4 Easy Ways to Make Bad Counting Puzzles in an Escape Room [Design Tips]

Let’s revisit counting puzzles. It’s been a few years and we have better thoughts on the subject.

There’s nothing wrong with a counting puzzle from time to time. There are, however, a couple of ways to do them very poorly.

The Count from Sesame Street kneeling and holding up 4 fingers.

Before we explore these terrible approaches to puzzle design, let’s define the concept.

What is a Counting Puzzle?

A counting puzzle is one where you have to count different objects in a room or in an image. The numbers you count translate into a code.

For example, you have:

  • a 3-digit lock
  • a clue that reads, “πŸŽΈπŸ’‘πŸšͺ”
  • and the following image
A room with 4 electric guitars, a single light bulb, and a door.

You can surmise that the solution is, 4 – 1 – 1.

So, what are some ways to take this kind of puzzle and really screw it up? Let’s explore.

1. Large Numbers

Making people count large numbers of items is boring.

The larger the count becomes, the more error-prone a team will become.

Also, this is lame. Don’t be lame.

2. SUBSTANTIAL AMBIGUITY

A personal pet peeve is when I am unsure of how to count the items in your counting puzzle. I love details and I’m pretty analytical. If a counting puzzle becomes fuzzy, I become agitated.

For example, you have:

  • a 3-digit lock
  • a clue that reads, “πŸš²πŸ’‘window” (I’m πŸ’” that there isn’t a “window” emoji, but 🐻 with me)
  • and the following image
A side of a building with a bicycle leaning against it.

With this image, things are no longer clean cut.

  • There is 1 bicycle. Easy. Cool.
  • Lights are a little more fuzzy.
    • “There are clearly 2 on either side of the door… but it looks like there might be a third centered above the door.”
    • “Does the clue mean that the light must be on or am I supposed to count everything that is a light?”
  • The windows… of the windows… ugh…
    • “Well, there are 3 glass windows, but there are 6 panes of glass inside of them.”
    • “Then there’s the reflection in those windows that looks like more windows. Am I supposed to count them? Probably not… but I can’t be sure.”
    • “And then there are those blacked out windows down below. Do they count? Is a window only a window when you can see through it?”

So now we have a solution that is, 1 – 2/3? – I’m going to spin the final disk because this puzzle sucks.

This may seem like an extreme example, but I’ve absolutely seen counting puzzles exactly like this. This is obnoxious.

3. Zeros

Including a zero, or the count of an item that isn’t present at all, is mean and unnecessary.

You can’t prove the absence of a thing. Creating a puzzle that encourages a team to run around looking for things that aren’t actually in the room is the antithesis of fun.

A 4 digit combination lock with a red, green, yellow, and blue disk.

This is even more obnoxious if you’re using a lock like this that doesn’t actually have a “0” on any of the disks. For some reason the designers in China saw fit to simply place a dot where the zero ought to be.

Closing Thoughts

While a counting puzzle isn’t an innovative or incredible thing, every now and then it can serve as a competent way to provide gating.

It ain’t amazing, but it’s the kind of task that can involve multiple people and pull a puzzle together into something that can easily translate into a lock combination.

If you design it well, and don’t overuse the concept, it’s just fine.

Strange Bird Immersive Returns

Strange Bird Immersive is back!

Meme of Noah angry on the ark looking at an elephant labeled "immersive theater" and a penguin labeled "escape room. He's asking, "What the hell is this?" gesturing at a creature with a penguin body and elephant head labeled, "Strange Bird Immersive."

If you’re unfamiliar, here’s our review of their first game, The Man From Beyond.

They’ve been off on a journey moving venues and the maneuvering through the machinery of city bureaucracy. We’re glad that they’ve returned in time for some of our New Orleans tour attendees to add onto their experience.

Tour

Speaking of which… we’ve gone from sold out to having to help some ticket holders pass their tickets onto someone else due to family crises. If you’re interested in attending our tour, shoot us a message. There are two tickets available!

We’d love to play some amazing games with you.

