The Escape Game Unlocked – The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn [Review]

Where in the World is Hahn?

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 27, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: about an hour

Price: $25

REA Reaction

The Escape Game is an escape room chain headquartered in Nashville, TN, with locations across the United States. They are one of the few chains that we regularly recommend.

The Escape Game Unlocked is their play-at-home line of games of which The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was the first episode. This is not to be confused with The Escape Game’s Monthly Mysteries, part online scavenger hunt and part mystery game, which we have yet to play and review. This review covers only The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, the initial game from The Escape Game Unlocked.

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a solid starting place for a new series that has a lot of potential, but needs to figure out what makes it special.

Closeup of the game's rules, a small notebook, and a set of blueprints.

From a production standpoint, there was a lot to love. The components looked great and the digital interface was fairly refined.

From a puzzling and gameplay standpoint, most everything was solid, with a few puzzles that felt bogged down in interface oddities. The puzzles were good… with a little too much counting. The hint system was adequate, but could use a lot more granularity.

If you’re a tabletop escape game player, I’d suggest giving this one a try. While the Escape Game has not produced a must-play game in The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, for fans of play-at-home puzzle games this is absolutely worth exploring. We’re curious to see where they take the series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Mystery solvers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Fun computer interface

Story

Our handler had tasked us with tracking down the identity and crimes of an infamous art thief who went by the name Vincent Hahn.

The entire game had a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-meets-art-theft vibe.

Setup

To get started, we opened up a black sealed envelope of documents and puzzle components. Then we logged into a website where our mission was introduced to us.

The game bounced back and forth between the physical and digital.

Digital interface for identifying the suspect based on old school records.

Gameplay

The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with the computer interface.

The sealed black envelope for The Escape Game Unlocked, The Heist Vol 1: Chasing Hahn.

Analysis

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn looked professional. The printed materials were nicely designed and used varied paper of high quality. The computer interface also looked good.

❓ The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn relied heavily on the computer interface. It was nifty, but it also focused the group around a screen for the most of the experience. One person had to drive, taking the group from screen to screen. An acceptable ratio of screen time to printed material time in tabletop escape gameplay is personal; read this however you choose.

➕ The Escape Game Unlocked didn’t fall into many of traps that hamper digital interfaces. For example, inputs were not case sensitive.

➖ The computer interface wasn’t entirely intuitive. Although we figured out most oddities without too much hassle, one interface that was supposed to emulate a DOS-like terminal fell very short. We struggled to even figure out what we were looking at.

➖/➕ We were confused by still images that appeared to be videos. As still images, they eliminated red herrings, which we appreciated, but we were left confounded by the whole interaction.

➕/➖ The puzzle types varied pretty well. The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn leaned a bit too heavily on counting puzzles, where the challenge was parsing which information went together.

➕We especially enjoyed when the game asked us to use deductive reasoning to solve the puzzles. 

➕/➖ The hint system got us where we need to be. That said, we would have preferred a little more granularity and redirection in the form of questions as opposed to straight instructions.

➖ We know there are more episodes coming, but don’t know when. We didn’t get any closure from this episode.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: a computer with an internet connection (a laptop will be superior to a mobile phone)

Buy your copy of The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game Unlocked provided a sample for review. 

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

The Best Medicine Productions – The Shadow Space [Review]

We will, we will haunt you.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 30, 2019

Team size: 10 tickets per time slot

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $50 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

With a simple setting and an elegant premise, The Shadow Space offered a fun and unique combination of immersive theater, escape room, and murder mystery.

As ghosts on a guided tour of the living, we got to experience the other side of a haunted house. Through observation, deduction, and some light haunting of the actors in the performance, we attempted to determine what had happened in the house and influence the characters towards a favorable ending.

4 hands on a ouiji board.

Playing as ghosts felt novel and invigorating. Being invisible removed the complexity and awkwardness of two-way communication that sometimes comes along with immersive theater, while still providing an entertaining new mechanic.

