Escape Haus – Backstage at the Magic Show [Review]

For my next trick…

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

After landing our dream job as magician’s assistants, we had unfortunately locked ourselves in the prop room. We had to escape with enough time to prepare for the show.

Backstage at the Magic Show’s set was a hodgepodge of performance magic-related items. The centerpiece was the “saw the lady in half” prop, an object that I had never actually touched before. This one was more be-glittered than I was expecting.

In game - the "saw the lady in half" prop sits front and center. Many other magic show props are displayed in the background.

The set made a good first impression, but as the game wore on, it felt a little shallow.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Backstage at the Magic Show was a bit choppy. While some elements of the game had excellent nuance and attention to detail, other elements felt bewilderingly forgotten.

Standouts

Escape Haus created simple yet effective blacklight interaction.

Everything in the game pulled on the theme and related props.

Shortcomings

The puzzles felt disconnected from the story and weren’t memorable.

The set made a great first impression, but it didn’t go anywhere.

There were far too many locked boxes with similar digit structures. It became tedious constantly trying the same combinations over and over until we found the correct lock.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Backstage at the Magic Show?

From the set to the puzzles, I wanted more magic.

Backstage at the Magic Show was a functional game. It didn’t have much that was absolutely wrong with it, but it also didn’t have anything that was especially right either. We struggled to find a favorite moment because so much of the game felt so similar.

If you’ve played all that Escape Haus has to offer and need a puzzle fix, you could do worse, but if there’s anything else to play at Escape Haus, I’d book it instead.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Backstage at the Magic Show, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

15 Locks – Escape the Manor [Review]

Haunting darkness.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Elrich, a polite and friendly ghost, had been cursed and trapped in his manor. We had to work our way through the darkness, armed with just a few flashlights, to free him from his imprisonment.

Set in a Victorian-esque office, Escape the Manor’s defining characteristic was darkness. It was mildly creepy, but not frightening or threatening. With 6 players, we found fewer light sources than we had teammates.

In-game: A dimly lit room with a large victorian desk.
Objects in image are better lit than in-game.

Puzzles

The greatest challenge we faced was lighting, particularly scavenging without it. The puzzling felt more like a secondary obstacle. That said, most of the puzzles were fun to work through… once we found them.

A fair amount of Escape the Manor was technology-driven, which is 15 Locks’ focus. Those interactions were the most satisfying parts of the game.

Standouts

The opening moments of the game were innovative.

The atmosphere worked well and accomplished its mission.

The tech was satisfying.

An in-character hinting system added ambiance and fun to the Escape the Manor.

Shortcomings

Lighting was a problem. Having to find our light sources, and then not having enough throughout the game, brought down the energy of the entire team. Players with lights felt like they were robbing others of a good time. Players without lights struggled to feel useful. In the end, it led to a lot of light exchanging which prevented anyone from achieving a solid flow state.

One particularly misleading puzzle looked like a logic puzzle, but was not. It seemed like a great opportunity to offer two different paths to a solution.

Should I play 15 Locks’ Escape the Manor?

Escape the Manor nailed so much. The setup and opening of the game, in particular, were exceptional.

The trouble with Escape the Manor was that it became pretty player-unfriendly at times, especially with 6 people in the room. I cannot even imagine how frustrated we would have been at the game’s ticket capacity of 8.

Escape the Manor was at its best when it leaned on technology-driven puzzling and the atmosphere created by the set. I think it would have been incredible if the lighting challenges were greatly reduced and another serious puzzle or two were introduced.

In its current state, I recommend it to beginners and experienced players alike… so long as the team is small. There’s a smart game in Escape the Manor, but it cannot adequately support a large group.

Book your hour with 15 Locks’ Escape the Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 15 Locks comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Haus – Game Suite [Review]

Hey! Uncle Milton! Thanks for the free parking!

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

Our tabletop game-creating Uncle Milton has passed away. If we can win one final game that he has left for us, he will bequeath his board game fortune to us. If we lose, his estate will be donated to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Built entirely around tabletop and casino games, Game Suite was less visually impactful than the other offerings at Escape Haus. It was cute but pretty sparse.

In game: A one armed bandit slot machine rests in the foreground. A massive chess board is built into the floor.

Puzzles

Game Suite was not the puzzliest of games. There was a fair amount of searching, some deciphering, and quite a bit of counting.

