The VOID – Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire [Review]

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 9, 2019

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

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: from $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was a technological step up for THE VOID from the Ghostbusters game that we experienced a few years back. The tech felt better and there was more and stronger physical feedback. Plus, it was Star Wars… and Star Wars is the cultural equivalent of comfort food.

The cover art for Star Wars Secrets of the Empire. A team of stormtroopers on a skiff above a molten planet.

The big catch with THE VOID was the price point. At $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay it was a big ask.

I loved a lot of what was going on in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire; I highly recommend it to Star Wars fans. It drops you in that familiar world and just feels right. At the same time, I left really wishing that I was playing as a Jedi, not a Rebel in stormtrooper armor.

THE VOID did a lot of really smart things when they designed this game and it worked damn well. If you think that you want to play it, and you can afford to do so, I absolutely recommend it.

Who is this for?

  • Star Wars fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You love Star Wars
  • It’s an engaging high quality VR shooter
  • Fantastic immersive detailing

Story

Spies for the Rebellion had reported that an item vital to the war effort had been uncovered by the Empire on the molten planet Mustafar. Our mission was to recover the item from the Imperial installation in a stolen ship, disguised as stormtroopers.

THE VOID in the middle of the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The architecture is massive and imposing. It looks like you're inside of a whale.
Image via THE VOID

Setting

Upon arrival at our start time, we were ushered into a briefing room, given the story, and then brought into a gear room where we suited up. The kit included a:

  • VR headset with a visor and earphones
  • haptic vest that vibrated when our avatar was shot, shaken, or otherwise impacted by something in the game world
  • a blaster
A group putting on their VOID gear.
Image via THE VOID

Once we put on all of the gear and tightened all of the straps, we were brought into the game.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was beautifully rendered and felt familiar in all of the right ways. We were free to walk about the world without cables or cords restricting us. If a wall was in the game, it was there in real life. If a chair was in the game, it was present in real life.

The world was further accented by scents, blowing fans, and other real-life stimuli that pulled the game purely out of the digital realm.

Gameplay

The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was an approachable VR shooter experience.

Core gameplay revolved around taking in the world, shooting bad guys, and one puzzle.

A group suiting up, wearing the full VOID gear set.
Image via THE VOID

Analysis

➕ The gear was comfortable, balanced, and easy to put on and take off. Additionally, this was the first time that I was able to put on a VR headset and not once think about how to position my glasses. It just worked. I actually forgot about this entirely and only remembered when I was taking a look at my old review of THE VOID’s Ghostbusters experience where my glasses were a problem.

➕ It was Star Wars. I knew what I was getting into. There was a look, a feel, and a sound to the world and storytelling that just pushed the right nostalgic buttons. If you are or ever were into Star Wars, then there will be something here for you.

➕ The addition of physical sensations was wonderful. It added a tactile depth that is often missing from VR experiences.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There was a light puzzle. It was a thing. My teammates Dani and Bill from Escape this Podcast (we loved being on their show!) solved it, but we all agreed that I had more fun shooting stormtroopers while they solved it.

➖ There was a minute or so early in the experience where the world just seemed to freeze. My teammates and I could move, see one another, and speak, but the cut scene we were watching felt paused. I don’t know what happened, but I doubt that it was supposed to go down that way. The saving grace was that it wasn’t during a combat sequence or at a climactic moment.

➖ Maybe it’s just me, but my Star Wars fantasies never involved dressing as a stormtrooper. I know that it solves a lot of avatar problems. I’m also aware that it’s supported canonically by the Death Star scenes in A New Hope. And having players clutch a rifle with two hands is a lot safer than having them flailing about with a lightsaber. I see the pragmatism, thought, and cleverness in all of this.

None of that changes the fact that my inner 9-year-old wants to be a damn Jedi when he’s inside of a Star Wars game… especially at $2.66 per minute.

❓ $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay was expensive. I’m glad that I played, but I can also empathize with anyone who rejects it on price alone; Lisa sat this one out for that very reason.