The Shadow Space will be back for a second run in October 2019. If you’re near Los Angeles and curious to experience a uniquely haunting hybrid show, The Shadow Space is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • Mystery lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Escalation
  • Collaborative mystery solving
  • The chance to be on the other side of a haunting for once

Story

As recently deceased ghosts, we were on a tour of the living. Our guides had promised us an evening of entertainment as we observed the inhabitants of a home on a day of celebration…and we encountered even more drama than we’d imagined.

The haunted house, a beautiful blue and white house with a yellow door and a porch.

Setting

The Shadow Space took place in a cozy Los Angeles home decorated with items of importance to its inhabitants. We haunted the first floor of the house, which included a kitchen, living room, study, and dining room where the two occupants were hosting another couple for a get-together. As we could not walk through doors, the rest of the space was off limits.

The house felt lived in, and the layout of the rooms allowed us to explore and follow the actors however we chose.

Rules of Haunting: No phones or smoking. The living can't hear you. Don't touch or block the living. Touch only what glows.

Gameplay

The Shadow Space was an immersive theater production with mystery and puzzle elements. Though it started out as a simple evening of ghostly entertainment, we eventually discovered that we needed to solve a mystery by uncovering clues and influencing the actors.

The Shadow Space emphasized the performances and the gameplay roughly equally. Though we encountered a couple of more traditional puzzles, most of the solving took place in the audience’s minds as we pieced together the clues to the central mystery.

As ghosts, we were invisible to the residents, but our hosts warned us not to haunt them too aggressively. Therefore, we could only touch objects that shone with a spiritual energy (i.e., items that lit up under a blacklight), and only when the living were not observing us. We could, however, interact with certain objects to spook the living—as long as they weren’t looking. We also could not pass through doors unless they were opened for us, which presented an interesting challenge.

Though it wasn’t all about winning, the gameplay had a medium to high level of difficulty. Between the puzzles and the central mystery, core gameplay revolved around observation, deduction, and timing.

Analysis

➕ The concept of a ghost tour and the presence of tour guides brought levity to a potentially somber and disturbing story. A pre-show icebreaker where the audience members revealed our (often humorous) causes of death also lifted tension, which helped prepare us for the experience.

➕ The premise of playing as ghosts haunting the living was inventive, and just plain fun. We enjoyed puzzling out how to affect the actors without interacting in the traditional sense.

➕/➖ Between exploring the house and observing the different actors, The Shadow Space provided a lot of possible threads to follow. On one hand, that freedom felt exhilarating. However, with nine audience members and six actors in the space, we struggled to keep track of everything, and communication became an additional challenge.

➖ For the sake of realism, the actors spoke at a normal volume, as if there weren’t a dozen other people in the space with them. This hindered our sleuthing somewhat, as we missed some moments that revealed key information about the characters’ relationships. If the more important conversations had unfolded in such a way that the audience couldn’t miss them, we would have felt more in control.

➕ The moment of transition from ghost tourists to mystery solvers surprised us and ramped up the excitement. The change in our objective felt seamless.

➕/➖ One early haunting opportunity brought the entire group together for a shared experience. That moment was fun and engaging, but it felt disconnected from the rest of the show. It would have felt more rewarding if that moment had paid off later, or otherwise been incorporated into the story.

➖ Our tour guides left us alone at one point, and we weren’t sure whether we still had to follow the rules without supervision. A bit more guidance on how the game worked would have reassured us in that moment.

➕ The actors did an impressive job of performing while both monitoring and ignoring the audience. On top of all that, their dialogue and actions often suggested what we were supposed to do next. This built-in hint delivery was subtle and effective while maintaining immersion.

➖ The clues we needed to solve the mystery were hard to piece together in such a whirlwind environment, and we only had a moment to decide on what we thought had happened. We would have benefited from another couple minutes to discuss our findings as a group before voting on what course of action to take.

➕ “Haunting” the actors felt thrilling and unique. We found ourselves wishing the show had been a bit longer so we could have had some extra time to play around with the ghost mechanics.