One puzzle was seriously clever; solving it felt like a triumph.

Standouts

Escape Haus did a great job of incorporating a lot of tabletop games into Game Suite. Nearly every puzzle was born of a game.

In game: a card table with a game of poker in progress sits in the foreground, assorted games and gaming related things reside in the background.

Everything was clearly clued and cleanly executed, even when it wasn’t immediately obvious.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster reference was an exceptional detail.

Shortcomings

The puzzling wasn’t particularly strong. Some of the more task-based interactions overstayed their welcome.

A large set piece wasn’t relevant to the game.

Game Suite didn’t look or feel like it had much gravity.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Game Suite?

Cute and entertaining, Game Suite’s setup had us laughing.

While it wasn’t Escape Haus’ best looking, most challenging, or most compelling game, it was still fun to play.

Game Suite was a solid beginner game; it was player-friendly and unintimidating. Experienced players could sit this one out.

That said, Game Suite would be an exceptional game for families with children. Many of the tasks that turned me off would be perfect for kids.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Game Suite, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game Austin – Classified [Review]

Bazaar & puzzling.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 5, 2017

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Story & setting

We needed to stop a terrorist cell by gathering intelligence about an impending attack. This was your typical prime-time television counter-terror staging that steered clear of any specific world events.

We entered a Middle Eastern market. It was detailed, vibrant, and original. The initial setting was striking and beautiful.

In-game, a vibrantly colored bazaar market. Rugs hang from the ceiling. Assorted foods and pots sit on the shelves.

As the game progressed, we found ourselves in a dark and far more generic escape room environment.

Puzzles

Classified was primarily linear.

The challenge came from searching and making connections between relevant finds. It was not a puzzle-focused room escape.

Standouts

This was our first gamespace set in a market. The initial set was not only original, but also detailed, and polished.

The first half of the Classifed had silky smooth game flow.

Classified included neat, well-hidden physical interactions with some of the larger set pieces.

Shortcomings

Classified felt disconnected. The second half of the game lacked everything that made the first half special. It wasn’t beautiful, interesting, or exciting. It also lacked the flow of the first half. It became more challenging, but also dull and tedious.

Should I play The Escape Game Austin’s Classified?

Classified had a great first act. The visual impact of walking into such an unusual and beautiful space was energizing. The gameplay was a older escape room style that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt than The Escape Game’s other offerings. While the initial set was creative and exciting, the second act didn’t live up to the expectation set in the first half. That said, it was still more polished than many escape rooms of its era.

The Escape Game Austin has moved forward since designing this game and we recommend that you try their other games first. We visited Gold Rush, Prison Break, and The Heist at The Escape Game’s Orlando location, but took a peek at them in Austin and feel confident recommending them here as well. They’ve done a beautiful job making slight modifications to construct each of their games into the slightly different space in their Austin facilities.

While Classified wasn’t our favorite of their offerings, The Escape Game Austin is a top-notch facility with excellent staff that will deliver a fun, family-friendly experience.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Austin’s Classified, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Austin comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – The Cursed Ship [Review]

The Lost ship.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 6, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Stranded on a desert island, we stumbled upon a ship that had run aground. We had to power the ship and lift its curse in order to set course for freedom.

Lockout Austin had crafted an island-meets-ship-esque design into the room. While by no means a convincing vessel, the design worked in a storybook sort of way. It was a playful shipwreck adventure.

In-game: Closeup of an anchor tied against the side of the ship's wooden hull.

Puzzles

On The Cursed Ship, we unearthed quite a bit to puzzle through. We always understood what to puzzle with, and while a lot was happening, it was also clear which puzzle components connected.

Much of the puzzling was interactive, incorporating the ship-esque set components.

Standouts

The Cursed Ship included a few particularly fun puzzles.

Lockout Austin designed this room escape to force teamwork. Before we’d solved any given puzzle, multiple people had interacted with the components. This all felt natural and deeply satisfying as a group experience.

In-game: The ship's wheel and control console.

Despite the team-oriented design, individuals still experienced their own starring moments.

While the curse-lifting was a tad hokey, Lockout Austin pulled it off through the playful design of the set and story, and the energetic vibe of their overall customer experience.

Shortcomings

While fun, the story and set design were not as compelling as the puzzles.