➕ You can’t really ask for an easier, more picturesque location than the center of the World Trade Center Oculus. It was lovely getting off the train and being at the venue. We tend to find Immersive experiences hidden in strange, difficult to find locations. This was a lovely change of pace.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s NYC; take mass transit. THE VOID is sitting dead center in the middle of one of the city’s largest transit hubs.
  • Food: There are food options in the mall, but I recommend taking a short walk to The Wooly Public.
  • Accessibility: Check the “Accessibility” category in THE VOID’s FAQ.
  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim, Glendale, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Plano, New York (all US), Edmonton, Mississauga, Toronto (all Canada), and Genting (Malaysia).

Book your session with The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escapes – Lunar Escape [Review]

Hit way above its weight class.

Location:  Aurora, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $76 per team for teams of 2 to $184 per team for teams of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Lunar Escape was a fun game that could be transformed into something spectacular with a bit more investment. The puzzles and gameplay were buckets of fun. The set and set pieces’ construction left a lot to be desired.

In-game: Closeup of a maze.

Mission Escape (no relation to Mission Escape Games) has a talent for puzzle and game design. If they level up their presentation, they could build some truly special experiences.

So long as your enjoyment of an escape room isn’t tied directly to set design, we strongly recommend Lunar Escape if you’re in the area; it plays far better than most escape games.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Great early game reveals
  • Some clever, weird, layered puzzles
  • There wasn’t much searching at all
  • A phenomenal final act

Story

A curse had been cast on the earth so that it only received light from the moon. We had to break the curse by completing the Magic Circle.

In-game: a gray-scale clock depicting the Earth

Setting

Lunar Escape had a smart, dramatic dark opening. As the set began to reveal itself, it quickly became clear that most of the set construction was aggressively subpar.

There were bright spots, but overall, looking closely at most items didn’t improve the experience… and there were some set pieces that you didn’t have to look at closely to get a sense that construction wasn’t Mission Escapes’ strong suit.

In-game: Two locked compartments built into a bench surrounded by old shag carpet.

Lunar Escape was fun in spite of its build… and honestly… that was impressive in its own right.

Gameplay

Mission Escapes‘ Lunar Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling.

In-game: closeup of a red on/ off switch.

Analysis

➕ Lunar Escape opened dramatically, in darkness. It used lighting as gating, which was elegant, unusual, and safe.

➕ There was essentially no searching. The escape game showed you where to focus.

➖ The build quality was sub-par. Although much of this was obscured by darkness, as we interacted with the set, we could tell that Mission Escapes had a long way to go in construction.

➕ We enjoyed one simple escape room trope executed about as smoothly as we’ve experienced it.

Lunar Escape stalled when we had inadequate tools and the challenge became the execution. In two instances, we knew how to solve the puzzle, but we struggled to succeed at it due to construction or prop quality.

➕ In Lunar Escape, we built mastery through solving, which enabled us to solve a more complex, layered puzzle late in the game. This felt fantastic.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Mission Escape is on the third floor, Suite 390.
  • Lunar Escape is also available is Mission Escapes’ Seattle location.

Book your hour with Mission Escapes‘ Lunar Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

BerlingsBeard & Wildrence – The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch [Review]

The eye of the beholder

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: up to 16

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: from $40 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign co-produced by Wildrence and BerlingsBeard. It was aimed at teaching new players the ropes. As someone who had played D&D only twice before, and most certainly didn’t yet grasp all the mechanics, I was the target audience.

A stuffed Beholder on a table.

We played the 9th chapter in an ongoing campaign… so we slayed a dragon.

Dungeon master Ken Breese was phenomenal. He made sure everything ran smoothly and all players, at all experience levels, had a good time. He was in control of the experience, but we felt like we had agency.

I had a wonderful time.

If I were to take up D&D – and I would, if I had more time – I would want a consistent group of players/ characters who could form relationships and tell a more coherent story. $40 makes sense for an introductory lesson or 3 with a skilled dungeon master, but if I were going to play a full campaign, $400 per player feels like a lot. And that’s the thing: I would want a full campaign.

The game map, characters, dice, buildings, and a white dragon strewn about the map.

The physical space of The Wildrence is fantastic in so many contexts, but it didn’t contribute enough to the experience to merit the price.

Ken was amazing. Our session was delightful. I am so happy that we went because I feel like I left a more confident D&D player. It was absolutely worth it one time. The question is: does that price point prevent a community from forming? My gut is that, for most, it does. And what I want out of my social gaming is connection.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • The D&D curious
  • D&D players without a party

Why play?