The Great Escape – The Courtroom [Review]

Law & Order: Backsolve Violations Unit

Location:  Zwolle, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3- 6 per group (2 groups can play at once); we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: β‚¬150 per group per group

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Great Escape did something unique and special in The Courtroom: they made a prison escape game feel both narrative-driven and justified.

We weren’t focused just on escaping custody, but also on ensuring that we could escape justice. We encountered characters throughout our journey. These twists added a depth to The Courtroom that no other “prison escape” has even come close to approaching in our escape room experience to date.

An enraged judge staring into directly into the camera, pointing with a gavel and holding up a book of Criminal Law.

The Great Escape’s physical courtroom looked great. I spent a couple of years working in a court. This one was compelling.

If you’re visiting The Netherlands for escape rooms, check out The Great Escape’s The Courtroom in addition to The Experiment. The Great Escape has a style entirely their own.

Who is this for?

  • Players who enjoy interacting with actors
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The introductory sequence
  • The actors
  • A sense of adventure and stakes

Story

We had been arrested, interrogated, and brought before a judge in a Dutch court.

Our lawyer had assured us that the judge was corrupt and that he had everything under control… until a new judge was assigned. It was time to switch to Plan B: escape custody.

Setting

As we journeyed through the criminal justice system, we passed through many sets. Having worked in the United States’ courts for a couple years, I say that it felt fairly realistic.

While every room of this experience looked good, the courtroom itself was the aesthetic highlight of the game.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how integral the actors were to the experience. They were well costumed and played strong, assertive authoritarians. They were in control.

A gleeful judge watching two lawyers physically grabbing one another with anger in their eyes.

Gameplay

The Great Escape’s The Courtroom combined immersive theater with standard escape room gameplay. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Additionally, The Courtroom could be played simultaneously by two competing teams in a race against both time and one another.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with characters.

In-game: A gavel beside the scale of justice.

Analysis

βž• The actors delivered a powerful, intimidating, and clever introduction.

βž• The Courtroom set, in particular, looked fantastic. The final set was also exciting with added effects that built the intensity of the escape.

βž– Although we loved the set of the final scene, the puzzles didn’t quite make sense in the space. Many times they almost made sense in the experience, but seemed just a little removed from the reality that was conveyed.

βž– One of the earlier scenes of our escape fell flat. This segment had an implied order that we only learned after we solved it out of order. We were hampered by lack of flashlights.

βž• We especially enjoyed one early puzzle that shed light on our escape route. A later puzzle gave us another perspective from a higher vantage point. These were fun solves.

βž• We’ve escaped a lot of prisons. This was something different. It was refreshing to see the courtroom instead of the cells. The Great Escape used an introduction and narrative to justify what otherwise felt like a prison escape.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot, but it’s hard to find.
  • Minimum age is 14
  • At least 1 person will have to climb.
  • Pay with a Dutch credit card or cash (exact change only).
  • There are actors in this experience. Review our tips for escape rooms with actors.

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

Disclosure: The Great Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Nederland – The Dome [Review]

I no longer know what’s real.

Location:  Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: β‚¬ 144 per team Mon-Thur, € 165 per team Fri-Sun

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Dome was something special. It was an escape room designed to feel like a hallucination… and through the magic of design and technology, it achieved it.

In-game: A beautiful woman in a tight body suit approaching white and blue sci-fi entry way for The Dome.
Promo image via Escape Room Nederland

We loved the gameplay, the puzzles, and all of the magical things that happened along the way.

The Dome wasn’t perfect. The story was really interesting, but I’d be lying if I said that we completely grasped what was going on while we were playing. Also, one of the coolest bits of tech didn’t push the right buttons for us.

Flaws are fine. They’re humanizing.

The Dome was the kind of escape room that’s worth traveling for. If you’re near Amsterdam it’s certainly worth the trek out of the city. This game was in rare company.

In-game: 4 transparent tubes running along the steel wall of The Dome.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • It feels like a hallucination; it’s unreal
  • Engaging puzzles and challenges
  • Magnificent set design
  • Some of the most impressive escape room tech we’ve ever seen

Story

We’d entered a futuristic facility that had been conducting a study using hallucinogens. We were unsure of what to expect, but we’d been told that a previous test subject named Hector Franssen had escaped the facility… and that we would likely lose our grip on reality while in the experiment.