Tips For Visiting

The Shadow Space had a limited run in May 2019 and is not currently playing. In future performances, the venue and other details may change. You can sign up for The Shadow Space’s mailing list to be notified about the show’s return from October 7 to November 3, 2019.

This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; this is a low-pressure event for less outgoing audience members.

The Shadow Space was tense and unsettling at times, but never truly scary. However, the October run may change things up in that department.

When the show returns in October, book your hour with The Best Medicine Productions’ The Shadow Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The Puzzle Parlour – Vampire [Review]

Bram Stoker’s Puzzle Parlour

Location:  White Plains, NY

Date Played: June 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $44.99 per player for teams of 2 to $24.99 per player for teams of 8 with higher pricing at peak hours

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Puzzle Parlour has established itself as a strong escape room presence outside of New York City. Their elegant games balance set design and puzzle play without over-the-top effects or spectacle.

Vampire was one of their more beginner friendly games. It was, however, completely satisfying as an experienced escape room player.

In-game: a human skull with emeralds in its eye sockets resting on a doily.

There was an opportunity to further refine elements of the set and props, but those quibbles aside, this was a strong showing and probably our favorite game of their initial four.

Regardless of your experience level, if you find yourself near White Plains, NY, you should check out Vampire.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Really nifty, tangible puzzles
  • A cool hint mechanism
  • A great vibe

Story

Our friend had been bitten by a vampire and we had until midnight to figure out a cure!

In-game: A pair of old, worn coffins leaning against the wall.

Setting

The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire had a grim, Gothic look with large chandeliers, coffins, and stone.

The set was well themed within a sane budget. It pulled us into the fiction and kept us there.

While the light was a bit low, we always had enough spotlight to accomplish whatever task was at hand.

In-game: a spooky mirror flanked candles above a dresser.

Gameplay

The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of a broken piece of wood in an old coffin.

Analysis

Vampire was well themed. We appreciated the choice of flooring and the cobweb detailing.

➕ The theme extended to the game clock and the hint system. Both were a part of the experience. There was no TV monitor in this ancient castle; it made a huge difference. The Puzzle Parlour justified the existence of a time-keeping mechanism and hint system.

In-game: a dimly lit room lit by over a dozen candles.

➖ While most of the decor and props made sense in the space, The Puzzle Parlour overlooked a few details that didn’t quite fit in. Also… why was there a small hole in the floor?

➖ Modern 4-digit locks felt out of place in this scenario. Weathered or old-timey key locks would have blended into the environment better. Magical opens would have also felt justified.

➕ Upon reflection, Vampire had a lot of varied, satisfying puzzle solves. One prop revealed some of our favorite cluing. We also enjoyed our vantage point beneath the night sky. Overall, we enjoyed the puzzle play.

➖ There was a low chandelier in the middle of the set. It looked great, but it hung way too low.

➕ One beautiful prop fit well in the castle set and had an unusual and fun input mechanism.

Tips For Visiting

  • Puzzle Parlour has a lovely lobby.
  • Park in their lot and use the app ParkWhitePlains to refill your meter.
  • There is plenty to eat and do in the area.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Parlour’s Vampire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Parlour comped our tickets for this game.

5 Year US Escape Room Industry Report (August 2019)

We’ve been tracking the escape room industry for 5 years, since launching the Room Escape Artist Escape Room Directory in 2014.

In August 2019, there are more than 2,350 escape room facilities in the United States.

If that number looks familiar, it’s because 1 year ago there were 2,300.

We’ve added more than 400 new escape room facilities to the directory in the last year and that’s a lot. It shouldn’t be overlooked because other escape rooms are closing.

The growth has leveled. The industry has begun to mature.

Growth Over Time

The US escape room industry has grown from approximately 2 dozen escape room facilities in 2014 to more than 2,350 facilities 5 years later.

The industry grew most rapidly in the third quarter of 2016.

