mind Masters’ overall narrative for all of their games focused on time traveling, and their use of a time machine as the doorway/ hint delivery system/ storage for the team’s gear was inspired.

Gameplay

Mind Masters’ Strange Magic was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: wide view of the citcus tent, a magician's hat on a table, crates lay about.

Analysis

➕ In Strange Magic, the opens felt magical. Mind Masters embedded technology to make us feel like magicians. It worked smoothly and invisibly.

➕ Strange Magic was designed from floor to ceiling. Mind Masters built a space that hearkened back to the Golden Age of Magic.

➕ Mind Masters did some really smart 3D printing work.

➖ Some of the cluing was just a bit too subtle. Thematic, absolutely. Beyond reasonable perception, also yes.

In-game: The time travel machine/ hint system.

➕ Narratively, Mind Masters justified anything that didn’t fit through their time-travel portal. This enabled them to use escape room essentials elegantly.

➖ While most of the tech worked brilliantly and thoughtfully, there was an opportunity for Mind Masters to improve this game by disabling double inputs.

➕ The puzzles flow worked well and many had layered solves. Although the space was smaller, there were enough puzzles open at any one time, spread out across the space, that we didn’t feel cramped and everyone could be involved.

➖ The final sequence was bumpy. Although we’d taken the right action, we didn’t get strong feedback from the game and began to second guess ourselves. Nothing clued us that this interaction required patience. While waiting can add drama, in the case of this puzzle, the slow pace of the prop’s response detracted from an otherwise impressive ending.

➕ The technology in Strange Magic ran far deeper than we understood while playing. At the end of the game, Mind Masters gave us a score, determined by their automated system.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Mind Masters’ Strange Magic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mind Masters provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Upside Down Escape Games – The Gingerbread Cottage [Review]

Solve, solve as fast as you can

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 1- a small family group

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $18 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Gingerbread Cottage was an adorable, family- and newbie-friendly seasonal game. It was one of the nicer temporary games that we’ve encountered.

The story was cute, the hint system was clever, the puzzles were fair, the props were well-selected, and there was a tiny bit more tech than we’re accustomed to finding in a limited run escape game.

In-game: gingerbread house wall covered in gumdrops.

This game was meant for families and small groups of new players. The recipe included short and sweet puzzles and it was iced with a touch of humor.

If you’re a seasoned escape room player, this one isn’t really made for our kind, but we still enjoyed nibbling on it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Christmas aficionados
  • Great for families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Adorable premise
  • Solid puzzle game
  • Christmas cheer

Story

Peeled from a baking sheet, we had gained sentience as we were placed in our gingerbread home. From beyond the walls of our candy cottage we’d heard that Darryl was coming home in 45 minutes… and he was going to be hungry.

In-game: A fireplace decorated with stockings, a rocking chair, and a giant - partially decorated gingerbread cookie on the wall.

Setting

The Gingerbread Cottage was a small, humble, and adorable little popup Christmas game. Most of the props were artfully selected Christmas decorations meant to build the fiction of the inside of a gingerbread house.

The game itself was constructed around the decoy gingerbread man, a simple, but effective piece of tech.

In-game: A white christmas tree shelf covered in gingerbread cookie ornaments beside a fireplace decorated with stockings.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Gingerbread Cottage was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

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

6 homemade gingerbread owls.

Analysis

➕ The Gingerbread Cottage had an adorable, playful premise.

➕ The gameplay was approachable and entirely non-linear. It was easy to dive in and clear how to play. The gameplay was smooth.

➖ Maybe we were seeing it in the wrong light, but one puzzle felt a little off to us.

➕ Although Upside Down Escape Games had a small footprint and low budget for this holiday popup escape game, they created a lot of cheer. It didn’t feel cheap or temporary.

➖ There was an opportunity to more evenly use the space. The majority of the puzzle elements were a bit on top of each other.