Many of the puzzles also didn’t jibe with the narrative. We opened a few too many boxes of puzzley things. All of these containers of stuff, so to speak, felt like a shortcut in design and construction. More integration would have greatly benefitted the overall experience.

Should I play Lockout Austin’s The Cursed Ship?

The Cursed Ship was about the puzzles rather than the narrative or the set. Throughout the game we continued to uncover puzzles as we pieced others together. Despite the volume, they flowed logically, and perhaps because of it, the puzzling naturally produced teamwork.

This would be a challenging escape room for newer players, but it would still be approachable.

The Cursed Ship was a playful nod to Lost. It wasn’t scary or particularly realistic, and we were all smiling throughout the game.

This was the spirit of Lockout Austin. Under an adorable happy birthday sign in the lobby, the staff greeted us with a riddle. Everyone we met was engaged and clearly having a good time with their clientele. It was a joy to play their games.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s The Cursed Ship, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Lockout Austin provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Austin Panic Room – Phase III: Human Trials [Review]

Why don’t mad scientists maintain clean labs?

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 9, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

We had been kidnapped by an evil surgeon doing evil things in his research lab / murder basement. After being injected with something evil, we had to find the cure and the way out in order to survive.

The grimy set looked relatively compelling, and at the very least, unwelcoming. It was less convincing as a lab where we might make the antidote we needed. Still, it looked pretty much in character as a place for murder.

In-game: Corrugated aluminum wall, a brick floor, and a rusty bed with medical equipment on a table beside it.

Puzzles

The puzzles relied primarily on basic decipherment and determining what was relevant when.

Many of the puzzles were buried under a fair bit of text.

Standouts

Phase III looked thematically appropriate; the ambiance worked.

In a few instances, Austin Panic Room incorporated interesting ciphers.

We appreciated the warnings on the website that Phase III has low ceilings and includes a short segment of flashing lights. We wish more companies included similar cautions.

In-game: A coffin with a transparent top. Inside are bloodied bones.

Shortcomings

At times there was a lot of accessible information that wasn’t actually in play. In fact, because of this, halfway through we worried that we may have somehow bypassed some of the puzzling. It turned out that we hadn’t.

One larger prop was breaking in such a way that it required the use of excessive force. We weren’t sure how to interact with this item and, under our gamemaster’s direction, I’m pretty sure we made the damage worse even as we tried not to.

The tech in Phase III didn’t elevate the experience. This included a beeping noise that persisted throughout the entire game, long after we’d interacted with it. Also, in one instance, poor interface design misdirected us for quite some time.

Finally, there was an exposed fan blade in this room escape. This was an unnecessary safety hazard.

Should I play Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials?

Phase III wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t particularly fun or satisfying either. It had too many elements meant to confound or annoy. The difficulty came more from these factors than from the puzzles.

If you’ve played a room or two and are excited by the evil murder dungeon concept, I recommend visiting at night when you won’t have any light coming in from outside and you can enjoy the unpleasant setting of the experience.

In terms of puzzle design and logical flow Cabin Fever, while not challenging, was the more enjoyable escape room of the two we played at Austin Panic Room.

Book your hour with Austin Panic Room’s Phase III: Human Trials, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Austin Panic Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Haus – Kid’s Classroom [Review]

If the teacher doesn’t show up, how long do we have to stay?

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 6-12 (mostly kids)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Audience: children

Story & setting

The teacher went home sick, the substitute no-showed, and we were locked in the classroom. We had to puzzle our way out in time to make the school bus.

Kid’s Classroom looked like a classroom for young kids. The decor included tiny desks, small chairs, little lockers, and all of the brightly colored educational wall hangings that you expect in an elementary school classroom.

It wasn’t a fancy looking game, but to the best of my memory, they nailed the look.

In-game, small school desks set in a classroom with brightly colored posters on the walls.

Puzzles

I think there were 21 puzzles in Kid’s Classroom. There was a lot to do; especially for our 2-person team. The good news was that all of the puzzles were designed for children, so they were fast solves… unless we overthought something… which may have happened a few times.

The few interactions that took some doing were process-driven. For most teams, these would occupy lots or all of the children for a little while.

Standouts

I have no problems imagining a small hoard of older elementary schoolers having a blast in this room escape that was clearly designed for them.

Kid’s Classroom was, for all intents and purposes, a classroom.