  • Smooth onboarding to the world of D&D
  • An outstanding professional Dungeon Master
  • To have your moment of glory

Story

We played the 9th chapter in a weekly D&D campaign hosted by BerlingsBeard and taking place at Wildrence. Players could buy tickets to a single session or multiple sessions. We played only a single session, but as the 9th chapter of a 10 chapter campaign, it was pretty badass journey.

We were adventurers on a quest to slay a dragon that was terrorizing a town.

The game map covered in dice with our chraacter models in the town.

Setting

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was co-produced by Wildrence and BerlingsBeard.

Our adventuring took place at Wildrence, the home of many New York City immersive productions. They’d staged The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch around a table in the kitchen area of the multi-purpose immersive stage.

Upon arrival, we each selected a pre-made character card. When we first sat down at the table, the dungeon master introduced the world and took us through our character cards, helping us round out the details of our desires and personalities.

The leather-covered table provided ambiance. Atop the table there were dice, maps, character figures, buildings, and a $^%*@#$%&*ing dragon. Our Dungeon Master triggered light and audio cues as we played.

The game map with our characters in buildings, and a dragon approaching.

Gameplay

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch was a game of D&D. The dungeon master built a world for us to explore and play within. He was decidedly in control of the main story beats; it was up to us to decide how we reacted and what implications that had for the world and the other characters in it.

Core gameplay revolved around exploring, imagining, storytelling, and rolling dice.

Closeup of two drink tokens.

Analysis

➕ The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch made D&D accessible for new players. Starting out, D&D can feel intimidating. There’s an entire world of information to learn in order to play the game. This experience was set up to minimize confusion and get new players rolling quickly.

➕ We had an assortment of pre-made characters to choose from, presented on cards. The cards gave us enough information that we could start playing without becoming overwhelmed. We didn’t need to understand everything on the character cards right off the bat either. It would be explained as it became relevant to play. We could also embellish these characters and make them our own.

➕ Ken Breese was a skilled dungeon master. At the onset, he asked us each questions to get us thinking about the characters we’d chosen, who they were, and what motivated their decisions. He helped us get to know our characters and their roles in the world.

➕ Our dungeon master had a plan for this chapter, the 9th of a campaign, but he made it seem like our actions resulted in the effects. He emphasized fun over all else. For instance, he made sure that everyone had their epic moment, even fuzzing the rules a little to accomplish this. (David knew that he was being handed his epic moment, but this wasn’t evident to me, as someone with almost no D&D experience.)

❓ Our Dungeon Master came in with a solid plan. We had a quest to accomplish and he made sure we saw it through. I liked this. It spoke to my need to get things done. However, I can see others preferring a more freeform style of dungeon mastering with more world exploration rather than storytelling.

The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch enhanced the experience with maps and figures, which was neat. The tangibles really helped me grasp what was happening.

➖ As a stage, The Wildrence didn’t add much. The game was set in the kitchen. Although the Dungeon Master controlled the Hue lights and sound cues, and staged the game with some leather on the table, that was about as much as the space offered. This experience would have been equally as engaging around just about any other table.

❓ Drink tokens were on sale: $15 for 2 drinks. The price was expensive by most standards… but not really by NYC standards.

➖/➕ The characters were uneven. One of the 4 people in our group had attended previous chapters of The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch. She’d developed a character who was overpowered, compared to our new characters. She had magical weapons! We appreciate that players can book into a single session or many sessions, playing as often as they’d like, and using the campaign as an opportunity to truly learn D&D, as she’d done over the weeks. That said, it made for some overtly imbalanced gameplay dynamics.

➕ Our Dungeon Master kept the experience energetic and engaging.

Tips For Visiting

  • A few of our favorite restaurants in the area include Russ & Daughters CafeVanessa’s Dumpling House, and Mission Chinese Food.
  • By subway, take the F to East Broadway. Street parking can be challenging in this neighborhood.
  • Wildrence is located down a flight of stairs.
  • Wildrence is hosting a D&D-themed open house on November 12 and their next D&D campaign will be a mini 3-session holiday campaign on November 19, November 26, and December 3.

Book your session with The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Dragon of Dreyfus Gulch comped our tickets for this game.

Q The Live Escape Experience – The Conjuror [Review]

Odd Duck Immersive

Location:  Loveland, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019,

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $24.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Conjuror was an actor-enhanced escape room. It was teed up to us as more immersive theater than escape room, but that didn’t feel like accurate expectation setting.

