Top Escape Rooms Project calls for Nominators and Voters!

If you play a lot of escape rooms, and you have opinions about them, consider participating in the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award, or TERPECA.

Top Escape Rooms Project: Enthusiast Choice Award 2018 logo. A gold ribbon made of keys.

About the Project

The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the very best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the experience of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world.

In 2018, the first year of the project, it awarded 25 escape rooms and 10 companies with this achievement.

For more background and commentary (and an incredible list of escape rooms!) read our announcement of the 2018 winners.

TERPECA is not a Room Escape Artist project; however David and I are on the advisory committee.

Year 2 Improvements

In 2019, the second year of the project, creator Rich Bragg had two major goals: expand the coverage to more parts of the world and improve the data collection process.

Last year’s participants are actively reaching out to their friends and global enthusiast communities to encourage broader participation.

There is a new voter portal where participants can sign in and make their nominations and rankings. There’s a new and improved UI too.

Should I Participate?

If you have played more than 50 escape rooms… yes!

50 is the minimum escape rooms played requirement to be a voter. You will get the chance to vote for your favorite rooms to win this award.

If you have played more than 200 escape rooms, you can also join as a nominator. You will be able to nominate your favorite rooms to be voted on, and you also get to vote.

How do I Join?

Visit the TERPECA voter portal to sign up.

Fill out the form to the best of your ability and the committee will try to get back to you as quickly as possible.

The nomination deadline is October 31, so if you’ve played more than 200 escape rooms and you’d like to nominate, sign up ASAP!

For detailed answers to all your questions about the project and how to join, read the TERPECA FAQ.

Best is Challenging

David and I submitted our nominations earlier this month. It was challenging to whittle down the many incredible escape rooms we’ve played into just 20 nominations.

There are so many different ways to define “top” or “best.” The Top Escape Rooms Project recommends that you consider which rooms you are most likely to recommend to someone else who also loves playing escape rooms.

We took this to heart in our nominations. After we generated our respective lists, we enjoyed an evening chatting about why we thought others would love a game we’d loved, or even why they might love one that we hadn’t loved quite as much.

To reiterate, this award is not produced by Room Escape Artist. It is not the same as our Golden Lock-In Award winners, our award for our favorite rooms we played in any given calendar year. (Stay tuned for our 2019 Golden Lock-In Award livestream and announcement on Saturday, January 4, 2020.)

While we have a longstanding and uncomfortable relationship with the word “best,” we think that the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award offers a valuable tool for traveling escape room players. We’ve joined the advisory board to help it grow. We believe in its mission to synthesize a community’s worth of opinions into a list of top escape rooms that we can all enjoy. We can’t wait to see which rooms bubble to the top this December when the winners are announced.

If you enjoy playing escape rooms, we hope you’ll add your votes!

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest 2019 [Reaction]

Press play.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: 1-2

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $95 per time slot

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The 2019 iteration of The Nest retained the poignant beauty of its original run in 2017, and added some new flourishes.

The first version of The Nest offered the unique, haunting experience of rummaging through an abandoned storage space and listening to snippets of a woman’s life on hidden audiotapes. The Nest felt so singular and complete that I hesitated to revisit it for fear of detracting from the original experience.

As returning visitors, knowing the story unavoidably took away some of the surprise and wonder of the original show. However, the changes in design, both large and small, moved us and added to the overall experience.

The original run of The Nest reminded me of playing through a video game like Gone Home (Nintendo Switch) or What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One) (Nintendo Switch), only in real life. Returning to see the updated version felt a bit like replaying an old favorite game rereleased with updated effects and new content.

A View-Master, a globe, and other curios sit on a desk under a lamp.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

What’s Different?

After Scout Expedition Co. crowdfunded this new run of The Nest, they set up shop in a new location, a former storage building reimagined as Los Angeles Storage Co. The new setting brought the story to life. Riding the freight elevator up to our floor and opening our storage unit felt magical.

Besides the location, the most noticeable change was the feeling of the space itself. The set felt dreamlike and abstract, like a symbolic representation of Josie’s life merged with an artful collection of her belongings. Subtle lighting and sound effects directed our focus and helped make our entire visit more cinematic and immersive.

Light shines on a cassette tape dangling from a piece of twine in front of a background of tree roots.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

A couple of new puzzly interactions were swapped in or added, along with some new technical flourishes. We also encountered a new area of Josie’s past. Overall, this iteration of The Nest was a bit less indie and more polished.