A beautiful woman in a tight body suit, arms crossed, looking into the camera.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Setting

We entered into a blue, glowing sci-fi set. It was a sleek series of corridors and challenge chambers. It was gorgeous. We quickly got lost in the experience.

In-game: 4 clear tubes and a strange table that seems to have a door within it.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

I’m at a loss for a way to convey where the game took us without damaging the experience. The level of detail never wavered. We were fully and completely in the world of The Dome.

The first full minute of this trailer was shot in-game:

Gameplay

Escape Room Nederland’s The Dome was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A fingerprint scanner mounted to the wall.

Analysis

βž• The Dome was all about discovery. At any given point we had no idea what might come next. This created a magical sense of adventure.

βž• The gamespace opened up… and continued to do so. It was huge, detailed, and amazing.

In-game: The white and blue sci-fi entry way for The Dome.

βž• The gameplay had a smooth difficulty curve. It ramped up slowly, teaching us how to interact with the environment. It then became increasingly more challenging through a diverse array of puzzles. The difficulty dropped off in the end, however, pushing our momentum forward to the conclusion.

βž• As we played through The Dome, we completed a series of tests. As the game revved up and morphed, it stopped feeling like a series of tests and more like a string of hallucinations. We were completely lost in the game world.

In-game: A screen mounted into the steel wall of The Dome.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

βž– Playing The Dome, we couldn’t quite follow the story. Escape Room Nederland explained it clearly after the fact, and looking back it made sense, as much sense as hallucinations do, but as we escaped The Dome we wished for just a bit more clarity on what had just taken place, narratively.

βž• Many of the interactions in The Dome were enormous. Everything in this game had layers.

βž• The puzzles in The Dome varied enormously, requiring largely different skill sets to complete. Our favorite puzzle shed light on the kind of design that made this experience beautiful.

In-game: The entry way for The Dome opened, a sign reads, "Butterfly Safe Zone.".
Image via Escape Room Nederland

βž– One amazingly cool segment overstayed its welcome. This was admittedly one of the coolest innovations in The Dome and my inner 5-year-old loved that it existed. From a gameplay standpoint, however, we found it more frustrating than energizing.

βž• The Dome creatively played with the concept of success and failure.

βž• The Dome excelled at transitions. These were some of the most dramatic and captivating moments of the experience.

βž• There was a ton of technology within The Dome, but it never felt like tech… it felt like magic.

In-game: The Dome's logo glowing on a steel wall.
Image via Escape Room Nederland

Tips For Visiting

  • They have games in the lobby.
  • Leave time after your game to watch the highlight reel.
  • Minimum age is 18.
  • There is a parking lot.
  • You need to be able to walk up stairs and climb a little bit to play this game.

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

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

Sleuth Kings – Case 020: Blood P.I. [Review]

Bloody actors

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 26, 2019

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

Duration: 1-3 hours

Price: $29.95 per month ($83.85 for 3 months, $159.60 for 6 months)

REA Reaction

Sleuth Kings has come a long way since we played Case 001: The Guilty a year and a half ago.

19 cases later, it’s still a fun and solid puzzle game. The gameplay flowed well and the solves were satisfying.

Sleuth Kings has cleaned up the response time issues and minimized the emailing by adding an alternative hint system.

In-game: a Sleuth Kings file folder filled with clues.

Sleuth Kings’ cases are more challenging than escape rooms, but still quite approachable. If you’re looking to expand your puzzle solving skills outside of escape rooms, this is a good choice. Its consistent puzzle content delivered to you in a well-organized format with as much hand-holding as you want. For more experienced puzzlers, it won’t offer anything novel, but it will give you a monthly puzzle fix.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Players who want a monthly subscription

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Interactive gameplay
  • There’s a new one every month!