This was a solid escape room, with a dramatic (and slightly over-the-top) character overseeing the experience. He was a delight. Additionally, there was one fantastic recurring set piece. It was pretty much worth playing the game for these two things alone.

In-game: a series of glass vials beside a crow.

The puzzle design itself was fine – maybe a little dated – but it got the job done.

One last thing… and this recurred in both games we played at Q The Live Escape Experience. They needed to get a cleaning crew into their games. Both games were unacceptably dusty.

All in all, there aren’t that many escape rooms with a theatrical bent to them and this was a solid one. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then you should check out The Conjuror.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure 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?

  • The seance table
  • A strong introduction
  • The actor interactions

Story

We had tickets to see Malveaux the Magnificent conduct a seance, piercing the veil between life and death to commune with the spirits.

In-game: a white table clothed table in a dim seance parlour.

Setting

Billed as a hybrid of immersive theater and escape room, The Conjuror opened with a humorous scripted introduction. From there, we found ourselves in a magical study/ seance chamber. The centerpiece of the game was the seance table, which was quite cool.

The room had a grim, Addams Family vibe. While the game was fairly new, it was pretty damn dusty.

In-game: an assortment of magical items including a skull, and a hand labeled "Poison Ivy."

Gameplay

Q The Live Escape Experience’s The Conjuror was a standard escape room with a theatrical bent and a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, puzzling, and bantering with the actor.

Analysis

➕ The Conjuror started with a performance. The actor was engaging and talented. He established a character in the opening act, which set up the rest of the experience.

❓ Although The Conjuror opened with an actor, the experience was an escape room, not immersive theater (as it was framed for us). For the majority of the time, we solved puzzles towards accomplishing a mission. Although it had dramatic flourishes, and allowed character banter, it was an escape room through and through. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but setting expectations is important.

➕ Q The Live Escape Experience kept the character involved throughout the experience. He was amusing. We could choose how much to engage with him. This was fun.

➕ The Conjuror wove narrative and puzzles together. The puzzles were justified and made sense in the space.

➖ The puzzles felt dated. They were largely search based and not all well clued. One seemed like it almost required a hint. There were opportunities to make the puzzles more interesting.

➕ That seance table!

➖ The gamespace was filthy. David didn’t set foot in particular area of the gamespace because his allergies were already acting up, and that section would surely have aggravated them more.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Q The Live Escape Experience’s The Conjuror , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Q The Live Escape Experience comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Designing Escape Room Crawlspaces

Tunnels and crawlspaces are fun. They poke that same childhood nostalgia button as ball pits do.

They are a strong scene divider because they require players to stop, change body posture, and proceed forward in a different fashion.

As with so many different aspects of escape room design, there are some good, bad, and potentially dangerous ways to design crawlspaces. Let’s explore them.

A cat with striking blue eyes inside of a tube.

Padding Please

I love a good crawl… my knees? Not so much.

Frankly, I and so so so many other players are thrilled to trade a little realism for some comfort. Pad the floor of your crawlspace.

Also it’s not a bad idea to round off or pad the corners of the crawlspace entryway and exit. Speaking of head injuries…

Consistent Dimensions

Your tunnel should be the same size on both ends. Keep the crawlspace height consistent throughout the tunnel (unless there is a climb or some other deliberately designed obstacle that is clear and visible).

Recently I had to scurry through a dark crawlspace that had height variation. It was fine going one way…

Animation of David entering a tunnel.

Going back, however, I missed a critical detail of the tunnel’s design:

Animation of David hitting his head on an unexpected corner and falling to the floor.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses some brain cells.

No Rushing

Transitioning scenes under pressure can be good fun. That said, I strongly dissuade you from adding artificial tension during a crawling segment.

Adults can really hurt knees, backs, and heads if they aren’t accustomed to crawling or are required to do so in a hurry. It’s also worth noting that not everyone is up for it.

Bypasses

You should have a way for some players to bypass crawling segments.

In the United States, if you don’t have a way of bypassing crawling sections, you’re probably in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Take this one seriously.

The easy bypass technique: have a door that can be immediately opened once one person has crawled through to the other side. This is an elegant solution because anyone who wants to crawl can do so and anyone who isn’t into crawling or cannot crawl doesn’t miss out on much.