Since then, the growth rate has slowed and the closure rate has increased. The net effect is that the total number of escape room facilities has plateaued.

US Escape Room Facility Graph 2014-2019.

Counting Escape Rooms

Please keep in mind the following nuances as you read this report:

Locations

In this report, we count escape room facilities. These are permanent physical locations where you can go play an escape room. One business owner might operate 10 locations around the country or 2 locations in the same city. These would be counted as 10 facilities and 2 facilities, respectively.

Games

This report does not count individual escape room games. While some facilities only operate a single game, many operate two or three games, and some operate far more.

Soon to Open

The Room Escape Artist directory includes some facilities that are not yet open for business, but appear to be opening in the near future. To be listed in the directory, we require a facility to have their address published on their website and their website tell us a bit about the business.

We do not include escape room facilities that might open some day. A social media page that says “coming soon” is not enough to be listed in the directory or counted in this report.

Permanence

Anecdotally, we’ve seen a growing number of limited-run, pop-up escape rooms. Our directory only includes established entertainment facilities that continually operate escape rooms. While we do include a few seasonal operations, we do not include escape rooms that appeared for a weekend, a week, or even a month, in a temporary structure or other facility, but will not operate continually.

Venue

Most escape room facilities are independent operations. Others operate out of larger entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, arcades, or restaurants. We include these as well, as long as the escape room is a permanent fixture in the larger venue. We also include mobile escape room businesses.

Chains and Franchises

72% of escape room facilities in the US are single facility businesses. That said, some escape room businesses are expanding as chains and franchises.

More than 20 Locations

The largest companies don’t show a consistent trend in expansion or contraction when compared to last year’s report.

CompanyCount
Escapology46
Breakout Games44
All in Adventures28
Key Quest28
Escape the Room23

Escapology has grown substantially (from 27 locations to 46 locations). They are now the biggest company in the United States, in terms of number of facilities.

Two of the largest companies have experienced substantial decline: Key Quest (from 35 to 28) and All in Adventures (from 37 to 28).

Two are holding pretty steady. Escape the Room has grown modestly (from 21 to 23) and Breakout Games has slipped slightly (from 45 to 44).

6-20 Locations

Expansion has been pretty flat for most of the companies with 6-20 locations.

The Escape Game is the only company in this category that has grown substantially (from 9 locations to 15 locations).

CompanyCount
The Escape Game15
The Great Escape Room12
Amazing Escape Room10
Epic Escape Game10
PanIQ Room10
Great Room Escape / Mindspark9
Texas Panic Room / Project Panic8
The Puzzle Effect8
5 Wits7
60 Out Escape Rooms7
Escape INC7
Maze Rooms7
Room 52807
Escape Room Zone6
Escape Zone 606
Fox in a Box6
Mastermind Escape Games6
Red Door Escape Room6
United Escape Rooms / Entrap Games6

Some of the larger franchises also operate outside the US. While this report only includes their locations in the US, Claustrophobia, Fox in a Box, and PanIQ Room, for example, have many more international locations.

Closures

Over the 5 years we’ve been following the industry, we’ve removed more than 580 facilities from the directory.

In 2019 alone, we removed more than 240 facilities. Stated differently, 42% of the US escape room facilities that have closed their doors did so between January and August of 2019.

Bar chart of US escape room closures by year.
There has been a significant increase in closures in 2018 and 2019.

At year 5, we are seeing a lot more companies close than we saw in previous years.

“Thankfully Closed”

When readers send us directory updates, they sometimes send in commentary. In the last year, we’ve received an increasing number of messages telling us that a company “has (mercifully) closed” or “has finally (and thankfully) closed.” Yes, those are direct quotes from a consistent map contributor in Pennsylvania.

It isn’t necessarily bad for the industry that a large number of companies have closed. Readers like this one are happy to report the closure of a low-quality escape room operation.

Bad escape room businesses shrink the market. They turn your would-be customers away by giving them a bad first impression of the entire industry. When this type of escape room facility closes, it can be a good thing for the industry in that region.