In game: The wall displays the alphabet and also reads,

There was one larger prop that was used brilliantly in a few ways. It was simple, clever, and slick.

Shortcomings

Kid’s Classroom was not a game for adults. This isn’t so much a shortcoming as it is a warning.

One item in the room perpetually seemed like it should hold the right answer to a puzzle. We kept returning to it and inspecting closely. That grew old fast.

The game was broken up into a few tracks and it was challenging to identify where the tracks began. Especially in a game for kids, stronger cluing could remove unnecessary uncertainty.

Children spend a lot of time in classrooms. I can imagine far more fun environments designed for children to investigate. An escape room is an opportunity to explore something fantastic, rather than the all-too-familiar classroom.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Kid’s Classroom?

We saw a group of tween girls leave Kid’s Classroom and they were all smiles and exuberance.

If you’re looking for a kid-friendly escape room, Kid’s Classroom would be a great option. If you’re adults looking for an escape room at Escape Haus, I’d suggest you explore their other offerings. Kid’s Classroom is not designed for adults.

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Kid’s Classroom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

Austin Panic Room – Cabin Fever [Review]

The Texas Snowpocalypse.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 9, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 2-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Cabin Fever was a ski adventure gone wrong. When a blizzard hit our ski area, we took shelter in a cabin that would soon collapse under the weight of the snow. In order to escape, we needed to determine our own location, find the “tractor key,” and unlock the door to our crumbling shelter.

Having grown up skiing, the story felt to me a little like a Texan’s interpretation of a snowmageddon.

Austin Panic Room went to great length creating the wooden aesthetic for this cabin. It was spacious and well lit. It felt like “Texas meets Vermont.”

In-game: A cabin with wooden log walls, a leather rug, a fireplace, space heater, and a plaid couch.

Puzzles

The puzzles were relatively basic, using common escape room props and puzzle designs. They flowed logically. The puzzle design was solid, if not challenging.

Austin Panic Room incorporated a few tech-driven interactions into the cabin experience.

Standouts

Cabin Fever relied on many locks, but it was always clear where to input any given puzzle solution. The room escape had good connective tissue.

There were some very cute puzzles.

While the story didn’t ring true to us Northerners, we did appreciate the originality and aesthetic.

Shortcomings

The final puzzle lacked an elegant solution. Whereas everything had come together so smoothly up until that point, there was no graceful way to derive that last bit of information. This made the conclusion less satisfying than the rest of the game.

Cabin Fever felt light on content.

The win conditions didn’t make a ton of sense, even once we’d won.

Should I play Austin Panic Room’s Cabin Fever?

Cabin Fever was game for new players. The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging and it was easy to find the thread of gameplay and follow it to the escape. The set was adorable, even if the story was not believable.

Cabin Fever would be a fun introduction to room escapes.

While there wasn’t enough game within Cabin Fever to truly satisfy a team of experienced players, this might be a good choice for an experienced player to play solo or an experienced team to speedrun.

Book your hour with Austin Panic Room’s Cabin Fever, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Austin Panic Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Perplexium – Rogue A.I. [Review]

A buggy super computer.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

An advanced artificial intelligence went rogue. We needed to gain access to it and change its programming to eliminate the threat.

It looked and felt a lot like Portal 2… which was pretty cool.

Aesthetically, Rogue A.I. was all over the place. Some portions of the game looked fantastically futuristic. “Server room chic” is my best description for it.

In-game: A surreal white room with pillars of varying height. The room is split into small squares by blue LED strips that illuminate the entire space. It looks very futuristic.
This room was white. It photographed interestingly.

Other portions of the game looked drab and uninspiring, especially in comparison to the parts that were otherworldly.

Puzzles

Rogue A.I. was a challenging, puzzle-heavy game. We were the 7th team to escape in its 3-month existence.

Perplexium created a number of largely tech-driven spacial and reasoning puzzles to occupy the hour. They also adapted a few famous puzzles into Rogue A.I.’s gameplay.

Standouts

Some of Rogue A.I. looked amazing. These parts were fun to explore.

Some of the puzzles were fun, challenging, and fostered teamwork.

The A.I. was a character in the game. It was superbly executed.

Shortcomings

Rogue A.I. had a problem with gating, or lack thereof. We frequently received pieces of puzzles and access to puzzle interactions far earlier than we should have. This made the game artificially more difficult than it should have been. It created odd situations where we had solved a puzzle and triggered something to happen in a portion of the game that we did not have access to.