Story

In Case 020: Blood P.I., we had to identify who’d been stalking Rosalyn Neal, the actress who played Rebecca Blood, the lead character in a popular vampire detective show. She’d just been shot, and while she would recover, we were under the impression that this stalker was behind the incident.

The illustrated game box, a charcoal image of a woman in a detective's office.

SETUP

Sleuth Kings sent a slick cardboard box containing a case file with various printed materials. These included an investigation report and various clues to the case. Everything was clearly labeled for orderly solving.

We emailed Detective Sullivan King to begin our investigation.

In-game: Sleuth Kings Case 020 envelope.

Gameplay

Sleuth Kings’ Case 020: Blood P.I. was a play-at-home detective game with a moderate level of difficulty.

The puzzles were more challenging than typical escape room puzzles, but quite approachable. They were substantially easier than you’d find in a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, decoding, puzzling, and emailing the detective.

In-game: An assortment of photos of eyes, one natural blue, one an unnatural red.

Analysis

βž• Case 020: Blood P.I. delivered varied and interesting puzzles. Some resolved with aha moments. Others took a bit more process to complete. Overall, it was a satisfying collection of solves.

βž– Although the puzzles were solid, they weren’t revolutionary or particularly memorable.

βž• The story made sense. It was a bit hokey, ridiculous even, but I don’t think it needed to be believable. The gameplay worked within the story.

βž– There was a lot of reading involved in solving this case. The story was told through text rather than through the puzzles themselves. Additionally, in a couple of instances, the font choice was a tad arduous.

βž•/βž– Case 020: Blood P.I. contained generally high quality printed materials. That said, it still felt a bit homemade, some pieces more than others.

βž• The mailing was well organized and clearly labeled. It was easy to get started. While there were a lot of materials, they never felt overwhelming. The gameplay flowed smoothly.

βž•Β There was a nuanced hint system. A Clue Analysis was included with the Investigation Report in the mailing. Players who need a nudge can take a peek. The detective’s assistant, Celest, had a website where we could find additional hints. We could always email the detective. He replied pretty quickly, but if there was lag time, we had this other tool at our disposal.

❓ Although I liked the organization, and always knowing where to focus my attention, this may come across as too much hand-holding for some, especially when coupled with some of the additional hint-y materials available in the package.

βž• While there was still lag time in the detective’s responses, it was no longer momentum-killing, as it was when we first played. Sleuth Kings has minimized the emailing; we had a quarter as many email threads this time around. In this playthrough, the emails made the game more interactive, in a positive way.

βž• Sleuth Kings has managed to churn out one case a month. Although we haven’t played the others, we hear the puzzle quality is consistent and the meta mystery through the series is interesting.

Tips For Player

  • Required Gear: You need an internet-connected device (we recommend a computer), and pen and paper for taking notes.

Subscribe to Sleuth Kings, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Darren and Melissa for sharing their copy of this game with us.

Note that your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game. Case 020: Blood P.I. as other past cases can be purchased here.

Next Level Escape – Catch Me If You Can [Review]

Grounded

Location:  Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from € 40 / player per team of 3 to € 22 / player per team of 7

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+]

REA Reaction

Catch Me if you Can was a game highly recommended by many Dutch escape room fans.

Upon arrival, the staff at Next Level Escape was eager to inform us that Catch Me if you Can was the “number 1 escape room in the Netherlands.”

Given the Netherlands has been my personal favorite country to play escape rooms in, and we were coming off of a day of incredible games, Catch Me if you Can set itself a high bar to clear. It didn’t even come close.

That’s not to say this was a bad game. Catch Me if you Can had fantastic set design, taking us to inventive locations. Next Level Escape baked in some great details and even better scene transitions. It was clear that a lot of love went into this game. I can kind of see why people love it so much.

For me, however, Catch Me if you Can felt like it was leaning on realism to a fault. The best way that I can sum up this game is, “Be given an intense mission, go to cool places, and do the most boring things that you can imagine doing in those locations.”

I’m rarely one to kick a company for including a process puzzle that moves the plot along, but there were just too many of them and they lasted too long. As I solved, I found myself imagining puzzle concepts that would have been way more engaging. This felt like going on a date with a very pretty, very boring individual.