In this version’s backstory, rather than being Josie’s distant relatives, we had bought the contents of her storage space at auction. But at its heart, The Nest depicted the same story and the same Josie.

This time around, I walked away with a slightly less melancholy view of her story. But it’s hard to say whether that’s because The Nest changed or because, just like real memories, the experience changes ever so slightly each time you revisit it.

A cassette tape labeled "My 12th Birthday" sits on top of a tape recorder.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

Tips For Visiting

The Nest is currently sold out, but Scout Expedition Co. plans to release more tickets soon. Sign up for their mailing list or follow them on your social network of choice for updates.

  • Street parking is available.
  • The Nest requires at least one person to kneel and/or crawl.
  • The Nest has escape room elements, but it’s fundamentally an immersive experience with no ticking clock. Take your time and let yourself get swept up in the story.
  • Each time slot costs the same amount for one or two people. If you choose not to go solo, go with someone you trust to feel all the feelings with, and to share the flashlight.

When new tickets are available, book your hour with Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Scout Expedition Co. comped our tickets for this game.

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.

CBS Sunday Morning Appearance Tomorrow

Here’s a riddle for you:

What does Room Escape Artist have in common with Janis Joplin, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Harriet Tubman?

CBS Sunday Morning's sleepy sun logo

Answer:

We are all a part of CBS Sunday Morning on October 20, 2019.

Here’s a preview of us speaking with David Pogue and (re)playing Golden Lock-In Award winning Time Chasers at Trap’t.

(By the way, the “yes!” was unrehearsed and happened spontaneously during filming.)

Tune in tomorrow at 9am Eastern (barring any major news disrupting the episode)… and tell CBS Sunday Morning that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

“Real ID” and Escape Room Tourism

Many of us travel all over in search of amazing escape rooms.

Starting on October 1, 2020, American citizens will need a “REAL ID” compliant form of identification for domestic airplane travel.

That is only 1 year away.

Background

The law dates back to the post 9/11 security freakout of 2005. Rollout/ enforcement has been delayed repeatedly, but October of 2020 is the drop-dead enforcement date.

Some states adopted this law a few years ago. Others, like my adopted home, the great State of New Jersey, just started rolling it out.

I am out today, literally renewing my license as a REAL ID as this publishes.

We’re going to set aside whether this is a good or bad idea and look at the facts as they pertain to escape room tourists.

Is My License a REAL ID?

It’s pretty easy to tell if your license is a REAL ID. It will have a star in the upper right quarter that looks like one of these:

5 different gold and black stars indicating REAL ID.

What Happens on October 1, 2020?

If you don’t have a REAL ID as of October 1, 2020, the TSA will require you to fly domestically with a valid passport. Otherwise they won’t let you through security.

Take a look at your license and make sure that your future travels won’t be disrupted by this Bush-era law that took over a decade to roll out.

Visit the TSA for more information on REAL ID.

Note that you will still need a passport for international travel, now and after October 1, 2020. For Americans attending our escape room tour, Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2020, make sure you have a passport. And if you have a passport, but not a ticket to this event, there are just a few left!

Themescape – The Gate [Review]

STARGΛTE-ish

Location:  Broomfield, CO

Date Played: September 6, 2019

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

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Gate blended sci-fi and ancient Egypt into an escape room environment unlike any we had seen; it was really smart.

In-game: Wide angle view of the tomb's doorway surrounded by contianment tech.

Themescape did a lot of cool stuff with this game, but the experience was hampered by one laughably weak user interface (that we had to return to repeatedly) and some generally clunky tech. If Themescape fixed these elements, this game could be a lot stronger.

In the state that we saw it, The Gate had a lot of personality and charm that made up for some of its more frustrating elements. Additionally, the sci-fi elements fixed some of the inherent struggles with ancient Egyptian escape game design. If you’re in the area, check it out.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The sci-fi/ ancient Egypt mashup led to fun set design

Story

A team of researchers exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb had found a gateway to another realm. In response, a team of government scientists had built a containment unit around the passageway.

With every passing moment, the containment tech grew weaker. We had to study the tomb and determine how to remedy the situation as it failed.

In-game: A sealed stone doorway to an ancient Egyptian tomb flanked by king cobra statues and asurrounded by strange technology.

Setting

Themescape’s The Gate evoked a Stargate aesthetic, blending technology with an ancient Egyptian tomb. This felt fresh and justified a lot of the tech that we typically find in Egyptian tomb-themed escape rooms, without feeling out of place.