Deckscape – The Mystery of Eldorado [Review]

Survivalist

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 22, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $17

REA Reaction

The Mystery of Eldorado was the fourth installment in Deckscape’s card-based, story-driven escape game series. We were lost in the Amazon (rain forest… not website) and Deckscape added a survivalist twist to the puzzles.

In The Mystery of Eldorado, we had to make decisions – lots of them. Our choices came with ramifications: some foreseeable, others that came out of nowhere. In puzzle-driven games, if you’re solving well, you usually feel in control. The Mystery of Eldorado, however, always felt a little out of control, which was equal parts thematic and annoying.

The jungle and ruins art of the Deckscape Mystery of Eldorado box.

This was a strong installment, especially for Deckscape fans. The art was good. The story was playful. There were plenty of puzzles to fill a play session; we just wished that there was a little more variety to the puzzle types.

All in all, this was a fun game for the price and a good value for table top escape room players.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Survivalists
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Some truly unusual puzzles
  • An interesting story
  • You’re a Deckscape fan
  • It’s cute

Story

While searching for the lost city of Eldorado, our plane had crashed in the jungle. With limited resources, and danger lurking in the leaves, we were committed to finding the legendary city or to die trying.

4 cards with different survival tools.

Setup

The Mystery of Eldorado followed the same structure and core mechanics of Deckscape’s previous games. We explained this in detail in our review of Test Time & The Fate of London, so we won’t rehash it.

As with previous Deckscape games, the print quality was great, as was the art.

Gameplay

Deckscape’s The Mystery of Eldorado was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, puzzling, and reasoning though options.

Analysis

 The Mystery of Eldorado had a fun premise. It didn’t take itself too seriously… but it also worked well. It was a good balance.

➕ The writing was entertaining and the game world was funny. We played in English, which was a translated version. The writing held up.

➕/➖ There were many choices to make within The Mystery of Eldorado. That was cool because they were often consequential. However, many of them were blind choices and the ramifications felt haphazard.

➕ The artwork was great and had a consistent look about it.

➖ There were a few instances of eye-catching red herrings within the cards. Deckscape seems committed to their gotcha moments.

➕ Most of the puzzles were delightful and satisfying. The survivalist twist was well executed. It was surprising to have to attempt to reason through some of the more realistic logic puzzles.

➖ A minority of the puzzles were pretty dubious, which is kind of a thing with Deckscape. That said, there weren’t too many of these.

➖ There wasn’t quite enough puzzle variety for our liking. A few puzzle types were repeated with minor alterations.

➕ Deckscape created diegetic hints. They crafted characters and props within The Mystery of Eldorado that would provide the hints. This was fun.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor
  • Required Gear: pen and paper

Buy your copy of Deckscape’s The Mystery of Eldorado, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Deckscape provided a sample for review… and we lost it when we moved. So we bought our own copy to review it.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Escape from Hellscream – The Elevator [Review]

The elevator to Hell

Location:  Colorado Springs, CO

Date Played: September 9, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 2 – 6 (or elevator weight capacity)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape from Hellscream was about the experience, the setting, and playful terror.

Are you looking for an intellectual puzzle-driven adventure? Go somewhere else.

In The Elevator, the actors struck a balance between fear and humor that managed to amplify both without undercutting the tension.

Additionally, the experience was built around a functioning elevator; we used it to access different floors of the game. This was a nifty gimmick… and it allowed us to traverse a huge set without having to navigate stairs.

In-game:

The biggest annoyances came from a near total lack of lighting in one lengthy segment, which was great at first, but stretched on too long. We were also disappointed in some of the prop selection, which included a lockout safe.

Escape from Hellscream offered “scary” and “not scary” modes. The difference between the two was the presence of scare actors. I’ll be blunt:

There is no reason to visit Escape from Hellscream and play the “not scary” mode. Playing “not scary” would be like watching “not erotic porn.”

If you’re near Colorado Springs and like horror escape games, Escape from Hellscream is a must-visit.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fans
  • Actor-friendly players
  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The hilarious and intimating scare actors
  • An imposing set
  • The elevator was cool
  • Adrenaline

Story

Escape from Hellscream’s The Elevator didn’t really have a story. It was essentially a haunted house with escape room puzzles as gates.