Small Business Trends

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s Frequently Asked Questions, about 80% of small businesses survive the first year. About 50% of small businesses survive year 5.

This is year 5 for the escape room industry in the United States.

Of the escape room facilities that have been a part of our directory for 5 years (added before July 2015), only 1/3 have closed. 2/3 of those facilities are still operating, as far as we know.

As an industry, we are doing better than average.

Reasons for Closure

Our directory doesn’t track why an escape room facility closed. Anecdotally, however, from our travels throughout the country, our conversations with owners, and information from those who report the closures in their local markets, we have a sense of why most escape room businesses close.

Reasons for closure include (in no particular order):

  • lack of business acumen
  • poor product quality
  • strife between partners
  • legal troubles
  • building or fire code changes
  • lease termination by landlord
  • investor drama

Many closures result from some combination of these, and other, factors.

Acquisitions

Of the escape room facilities in our directory, we’ve confirmed 2 dozen acquisitions over the last 5 years. We expect that the acquisition rate is quite a bit higher. This data is hard to track, as it is not always readily apparent to customers, even the type of customers who send updates our way.

We’ve also tracked more than 50 name changes. We expect that many of these indicate acquisitions or mergers as well. In other cases, ownership hasn’t changed, but a company has rebranded to reflect their growth or to escape being confused with other similarly named facilities.

By State

The state metrics remain similar to those in our July 2018 Escape Room Industry Growth Study.

The most populous states remain the states with the most escape rooms: California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Colorado remains the state with the most escape rooms per capita.

For the most part, the states with the smallest populations remain those with the fewest escape rooms: Wyoming, Vermont, District of Columbia, and Alaska.

Many of these states, however, rank pretty high in escape rooms per capita.

States with the fewest escape rooms per capita include Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and New York. This list is almost entirely different from last year’s report (with only Alabama on both reports.)

Increasing Interest in Escape Rooms

The number of facilities is not a measure of interest in escape rooms or the size of the player base.

Watching the Google Trends data on the term “escape room,” we continue to see steady and healthy growth:

Google Trend data for "escape room" 2014 - 2019. The growth is steady with one outlier spike in Q1 2019.
Google Trends – “Escape Room”

That outlier spike in Q1 2019 correlates to two events:

Analysis & Conclusions

In our talk 4 Years of Escape Rooms: A Data-Driven Look that we delivered at the Room Escape Conference in Nashville in July of 2018, we warned that the closure rate would increase. Expansion and contraction are inevitable in any industry.

For years, we’ve hypothesized that following the July 2015 MarketWatch article The unbelievably lucrative business of escape rooms, which falsely framed escape rooms as a low-barrier-to-entry get-rich-quick scheme, encouraged entirely too many companies to open without the tools to succeed. Those expectations were not founded in the realities of the escape room business, and many of those businesses have languished.

We’ve long believed that a substantial number of zombie escape room businesses have been doing just enough in sales to keep the lights on while riding out 3-year leases. Those leases are ending and the companies are closing.

There is money to be made in escape rooms, but escape rooms are not a rocket ship. It takes skill, labor, and love to create and sustain a strong escape room business. Near as we can tell, the folks who are succeeding in the escape room business have a passion for this industry and the skills to back it up, not just for business in general.

Our confidence in this medium remains strong. We’ve witnessed it evolve from a 1-dimensional puzzle game to a complex medium for storytelling and adventure. We believe that the core concept is more durable than other forms of entertainment that have come and gone as fads. Escape rooms have changed more in 5 years than bowling has changed throughout recorded history! Escape rooms continue to evolve.

In 2019, although some escape rooms businesses are closing their doors, new businesses are opening. They are opening with data and resources that their predecessors didn’t have. We are excited to see where they take this industry next.

Methodology & Data Caveats

Directory vs Report

The data used in this report only includes escape rooms in the United States. While the Room Escape Artist escape room directory includes escape rooms in Central America, the Caribbean, and some Canadian escape rooms that are just across the US border, the data for those locations is not included in this study.