Overall, this was a good-looking set with a flavor all its own.

In-game: Closeup of a king cobra statue surrounded by technology.

Gameplay

Themescape’s The Gate 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 containment technology, there are buttons and knobs.

Analysis

➕ The Gate looked different from most of the Egyptian games we’ve played. It combined futuristic sci-Ffi with ancient Egypt to create a novel gamespace.

➕ The unusual set looked compelling. We were intrigued by the gamespace and its puzzles.

➖ The “central nervous system” of the game made no sense in the experience. It was also only half an interface, with no visual cue or visual prompt.

➖ We tripped up on a red-stickered lock that was actually in play. While this was certainly on us as players – Themescape didn’t tell us to avoid stickered items – it seemed an unnecessary design decision, especially since it conflicted with the norms of escape room design.

➕ The puzzle concepts were solid. Once we found everything we needed, the puzzles were quick as long as the tech worked.

➖ We encountered one extremely clunky puzzle. The clue only sort of made sense. It highlighted something unrelated to the puzzle components, it was extremely hard to read, and the tech was finicky to use. (It had clearly been repaired multiple times, but didn’t really work as intended.) These things, combined with aggressive timeouts, made us think we were solving this thing wrong, when in fact, we were doing it exactly right.

➖ The tolerances on the tech were too tight. We repeatedly solved puzzles correctly, but our timing was just a hair off. We learned not to disregard a solution we thought was correct before fiddling with every prop just a bit, in case we were right and the tech just hadn’t responded to us.

➕ The Gate included one stellar reveal that worked well with the set concept.

➕/➖ The transition was exciting. The visual indicators amped up intensity. That said, triggering the transition went on for far too long.

The Gate ended with a favorite Egyptian tomb trope, but delivered in a different context, and for effect rather than as a puzzle. We liked this atypical take on the concept.

The Gate felt like it was set up to be a narrative-driven escape room, but it played like a traditional puzzle-driven game. 

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

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

Disclosure: Themescape comped our tickets for this game.

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

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services – Mystic Temple [Review]

A god’s treasure.

Location:  Louisville, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 2 players – $40 per person; 3 players – $35 per person; 4 players & up – $30 per person

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple was a beautiful, thrilling, and player-friendly escape game. It’s the kind of game that would get a new player hooked… and spoil them at the exact same time.

This is what a premium escape game looks like in 2019.

In-game: a large stone alter in the middle of a temple. A blue light glows from the center of the alter.

As experienced players, we whipped through Mystic Temple although it contained some meaty, layered solves. We enjoyed the puzzles immensely nonetheless. If I could do it again, I might slow down.

Mystic Temple was one of the Denver area’s must-play escape games. While you’re visiting Rabbit Hole Recreation Services, play Paradox (review coming soon) and when Frost Base Z opens, play that one too. We peeked in while it was under construction and we’re sold already.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Indiana Jones fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A freaking gorgeous set
  • Memorable interactions
  • A few clever layered puzzles
  • A fantastic ending

Story

Our archeological team had discovered an artifact that we believed could lead us to an ancient Mayan treasure. We had to use it and our wits to explore the ruins and navigate their mysteries and traps.

In-game: A stone doorway with a matrix of symbols mounted to the wall beside it.

Setting

Sculpted from concrete and magnificently painted, Mystic Temple was gorgeous from beginning to end.

The technology was carefully embedded to feel magical. Rabbit Hole Recreation Services maintained the level of detail from the opening moments to the finale.

In-game: An earthy wall of stone and plant life.

Gameplay

Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a stone alter before a large maze.

Analysis

➕ Rabbit Hole Recreation Services designed every inch of the set of Mystic Temple. It was detailed and beautiful. They enhanced the staging with light and sound, which really sold the world.

➕ The puzzles flowed well. They varied from quick solves to deeper layered puzzles. Each teammate had a different favorite solve, which says a lot about the puzzle quality.

In-game: A set of stone symbols arranged in a 3 by 4 grid, one symbol glows red.

➖ Although a journal fit into this Indiana Jones-eque world, we spent just a bit too much time focused on its pages instead of the set and props. This wasn’t exactly a runbook, but it still felt like a crutch for cluing that could be more fully incorporated into the set and props.

➕ We liked how Rabbit Hole Recreation Services built upon one early concept with a later puzzle. This lit up our experience.

➕ When we had to make a sacrifice, the mechanism was set up brilliantly to avoid injury (to body or possessions) but still deliver a thrill.