In-game:

Setting

Escape from Hellscream’s The Elevator was built around a real, functional elevator. The gameflow was controlled by locks and hasps on the elevator control panel.

In-game:

As we navigated the floors, we explored a haunted house filled with scare actors. It is possible to play without the actors, but why bother?

There were multiple settings that seemed entirely unrelated to one another. Each had its own creepy, dingy, haunted house vibe.

Gameplay

Escape from Hellscream’s The Elevator was a haunted house with escape room puzzles as gates. Your fear level will adjust the difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved primarily around searching with a few puzzles. Interacting with the actors was also part of the gameplay.

In-game:

Analysis

➕ “Scary mode” means the actors play too. The actors were the life of this experience and clearly had a ton of fun. These guys were simultaneously intimidating and hilarious, creating a vibe unlike any other escape room we’ve played.

➖ This was a search-heavy escape room, played primarily in low lighting. We didn’t have enough flashlights to solve the puzzles. While this was intentional to create a mood, it carried on far too long.

➕ Although much of the gameplay was searching, there were some serious puzzles in the first act. These were good solves.

In-game:

➖ One critical interaction had weak feedback. Ultimately one of the actors clarified things, but there was an opportunity for stronger execution.

➕ We enjoyed the gameflow, which Escape from Hellscream crafted around the elevator. With the locks on the buttons, the scare experience was gated by puzzles that we solved in this well-lit space where nobody unexpected would appear. It gave fearful players a break to solve puzzles and changed up the experience. This was a unique design choice.

➖ We didn’t have a clear sense of game progression and timing. We misunderstood the instructions – and I’m not sure if this was on us or on them – so we thought we had a lot more game left to solve than we actually did, meaning we rushed the ending a bit more than we needed to.

➕/➖ We could ask for hints over a walkie-talkie. The hint-giving was part of the gimmick and they toyed with us over it. This was totally in character for the game. That said, the actors controlled the gameflow. They could make things more or less hidden and help or hinder puzzles. There was an opportunity to have smoother gameplay facilitated by the actors and keep more of the experience in-world.

➖ Escape from Hellscream used some generally frowned-upon props including trick locks and a lockout safe. These have the potential to stall gameplay. Swapping these for less frustrating items would make a smoother experience.

The Elevator was a high-energy game. It got our adrenaline pumping.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with Escape from Hellscream’s The Elevator, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape from Hellscream comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The Other Tales – The Anomaly [Review]

Not as it seemed…

Location:  Hawthorne, NJ

Date Played: October 17, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.95 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I really like The Other Tales. When my mom wanted to play an escape room with her friends, I sent her to play their first game, The Forgotten Room. The Anomaly was a big step up on every level: puzzle design, game design, intrigue, set design, and interaction design. And it accomplished this while staying true to the handcrafted, made-with-love vibe of The Forgotten Room.

We also appreciated the detailed story conveyed by The Anomaly even if it felt a little too bogged down with reading.

Our biggest worry for The Anomaly was that it was showing wear, and some of the materials really ought to be beefed up. This game is too fun to fall apart.

In-game: A wall with furniture stuck within it.

The Other Tales is a gem in the northern New Jersey escape room market. Although their experiences aren’t the most impressive builds in the region, they combine puzzles and story with memorable moments, and they provide a gentle touch that we highly recommend for players of any experience level.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Unusual story
  • Interesting puzzles
  • Intrigue curve
  • Cool props and surprises

Story

We were part of a special task force investigating a scientific lab. After some strange happenings and a disappeared person, it seemed this lab might not be exactly what it seemed. We needed to set things right before the Feds arrived.

In-game: a computer on a desk with a Verge Ventures login screen.

Setting

At first glance, The Anomaly looked pretty standard – maybe even subpar – with white walls, assorted cabinets, and a table in the center of the room.

As the game progressed, however, The Anomaly revealed its secrets; the nature of the game and space transformed.

In-game: An unusual coil-like device sitting atop a locked cabinet.

Gameplay

The Other Tales’ The Anomaly was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: an unusual metal crate with all manner of machinery on it.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles flowed beautifully through an appropriate difficulty curve. They started out approachable and built up in challenge and complexity before backing off again in the conclusion.

➕ The Other Tales used a variety of interaction types in this game. They combined physical locks with tech-driven opens. The puzzles and interactions were largely tangible and inviting.