➖ The Gingerbread Cottage lacked a finale. With a final puzzle or some fanfare, the win would have felt like more of an event.

➕ The hint system was thematic and cute.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Upside Down Escape Games’ The Gingerbread Cottage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Upside Down Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

2019 Golden Lock Awards

2019 Golden Lock Award Ribbon

We played and reviewed 161 escape rooms in 2019.

Our own playing slowed a bit this year as we worked to grow the community from other angles: reviewing more at-home escape games, running two different Escape Immerse Explore tours, and launching the Reality Escape Convention (RECON) which will take place in Boston in 2020.

When we traveled, we actively sought out the most interesting and unusual games. We raised the bar for the games we chose to play.

We tapped into the community and sought escape rooms that refined the traditional notion of escape rooms or pushed the industry in a new direction.

As “wry cheerleaders, critics, and ambassadors of the escape room world” (Rachel Sugar, Vox, 2019) we want to share the stories of people, companies, and games that are driving this frontier of the experience economy.

Changes

For our fifth annual Golden Lock Award, we’ve made a few changes to the award:

New Name

We decided to drop the wordplay of “Golden Lock-In” after the fire in Poland. Locking players inside of an escape room hasn’t been acceptable for a long time. While our 2019 Escape Room Safety Report demonstrates that locked doors are a thing of the past, we didn’t want this award to encourage it in any way.

Rules

We’ve changed, and so has the industry. We added a rule about safety and dropped a rule that both of us had to play each contending game:

  1. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could win the award.
  2. A company could only win once for the year.
  3. We had published a safety rubric at the start of 2019. To be considered, a room had to achieve a safety rating of A or A+ for both emergency exits and physical restraints.
  4. We (either of us) had to play the room during 2019.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again. Here are our 16 favorite escape rooms of 2019.

2019 Golden Lock Winners

Here is the recording of the awards show livestream.

Listed chronologically in the order that we played them:

The Legend of the Skull Witch

Enchambered – Sacramento, California

In-game: an effigy hanging from the wall with fire projected onto it.

From its imposing opening scene, through each moment of exploration, there was something intriguing – and a bit unsettling – about The Legend of the Skull Witch. Enchambered built creative mechanisms that made the world that much more magical… and the solving that much more heroic.

Castle Adventure

Escape Room Family – Cincinnati, Ohio

In-game: An assortment of puzzles and armaments in Defend The Castle.

The magic of Castle Adventure came from the gameplay and puzzles, set in bright and friendly containers. With a specific audience in mind, Escape Room Family invested in the right details, upping the energy level and the fun factor. It might not have looked like much, but it had it where it counted.

The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent

Codex – Laval, Quebec, Canada

In-game: A campfire burning under the stars in the middle of the autumn woods.

In our first adventure through Norse mythology, Codex crafted a lovingly homemade aesthetic with exquisite polish, delivering a historic land like no other. The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent had us solving our way through a story right up until we sealed our destiny.

The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa

Escaparium – Dorval, Quebec, Canada

In-game: Bottles of magical ingredients.

Escaparium bestowed magical powers upon us and set us off on a quest to battle a mythical beast. Through an unusual set and tech, The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa fostered teamwork and moments of individual heroism.

Wrath of Poseidon

Sauve Qui Peut – Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada

In-game: A periscope in a submarine.

What began as a cliché aboard a submarine opened up into a spectacularly vibrant second act. Wrath of Poseidon carried a subtle message, made all the more memorable by Sauve Qui Peut’s breathtaking style and craftsmanship.

The End

DarkPark – Zoetermeer, Netherlands

In-game: a rundown scifi-esque wall-mounted logo that reads "END"

DarkPark’s newest experience was a twisted thriller about endings… in so many different ways. The End was about its story, a futuristic cautionary tale that delivered an unimaginably epic conclusion.