Methodology

Following the publication of our first piece on the US industry growth in 2016, we published more detailed information on our methodology for tracking the growth of the industry. That piece includes a bit of history about our directory and additional perspectives on the data.

Previous studies will remain available: 

About Dates

All dates in our data are when we added a company to our directory or removed it from our directory. While we try to find companies as soon as they open, our add date doesn’t necessarily correlate exactly with when they opened their doors for business. It can take us a while to confirm whether a company has actually closed, and we do try to confirm each one before removing them from the directory, so those dates may not align as closely with when the business folded.

Spikes on the Graphs

Some of the spikes on the graphs can be attributed to our process for updating the directory. We batch updates by type and will do a few sessions of additions or changes or removals at once. Given our busy travel schedule, it can also sometimes take us a few weeks to get to an update. Therefore, some of the graph spiking can be accounted for by when we spent a lot of time on directory updates. In reality, the curves are smoother than you might see in the graphs.

Thank Yous

Thank you:

Melissa from Connecticut for her unwavering dedication to this directory and the countless hours of research and fact-checking she does to ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible. We are all indebted to Melissa for so much of the data in this report.

Theresa for many hours of rigorous data updating.

Jason for building us the tools we needed to work more efficiently and produce a more accurate directory.

And to the many readers from all over the country who continually let us know about the updates in their areas. Please continue to send us this information.

Palace Games – Escape The Palace [Review]

Puzzle Palace

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: June 2, 2019

Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group

Duration: up to 2 hours

Price: contact Palace Games for pricing

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.

Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.

Exterior of the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.

It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.

Wide shot of all of the players gathered.

If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging but fair puzzles
  • Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
  • Fun mechanisms

Story

We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.

The game's main character in a labcoat and goggles.

Setting

Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.

The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.

An "Escape the Palace" Banner hanginging over a stairwell with my team under it.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.

Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.

Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.

Lisa and Drew surrounded by other players.
Sorry mom. I joined a puzzle gang.

Analysis

Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.

➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.

➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.

➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.

➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.

➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
  • Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.

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

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Clockwise Escape Room – The Incredible Machine [Review]

Steampunk AI

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: May 31, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27-35 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s something inherently charming about steampunk. Clockwise Escape Room built an escape room around a really interesting concept in The Incredible Machine. It was cute, fun, and played well.

In-game: A brain in a with a hat on.

The core idea of the game – which I won’t spoil – was fantastically clever. I found myself wishing, however, that Clockwise Escape Room did just a little more with it. That’s the core criticism of the room. This was a great game that could have pushed its best ideas, its set design, and its puzzles just a little further.

I absolutely recommend The Incredible Machine for all experience levels. I think that Clockwise Escape Room has something great here, but it could be amazing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Steampunk fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A fantastic concept
  • Some wonderful moments
  • Steampunk goodness

Story

We’d opened our eyes in a strange workshop within a steampunk dimension. With no idea how we’d arrived, we had to find a way back to our reality.

In-game: a mechanical, clockwork eye.

Setting

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine was set within a steampunk workshop and had all of the clockwork gears and mechanical mechanisms that one would expect to find in such a place.

The set was a little uneven, with some incredible setpieces, some blander elements, and one or two elements that were on the bubble as to whether they belonged in the game at all.

In-game: A desk with design schematics covering it.

Gameplay

Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine’s was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A brain in a jar hooked up to a bicycle by a glowing red cable.

Analysis

➕ There was a good physicality to the steampunk props and interactions that Clockwise Escape Rooms worked into this game world to make it come to life.

➖ Although we liked the aesthetic, much of the space felt bare. We wanted Clockwise Escape Rooms to do more of the same with the look and feel of The Incredible Machine.

➕ We had to power up our brains early on to solve this escape room.

➕ We relied on different senses as we puzzled through The Incredible Machine. This worked well in the context of the game.