In-game: Closeup of a doorway with a large symbol carved into the stone.

➖ In one instance, we encountered some finicky tech. With the correct solution, we were moving items too quickly (or too slowly?) and we were unable to trigger a response from the set. (We swapped out teammates and eventually got the puzzle to accept our solution.)

➕ Mystic Temple delivered a finale. It was spectacular, surprising, and joyous.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Rabbit Hole Recreation Services’ Mystic Temple, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Rabbit Hole Recreation Services comped our tickets for this game.

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

Clue Chase – Sunken City [Reaction]

Magic Buttons

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: September 29, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: free

Ticketing: Public or Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock (there was no door)

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sunken City was a free 20-minute escape room designed to promote climate-friendly behavior.

In-game: A model of a city with solar panels laying about.

From a puzzle standpoint, the game played cleanly and had a lot of content for its length. A runbook notwithstanding, it was quick, smooth, and enjoyable.

In-game: A lab desk with many notes on it.

From a content standpoint, Sunken City was more thematic than it was persuasive. Sunken City was not about to change anyone’s mind or strike up a deep dialog about climate change or environmentalism in either direction.

In-game: "GET ON BIKE" is spray painted on an old plaster wall.

All in all, I’m glad that we were able to experience Sunken City. We were the final team through, so it’s no longer playable unless it gets remounted in the future.

In-game: flower pots in a makeshift greenhouse

Tips For Visiting

  • This was a limited-run escape game produced by Clue Chase.
  • It took place on in Nolan Park on Governor’s Island, which is accessible by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
  • It is not currently available for booking.
  • Visit Clue Chase in Manhattan to play their other games.

If Clue Chase remounts Sunken City, book your session and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Epic Escape Game – Wizard’s Academy [Review]

Lumos!

Location:  Denver, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy was an entertaining take on the Harry Potter-esque escape game. It was heavily puzzle-driven with some clever use of set design and props to build a world.

In-game: A castle wall with faux stain glass.

Wizard’s Academy was a satisfying experience and well worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Wands!
  • Strong puzzle play
  • House selection was a nice twist

Story

We’d each received invitations to test into the Altum Magicae Academia, the greatest school of magic and wizardry. Today was testing day. Could we earn our place in the school? And if we did, which of the 3 houses would accept us?

In-game: A large rock and tree before an expansive mountain/ forest mural.

Setting

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy opened outside of the school’s walls. Surrounded by forest murals, we puzzled our way inside.

As the adventure progressed, we explored a few different spaces within, and all of them looked solid. Some details were stronger than others, but overall, this was a designed and reasonably expansive experience.

Gameplay

Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The puzzles flowed well from start to finish. They were pretty classic escape room puzzle styles, well clued, and satisfying to solve.

➖ Wizard’s Academy had some choke points. It was largely linear, with a narrow space that was crucial to gameplay. At times it was frustrating to maneuver through.

➕ We enjoyed using our magic wands to perform spells. We also appreciate that Epic Escape Game will sell customers a wand. Smart.

➕/ ➖ We loved the designs of some magical lighting moments. That said, the tech was a touch finicky.

➖ There was opportunity to incorporate a more magical hint system into Wizard’s Academy. Even with the on-screen hinting, a different tech set up would create a smoother transition into the game world.

➕ In the end, we got to make a choice, which determined our story. This was an unusual addition to the classic escape room conclusion.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a small parking lot behind the building.
  • Enter through the front of the building even if you park in the back. It’s worth it.

Book your hour with Epic Escape Game’s Wizard’s Academy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Epic Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

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

Dirty vs Dirty-Looking Escape Rooms

We’ve played some games over the past quarter that were really %^&*ing dirty.

I’m talking about the kind of game that demonstrates to my teammates that “yes, I do, in fact, have allergies.”

A dirty, dusty, dark room with a pair of old and open liquor bottles casting long shadows.

“But it looks good”

I’m not talking about games that look deliberately dirty. Companies like THE BASEMENT go miles out of their way to simulate filth. Fake gross is cool.

Real dust isn’t a prop and it doesn’t constitute set design.

There are plenty of techniques for making a place look dusty, dirty, and disgusting without real dust. Hire a haunter… they’ll be happy to create that aesthetic for you (once their season is over).

Flu Season

Finally, we’re coming up on flu season, and I know that a lot of you have “outbreak” rooms. That doesn’t mean that you should be creating patient zero.

Disinfect once in a while. It’s the professional thing to do.