Plenty of people love this game and there were lots of things that I did enjoy. If you’re a traveling player visiting The Netherlands and you’re spending a few days playing the top games in the region, I’d lower your expectations on this one. I’m glad that I saw it, but I wish it were as engaging as it was pretty.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Great scene transitions
  • The final set

Story

Catch Me If You Can was the sequel to The Suspicious Farmhouse (a game that we did not play). We were an FBI team pursuing a violent criminal last seen at the Hold’em Inn Pub. That’s where we began our investigation, with the hope that we could stop this man before he added to his body count.

Setting

The sets in Catch Me If You Can were strong. The pub that opened the experience looked a lot like an Irish pub near where I used to live… albeit with quite a few more sound effects than the real deal.

The later sets, which I won’t describe because… spoilers… were unusual escape room locales executed well… especially the final set, which was extremely realistic.

Plain text reads: "First time in a while that we can’t show you anything. Β―\_(ツ)_/Β― The initial set looks like an Irish Pub. It’s pretty much what you’re imagining."

Gameplay

Next Level Escape’s Catch Me If You Can was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, puzzling, and completing substantial tasks.

Analysis

βž• The sets were convincing. The final set was impressively realistic. Each setting in Catch Me If You Can was fun to enter and explore.

βž– Some of the sets were pretty worn… and in one instance, beat up.

βž– Too many of the puzzles in Catch Me If You Can required us to execute mundane tasks. Some of these were so bizarrely realistic as to be boring. Others were just tedious. In their interesting sets, Next Level Escape made odd choices as to how to build in the gameplay.

βž• Next Level Escape included one personalized detail that we appreciated. It was a small thing that made for a neat moment.

βž– Some of the early puzzles required outside knowledge. While much of this was provided as in-game cluing, those clues were onerous. After we had correctly solved a puzzle, we had to take a hint because we lacked the knowledge to correctly apply the puzzle solution to the information at hand.

βž– Catch Me If You Can included a lot of process puzzles. In one instance the emphasis on precision was baffling. The aha had passed long before we’d completed the puzzle. This whole sequence weighed down the game.

βž• Next Level Escape created some phenomenal transitions. They added small details that really sold these moments.

βž– One transition appeared to include a lengthy interlude… until we realized that the clock hadn’t stopped and we were supposed to be playing, despite the situational context. Because of the realism in the environment, we’d instinctively started following the real-world rules of that space when we should have started solving the escape room. This was unfortunate, confusing, and began the final act on the wrong foot.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking garage in the center of town.

Book your hour with Next Level Escape’s Catch Me If You Can, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Next Level Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Kamer 237 [Review]

A lot of play and some work

Location:  Volkel, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 9, 2019

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: β‚¬ 118 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

“Kamer” being Dutch for “room,” Kamer 237 was a love letter to both Stephen King’s and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

This The Shining homage was a marriage of traditional escape room puzzles with strong ambiance and clever effects.

In-game: The front desk, with uniformed staff handing us the key to room 237.

At its best, Kamer 237 warped our perspective on how an escape room ought to work. In its weaker moments, it felt like an old-school escape room with disconnected puzzles.

All in all, this was an strong escape game. We’re thrilled to have played it. It had exciting and memorable moments. It wasn’t an earth-moving game, but it was quite moving in the moment.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A great introduction
  • A few brilliant interactions and moments
  • Strong puzzle play

Story

Inspired by The Shining, in Kamer 237 Charles Grady, his wife, and his daughters had checked into a hotel while he worked to finish his novel. As Grady became more enthralled with his work, he lost his connection to reality… and then he disappeared.

In-game: An elevator door viewed from the front desk.

Setting

The facility hosting Kamer 237 was structured as a hotel. The lobby was the hotel bar and our gamemaster was the costumed front desk attendant. The next game existed in a different hotel room.

The game took place on one floor of the hotel. We explored the hallway and multiple rooms, each reflecting the characters that inhabited them. Kamer 237 found an interesting way to manifest the distortion of Grady’s reality.