The Dome

Escape Room Nederland – Bunschoten-Spakenburg, Netherlands

In-game: The entry way for The Dome opened, a sign reads, "Butterfly Safe Zone.".

With unrivaled set design and technology, The Dome led us through a series of hallucinations, administered without any chemicals and entirely through Escape Room Nederland’s commitment to their craft. With each mind-boggling transition we were that much more amazed that this escape room even exists.

Neptune’s Curse

Hidden in Hamburg – Hamburg, Germany

In-game: A wooden ship's comaptment with unusual crates and storage containers built into the walls.

Hidden in Hamburg built their seafaring adventure into a real ship. As we traversed the decks of this actually floating escape game, we experienced puzzles that could only work in the unusual environment of Neptune’s Curse.

Below Zero

Crypto Escape Rooms – Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

In-game: Wide angle shot of a control room.

Crypto Escape Rooms crafted a fully realized narrative and puzzles that were as integrated into the story as they were fun to solve. With a blend of compelling storytelling and dark humor, Below Zero will thaw the heart of the most jaded escape room player.

The Aurora Society

Decode Ypsilanti – Ypsilanti, Michigan

In-game: wide shot of the room, a strange game sits on a table in the middle of the room.

Every prop, puzzle, and inch of the beautiful world of The Aurora Society was justified and came together to tell our story of harnessing the magical properties of the aurora borealis. Decode Ypsilanti created a cohesive world from the front door through every inch of their facility and our experience in it.

The Infirmary

Michigan Escape Room – Clinton Township, Michigan

In-game: A wide shot of the Infirmary. It's heavily weathered and worn.

With an intense and eerie set, The Infirmary was a shining example of a classic escape room. Michigan Escape Room added novel interactions to stellar, traditional gameplay, reminding us of why we fell in love with these types of games in the first place.

Plight of the Margo Part 1 & Part 2

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms – Fort Collins, Colorado

In-game: The ships helm beside and iris door.

The Plight of the Margo was an epic Star Trek-inspired mission in two consecutive 90-minute installments. ConTRAPtions used the extended clock to build an intense story within an impressively engineered starship.

ConTRAPtions is for sale, for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their product. They have a special game and we want it to find a good home. If you are interested in buying ConTRAPtions, please reach out to them directly.

The Last Defender

Denver, Colorado

We played The Last Defender in Denver, but it was originally launched in Chicago and is currently running again in Chicago.

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.
Image via The Last Defender

The Last Defender was a dark political comedy exploring cold war nuclear deterrents. For 16 players, it blurred the lines between escape room, theater, and puzzle hunt, presenting equal doses of challenging puzzles and thought-provoking moments that balanced on the razor’s edge between tragedy and comedy.

Paradox

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services – Louisville, Colorado

In-game: 4 tubes protruding upwards from a glowing console.

If Doctor Who’s Tardis and The Room game series had a baby, it would look like Paradox. Rabbit Hole Recreation Services created a monument to tangible gameplay delivering puzzle after puzzle with unusual and engaging interfaces.

Captain Spoopy Bones And The Magnificent Quest For Some Other Pirate’s Treasure

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Kissimmee, Florida

In-game: the brig inside of a wooden ship.

We laughed our way through Captain Spoopy Bones And The Magnificent Quest For Some Other Pirate’s Treasure. Doldrick’s Escape Room uses their unique voice to build fully realized worlds. We were giddy accomplices in Captain Spoopy Bones’ tale. Through 75 minutes of tight gameplay and stellar reveals, they made us feel like kids again.

The Storyteller’s Secret

Boxaroo – Boston, Massachusetts

In-game: A beautiful old writer's desk with a journal and a quill pen.

The Storyteller’s Secret was a serene adventure through the mind of a novelist. Boxaroo’s escape room wasn’t just built; it was thoroughly designed, delivering gameplay reminiscent of classic LucasArts games.

Congratulations to the 2019 Golden Lock Winners!

Past Golden Lock Awards

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