➕ The Anomaly told an unusual story. As we played, we learned about a character, his motivation, and his plight. We were invested in the game not only to solve puzzles, but to play through the story.

➖ As much as we enjoyed the story, it was sometimes burdensome to follow. While some of it evolved through play, it also required substantial reading. There was opportunity to show – rather than tell – more of the story beats.

➕ Although The Anomaly didn’t look impressive at the onset, as we solved puzzles, it offered more intrigue in the form of new props and available interactions. With each new open, we were increasingly impressed by what the room had to offer.

➖ The Anomaly hadn’t been open long when we visited and some of the materials, props, and set pieces were already showing wear. The Other Tales would be better served with some stronger, more interesting construction material.

The Anomaly included memorable moments that linked the physical props and the story.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is a parking lot.
  • Food: There are numerous casual restaurants nearby.

Book your hour with The Other Tales’ The Anomaly, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Other Tales comped our tickets for this game.

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms – Plight of the Margo Part 2 [Review]

The 3 Hour Escape Game: Part 2

Location:  Fort Collins, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $38 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

In Plight of the Margo Part 2, the real challenges emerged.

At this point we knew the setting, we were immersed within the story, we understood how the ship worked, and we had learned how to play the game. It was time for some cerebral heroics.

In-game: A tall metal Antimatter drive system. It's made entirely of metal and looks imposing.

Over this second 90-minute segment, the value of depth became clear. ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms was able to explore their world and add complexity and challenge that no escape room can create in 60 minutes. It left me with the realization that the value of extended game length isn’t simply that you get more.

The magic of the 3-hour game was that it could demand far more of us as players, adventurers, teammates, and thinkers.

As I said in the reaction to Plight of the Margo Part 1, this is a must-play game for experienced players. Looking back on it, I feel like it was a gift created for me and people like me.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Technophiles
  • Experienced players in search of a challenging game
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The set was unique and badass
  • Challenging puzzles
  • The tech was impressively engineered
  • The story had depth
  • It was essentially a 3-hour escape game

Story

Plight of the Margo Part 2 picked up exactly where Part 1 had left off. I won’t spoil it beyond saying the obvious: something was wrong with the Margo and we had to resolve a Star Trek-style paradox to save the day.

In-game: The steel grated floor and control systems of the ship.

Setting

The setting was identical to Plight of the Margo Part 1, except that during our break the gamemaster had added a few key props that enabled us to solve new puzzles.

In-game: A reflective wall of red hexagons.

Gameplay

ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 2 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In Part 2, we picked up exactly where we’d left at the end of Part 1. The game saved our team’s previous state. (You can play these chapters in completely different visits to ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms, but I recommend doing it in 1 session if you have the stamina.)

From this point forward, we were playing for the win.

In-game: an iris door with a mechanical automation system.

Analysis

➕ All of the positives from Part 1 still applied in Part 2. The set, puzzles, technology, effects, and atmosphere were all epic.

➖ Going into Part 2, we received a lot of pre-game instruction. It felt like the instruction was an attempt to compensate for concepts that didn’t come across clearly enough in-game.

➕ The interaction design in Part 2 was killer.

➖/➕ It was too easy to make a grave mistake within the narrative. (Luckily, there was a re-do for this and it didn’t detonate our game.) This happened because we were never entirely sure what we were doing, but in an escape room the gut instinct is to just advance and keep doing things. In escape rooms, forward momentum is always good… except in this one instance. While playing, it was difficult to truly comprehend this distinction.

❓ ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms cast us in the roles of people with years of advanced training, but we had to figure out absolutely everything about our vessel while solving the missions. This is a typical escape room narrative paradox and a hard one to overcome.

➕ The hint system was really smart. It was embedded in a computer system. It was difficult to tell the hints from the regular game prompts. This allowed our gamemaster to normalize the difficulty through hinting without making it feel like we were underperforming.

➖ The final challenge was confounding. It felt too complicated. We followed that instinct and overthought it. In the end, we solved it, but we weren’t sure that we had won. There was opportunity to tighten up this conclusion and make it feel more definitive and triumphant.

➕ The overall experience of Plight of the Margo was breathtaking. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least 1 player needs to crawl.
  • Play both parts back to back if you can.

Book your hour with ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms’ Plight of the Margo Part 2, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: ConTRAPtions Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.