In-game: Close up the the hotel's key storage. The key for room 237 clearly the focus of the image.

Gameplay

Kamer 237 was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

βž• The hotel world was charming. From the lobby, to the gamemaster, to the rooms themselves, it was a complete world.

βž• Although a hotel wasn’t the most inventive of sets, this one looked great. The build was polished. Additional details beyond the rooms themselves elevated the experience.

βž– Although the environment was well themed, some of the puzzles felt arbitrary and disconnected from the game world. There were moments where Kamer 237 turned into an old-school puzzles-for-puzzles’-sake escape room.

βž• There was one truly unforgettable moment in this escape room. When you activate it, you will know what we mean.

βž– We encountered a journal that was sort of a runbook because it added some cluing, but added more red herrings than anything else.

βž– While we enjoyed many of the puzzles, in some instances Kamer 237 could have provided tighter cluing.

βž• Kamer 237 provided a good tool for solving the most challenging, layered puzzle in the experience.

βž– A lockout safe was especially annoying given its position in the experience and the type of coordination needed to derive a solution for it.

βž• Kamer 237 was personalized in a small way that enhanced the creepiness of the experience.

❓ This escape room presented some seriously challenging puzzles, and at times lengthy solves. It was also a creepy game that may be scary for some, which makes it an especially challenging solving environment. Your success with these puzzles and enjoyment of this experience will likely vary based on individual preferences.

βž• We played Kamer 237 with the biggest King fan that we know… and she felt that this was a very strong homage.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking.
  • Minimum age of 18; minimum are of 14 with adults
  • Available in Dutch or English
  • At least one person will have to climb.

Book your hour with Kamer 237, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Kamer 237 comped our tickets for this game.

Dark Park – The End [Review]

That ending.

Location:  Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: β‚¬ 145 per team Mon-Thurs, € 155 per team Fri – Sun

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m a Dark Park fanboy; I love the way that they blend atmosphere, narrative, and puzzles to create haunting experiences. That said, in our reviews of their previous 4 games, we’d knocked them all for the same exact thing:

The weakest part of all of their games were the endings. No matter what heights they reached, for us, they never truly stuck the landing.

That has ended.

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

The End was a thrilling, weird, and thought-provoking experience from start to finish. It was big. It was cinematic. It was loaded with amazing and unnecessary details that breathed life into a strange world.

The End wasn’t puzzley. It started off with an aggressive puzzle or two… and then it kicked into narrative mode. If you’re going to play The End primarily for puzzle play, then you’re going to leave wondering if you missed something.

We loved The End. It was differently intense and intensely different. If you go in with that mindset, you will be in for a treat.

If you’re visiting Dark Park, I’d strongly recommend playing The Freakshow, The Honeymoon Hotel, & The Orphanage prior to The End. I love all of these games, but their latest creation was truly a cut above.

Who is this for?

  • Thrill seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s an intense journey
  • Cinematic and memorable moments
  • Shocking and thrilling moments
  • The end

Story

The End began in a funeral parlor, as we made final arrangements for someone…

In-game: a casket in a funeral parlor.

Setting

We began our experience in a compelling funeral parlor complete with sights, smells, and sounds. It included some interesting character-building choices. Suffice it to say, the place felt… lived in.

I’m reluctant to describe where it all led because discovering that was part of the journey.

The world of The End was an ever-changing and unrelenting thriller. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes it was intimidating. Every space we entered was visually and tactilely compelling.

In-game: An assortment of urns behind a computer desk.

Gameplay

Dark Park’s The End was a narrative-driven escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and exploring the unknown.

In-game: Closeup of an assortment of urns.

Analysis

βž• The End took us on an unexpected journey.

βž• Dark Park crafted The End around discovery. Throughout this experience we felt like adventurers, excitedly (and a bit apprehensively, for those less daring) exploring uncharted territory. This was thrilling.

βž• The End constantly surprised us.

βž• Dark Park created a fantastically detailed world for The End. They also engaged many of our different senses, which added depth to the experience. They didn’t need that level of detail to facilitate the gameplay, but the experience was richer for it.