➕ Clockwise Escape Rooms created a character as part of The Incredible Machine. As we solved, we became more connected to this character.

➖ The Incredible Machine fizzled in the third act. These late-game puzzles were generally weaker and felt largely random. In this act, we lost the feel, story, and character of The Incredible Machine.

➕ / ❓ The Incredible Machine included substantial audio cluing. This was clear and justified by the game design. It worked well and even added to our experience. Our gamemaster mentioned that not all audio clues could be replayed. We didn’t struggle with this, so we don’t know if this could be severely problematic for some teams.

➕ The Incredible Machine had a phenomenal ending. This was teed up early in the game. We were eagerly anticipating the concluding sequence and it lived up to expectations.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking in San Francisco is limited and expensive. Take the subway to Civic Center or take the surface tram (F line).

Book your hour with Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clockwise Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

The Tape Escape – Yesterday’s Heroes [Review]

“Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey”– Doctor Who

Location:  Toronto, ON

Date Played: July 12, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player plus applicable taxes and fees

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock 

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints 

REA Reaction

Yesterday’s Heroes was a lesson in the difficulty of writing time travel plots. It was the second show we experienced at Outside The March’s The Tape Escape, currently showing in Toronto. You can find our thoughts on the first show we watched and what we thought of The Tape Escape in general in our review of Love Without Late Fees.

A person reaching up for a movie on the shelf of a video store.
Photo by Neil Silcox

For us, Yesterday’s Heroes was the weaker entry. While we enjoyed the narratives and nostalgia, some aspects of the puzzle design and game flow left us wanting more.

Who is this for?

  • Theatre lovers
  • 90’s kids and 90’s kids at heart
  • Escape enthusiasts who want something different
  • Movie buffs

Why play?

  • Natural set
  • Immersive 90’s atmosphere

Story

We had been mysteriously whisked back to the year 1999 to join a bewildered video store employee in deciphering an odd message appearing on an employee training video. What did the message mean? Who had sent it? And why had we been hurtled back in time?

Promotional art, a tape over a person's eyes like glasses, the tape unravelling overhead like hair.

Setting

The Tape Escape took place in a restored video rental store. You can see our review of Love Without Late Fees for our full thoughts.

Gameplay

Yesterday’s Heroes was a narrative-driven escape room with an easy to moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay was unusual for an escape room. Puzzles were individually timed, with the gamemaster heavily hinting the answer once the timer was up (usually between 2 and 5 minutes). Solving a puzzle allowed players to view the next “cutscene” of the show. This involved watching a short video piece that revealed a clue to the next puzzle.

A person reaching into a display case with movie boxes and pez dispensers that correspond to the characters featured on those boxes.
Photo by Neil Silcox

Analysis

➕/➖ Puzzles were a mixed bag. A couple were fun, but others were vague and poorly clued. The final puzzle was difficult in an unfair way.

➖ At least two puzzles relied heavily on outside knowledge to complete. The gamemaster was there to help, so it was not a huge issue, but it might be frustrating for anyone expecting Yesterday Heroes to follow escape room norms.

➕ There was one particular prop in the store that was impressive. Such a small prop had such a big impact on the experience. Kudos to the designer on that build.

➕/➖ I appreciated that our gamemaster added a character element to his role, something I felt complemented the story-focused nature of the show. It also helped that his character was entertaining. His instructions, however, were not always entirely clear due to his choice to deliver them in character.

➖ The timed puzzles and linear story made the show feel rushed. The pacing meant we were unable to become fully immersed in the show.

➖ The narrative was difficult to grasp. The choice to deliver the story in a more metaphorical fashion resulted in a lack of connection with actual characters, who were only introduced toward the end. We enjoyed the ideas presented, but the execution simply was not there for us.

➕/➖ There was a neat attempt to tie players into the story, but it also resulted in a giant plot hole (for those who were paying attention to the plot). Take note: time travel stories are difficult.