There were a number of construction issues as well, specifically gaps in set pieces where it was easy to lose small items and instructional material.

There was a lack of working surface, which added to the likelihood of placing small objects in precarious places.

While some of the game looked awesome, a fair amount of it did not. These parts stood in painfully stark contrast to the more exceptionally designed areas.

There was a lot to read and far too much of the reading material was useless or unimportant.

We were surprised when the game ended. The final puzzle left us feeling so unsatisfied that it was bizarrely hard for our team to accept that we had achieved the win condition. It’s worth noting that we had (talented) strangers on our team and they clearly also experienced the bafflement that we were feeling.

Should I play Perplexium’s Rogue A.I.?

One of the more interesting aspects of Rogue A.I. was where the difficulty came from. There were challenging puzzles to solve, but they weren’t so hard that Rogue A.I. should have such an incredibly low escape rate.

The main challenge stemmed from little flaws that reverberated off of one another to create frustration and friction. We lost pieces twice, one to a gap in a set piece and another when the tech triggered a door to fling open and launch a piece. We wasted time with puzzles that we had access to, but didn’t have all of the pieces or information. The crazy part was that we solved them that way. We had people spending the entire game trying to make sense of large written passages when it turned out that we barely needed any of the reading material.

All of this was compounded by having too many people. Rogue A.I. was far too intimate a game to sustain a large team. The physical space had plenty of room, but the space around the puzzles was usually tight.

Rogue A.I. didn’t feel like a finished product; we felt like beta testers.

If Perplexium were to reduce the reading material, fill physical gaps in fixtures, limit puzzle interface access until it was relevant, provide solid workspace, and add a finale worthy of their creation, they would have an exceptional game on their hands.

Beginners ought to skip Rogue A.I. in its current form. It will eat them alive.

Experienced players could find the space and concept entertaining, and the challenge a worthy undertaking, so long as they can secure a private booking and bring a smaller team of strong puzzlers (we got very lucky with our random teammates).

Rogue A.I. has a ton of potential and I hope that it is realized soon.

Book your hour with Perplexium’s Rogue A.I., and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Perplexium comped our tickets for this game.

Lockout Austin – Blue Meth Breakout [Review]

I am the danger.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 6, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Story & setting

Previously on Breaking Bad: We were enslaved by a drug lord and forced to produce blue meth in his lab.

The meth lab felt more like the dingy, hacked together RV from season one, not the pristine lab of Gus’ creation in later seasons.

In-game: A hand handcuffed to a workbench holding a graduated cylinder. Lab equipment sits on the dirty bench.
The handcuffs in this game actually made sense.

Puzzles

Some puzzles in Blue Meth Breakout required light chemistry. I have no idea what chemicals we handled, but I’m 99% sure they were innocuous. Interestingly, more than with most puzzles, our teammates either really wanted to mix chemicals, or wanted absolutely nothing to do with the interaction.

Beyond the chemistry, there were plenty of things to find and puzzles to reason through. Our whole team kept busy. This was made more impressive by the fact that many of the puzzles carried bits of story.

Standouts

The in-character game mastering was shockingly compelling… and memorable.

The storytelling captured our collective imagination. We were caught up in it enough that we didn’t trust the voice giving us hints until pretty deep in the game.

Three buckets of "Los Pollos Hermanos Fry Batter." A reference to Breaking Bad.

There were a few brilliantly constructed props with great interactions cooked into them.

The puzzling and task-based interactions were a lot of fun.

The ending.

Shortcomings

The hint system was hard to understand and hard to trust. This was an accidental byproduct of the character building.

So much of Blue Meth Breakout flowed smoothly and fit into the narrative that the moments that didn’t quite work really stood out.

Should I play Lockout Austin’s Blue Meth Breakout?

Blue Meth Breakout was fun, funny, and a little intense.

Given the drug cooking theme, it was surprisingly approachable, as long as you won’t be bothered by Lockout Austin’s decidedly non-PC handling of the subject matter.

Beginners can absolutely enjoy this game, but I expect that they’d enjoy it more with even one other game under their belts prior to playing.

Experienced players should absolutely get locked up in Blue Meth Breakout.

Book your hour with Lockout Austin’s Blue Meth Breakout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Lockout Austin provided media discounted tickets for this game.