βž• The technology that powered The End was impressive. In one scene, the gameplay required substantial infrastructure and ingenuity. This worked so seamlessly and invisibly that most teams will never stop to think about it.

In-game: A poster of needles labeled, "The end is the beginning of a new tomorrow!"

βž• The End was fantastically dramatic with a full team of 6 players. We recommend a larger group as it will heighten anticipation and reveals.

βž– That said, the puzzles didn’t fully support the full team of 6. Only a few of the puzzles leveraged teamwork. At one point the puzzle-solving became largely linear and we had to wait for each other for substantial periods of time.

❓ Many of the moments of triumph felt individual. While The End was absolutely a team experience, heightened by the presence of teammates, some of the most intense moments were solo interactions.

βž• At times, The End forced us to wait for our teammates. While this normally grates on us, in most instances of waiting in this escape room, it actually heightened our anticipation of discovery.

βž– In one early instance of waiting, however, it was easy for the idle players to become disengaged. We’d become too familiar with our current space and we didn’t have a puzzle or task to keep us engaged while waiting.

βž– The End was not a challenging escape room, but it had a challenging opening scene. Some of the puzzles may need additional sign posting so that teams don’t spend too much time solving before they come to understand where The End will take them. We played during opening week, however, so we imagine Dark Park will assess and tweak this as more teams play The End.

βž– One input mechanism was too precise, which added to the wait time in one of those instances where forward puzzle momentum would have been optimal.

βž• The hint system fit beautifully into the game world. It was fun to need a hint. In fact, I believe some of our teammates took the hints home as souvenirs.

βž•/βž– Although Dark Park is experienced in building fear through environment and technology, The End was their first foray into actor-driven emotions. Our actor fantastically captured a specific and strange persona. That said, I think that a more dynamic persona would have improved the overall experience.

βž• Dark Park’s newest escape room was named brilliantly. There were so many levels of meaning here and unpacking that would spoil… The End.

βž– The story didn’t feel quite complete. Although the culminating scene tied everything together, there was a missing story beat needed to pull the narrative together.

βž• The End was dramatic and thrilling, but also hilarious. Dark Park added humor through audio, video, and elements of decor.

βž• One cinematic reveal left us standing awe-struck and put a bow on an already incredible scene.

❓ The End started as a pretty challenging puzzle game and morphed into narrative-driven adventure. We enjoyed this, but we don’t think it’s for everyone. Some folks will find there aren’t enough puzzles. Others will think the puzzles are too challenging. Know that this game will change what it asks of you. Embrace its ask, at any given moment, and there will be a lot to enjoy.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with Dark Park’s The End, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Dark park comped our tickets for this game.

REA’s Best Day Ever Drawing!

In honor of our Sherlock: The Game is Now trigging a new best traffic day ever, Lisa and I decided to celebrate with an impromptu contest where we asked readers to submit the post that they thought had triggered the previous best day ever.

The responses that we received were a ton of fun.

Who Won?

The prize drawing went to Sheryl Howell!

Sheryl will receive some Room Escape Artist swag and a beautiful puzzle from Cryptogram Puzzle Post.

REA swag and a beautifully illustrated envelope.
The small one is a magnet; the big one is a coaster.

Best Guess

The most common guess was 5 Dead, 1 Injured in Polish Escape Room Fire. Honestly, this should be the right answer. While it certainly was well read, it wasn’t even close to the previous best day ever.

There were other really fun guesses and so many posts that surprised us.

The Correct Answer

Look, there was a reason that we were celebrating overturning our previous best day ever.

It’s because that post was our review of the Limited Edition Mystery Oreos. For reasons that were never really clear, that post went viral.

It was funny, but also demoralizing. The post itself was a joke.

Theresa W did, in fact, guess this correctly, but it was because she was over at our apartment playing a tabletop escape game when this thing was going viral. After guessing, she admitted to having a vague memory of this oddity.

Rex M may have been joking, but he came super close by guessing the review of the Mystery Flavor Peeps 2018… which was so similar, and frankly, better written than the Oreos review.