Tips For Visiting

  • Transit: The venue is very close to the Bathurst subway station. Avoid the hell that is parking in downtown Toronto and take the subway instead.
  • Food: There are a lot of restaurants in the area to take advantage of. We recommend chimney cones at Eva’s Original Chimneys!
  • Accessibility: This venue is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Washrooms: The venue does not have washrooms. The nearby coffee shop agreed to allow players to use their washrooms, but if you are short for time, consider going further in advance.

Book your hour with The Tape Escape’s Yesterday’s Heroes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Tape Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Games Canada – Pathogen [Review]

l33t h4x0r

Location:  North York, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.32 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push to Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Pathogen was a technology-forward escape game with a lot of interesting things going on (not all of them visible to the player).

From puzzles, to set, to story, this was an all-around solid escape room where no element truly soared above the others, and they all came together well.

In-game: A futuristic lab with a wall of animal test subjects.
Image via Escape Games Canada

Escape Games Canada creates interesting games. Some we love, some we question… but they’ve always been worth experiencing. Their latest game, Pathogen, was no exception. If you’re near Toronto, I absolutely recommend playing Pathogen.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Really interesting invisible tech (ask your gamemaster post-game)
  • Solid storytelling
  • Solid puzzles
  • Solid set design

Story

We were hackers and social engineers living in a corporatized cyberpunk dystopia. A shadow organization had hired us to break into a company and steal a weaponized virus.

In-game: A super computer surrounded by lasers.

Setting

We’d gained access to the towering headquarters of a major biotech corporation. Their office and lab setting had a slick, futuristic look with blue glow.

While it was both an office and a lab – two settings that I think are pretty tired – Escape Games Canada merged them with a unique aesthetic that made it feel interesting and worthy.

In-game: A hexagon made from multicolored glowing hexagons surrounded by lasers.
Image via Escape Games Canada

Gameplay

Escape Games Canada’s Pathogen was a standard escape room with a variable level of difficulty.

Pathogen automagically tunes the challenge level based on the team’s performance.

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

In-game: A futuristic elevator with a doorway labeled "Level 1"
Image via Escape Games Canada

Analysis

➕ The opening sequence established a sense of setting, scale, and stakes. The extra details generally elevated the game.

➕ Automated difficulty tuning was really clever. I like that it adjusted without asking the players to self-evaluate their skill level, a thing that most teams cannot accurately do.

In-game: A computer console.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➕ Most of the puzzles had great onboarding, training us in the concept or interactions before hitting us with the real challenge.

➕ For our team, a communication puzzle stood out at the most enjoyable part of the experience.

➕ The middle of the game included a bit of physicality. It wasn’t particularly strenuous, but it was fun to physically engage with the game.

❓ While there were lots of buttons, switches, and screen interactions, there weren’t many props to pick up and handle. Some of the team felt like there was something missing. It didn’t really irk me, but I think that this is a fair criticism. It comes down to what you’re looking for out of an escape game.

In-game: A touch screen with a molecular input.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➖ While it fit narratively, far too many moments centered on checking a computer screen and navigating its menus. All too often someone in the group felt like they were taking one for the team and going to the computer.

➕/➖ There was an interesting and challenging bonus puzzle in the middle of Pathogen. This was conceptually great. In practice, we were stymied by a lack of note-taking implements… and a blind timer that eventually terminated the puzzle. We still had time left at the end of the game, so I wish that we could have managed our own time a little more on this puzzle.

➕ The game had funny moments.

In-game: A futuristic lab.
Image via Escape Games Canada

➕ The vibe of the space did a lot more with an office and lab than we typically see.

➖/➕ Pathogen presented a mostly blind choice and it was frustrating having to choose with little context. That said, Escape Games Canada recovered well in their handling of the story’s conclusion.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Escape Games Canada has a parking lot.
  • Food: There are plenty of food options nearby.
  • Accessibility: There are segments that require at least 2 or 3 players to crawl or exhibit agility.

Book your hour with Escape Games Canada’s Pathogen, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Games Canada comped our tickets for this game.