An evil doctor released a humanity-ending plague upon the world. It was up to our team of agents to break into his lab and secure the cure before time ran out.
The set had a fairly typical escape room lab aesthetic: off-white walls, bright fluorescent lights, scientific equipment, and lab coats. It wasn’t an intimidating or inspiring space, but it conveyed “lab” and presented the puzzles well.
The puzzles in Outbreak became increasingly involved as the game progressed. Many puzzles had unexpected – and welcome – layers of complexity.
Outbreak’s puzzles were well-themed and complex. The puzzles flowed well and created a few terrific moments.
Outbreak included both standard locks with different designs and digit structures and more advanced technology. This variety made each unlock exciting and usually helped us identify which lock would accept a solution.
Two particular puzzles were implemented beautifully. These moments really stood out to our team.
Escape Room 60 didn’t take itself too seriously. The audio introduction to the game was humorous and occasional in-game props included unobtrusive and amusing pop culture references. Our gamemaster was hilarious and witty; she was fantastic. “Feel free to laugh at our rules video… it gives me hope.”
Escape Room 60 had a hygienic, safe, and branded approach to blindfolds.
Given that the strength of Outbreak was in the puzzles and not the set design, the blindfolds seemed unnecessary. They didn’t add much to the experience because when we took them off, we hadn’t been transported to another world.
While the puzzles were on theme, they didn’t convey narrative or the urgency of our situation.
A couple of moments needed a bit more in-game cluing.
There was an auditory clue that we wished could have been replayed or looped. Thankfully our gamemaster promptly displayed the relevant information on the hint monitor.
Should I play Escape Room 60’s Outbreak?
Outbreak was a fun puzzle game. The puzzles were complex and flowed well. The puzzles created the memorable moments in this escape room.
Outbreak would be a challenging escape room for new players, but doable. More experienced players will have an easier time and will likely find a few of the puzzle implementations enjoyable.
Puzzles are the root of an escape room and Escape Room 60 has got that down. We hope they can take their escape rooms to the next level, integrating more set design and narrative elements into their solid puzzle game. They’re certainly on the right track.
As agents of P.I.T.O.N., the clandestine services group at the center of Esc4pe’s games, we were investigating a missing agent codenamed Glitch. We had to break into his workshop and bypass his mechanical puzzles, logic traps, and hidden codes to determine why he disappeared.
The set of The Minimalist varied enormously. Some portions of the set were fantastic; others were typically office-y. We began our mission in an intriguing and strange space… It was one of the most challenging spaces I’ve captured in a photograph.
While the room escape was built around a hacker narrative, The Minimalist was a series of tangible, physical interactions. Esc4pe cast us as secret agents, so they made us break into things. (Newbies, please understand that I don’t mean physically break.)
The Minimalist required us to pick a lock. Normally I wouldn’t discuss an exciting moment that occurred late-game, but Esc4pe highlighted this in The Minimalist’s description and provided a pregame crash course in lockpicking basics. They also sold an inexpensive pickset for those who are interested in further exploring locksport. (If that sounds interesting to you, I have a detailed post on the subject).
The opening moments of The Minimalist were strange, memorable, and fun.
The tangible puzzling in The Minimalist was fantastic; it made us feel like we were hacking the physical space.
“Hacker”-themed escape rooms usually portray a Hollywood depiction of hacking. The folks from Esc4pe used some of the cliches, but generally depicted something a lot more realistic than the norm.
Lockpicking is a puzzle. I really enjoyed that Esc4pe made it a viable component of this escape room.
Lockpicking takes practice. Escape room players with no lockpicking background and only minimal instruction destroy picks. As a result, Esc4pe cycles through tension bars and picks, using whatever they have from the pick kits that they purchase. Our game provided the wrong tensioner and a less than optimal pick. These worked, but I had to use the tensioner incorrectly to succeed.
So much of The Minimalist was built around unusual tangible interactions that when Esc4pe leaned on the more common escape room tropes, the room didn’t convey the same sense of adventure.
The end was anti-climactic, especially when juxtaposed with the opening.
Should I play Esc4pe’s The Minimalist?
The Minimalist was a bold escape room. Esc4pe stuck with a design decision that others have either abandoned or failed… and they made it work. They put their own twist on common tropes and produced an escape room that felt fresh.
Esc4pe are in a fantastic neighborhood in downtown Burlington, surrounded by amazing restaurants (Monarch & the Milkweed… is wow) and a block away from a bar/ arcade called The Archive… we had a wonderfully tasty, puzzley, and video-gamey afternoon.
The Minimalist was newbie friendly, and included more than a few interesting interactions to entertain experienced players. Puzzling aside, the lockpicking challenge will likely be a difficult for anyone who hasn’t done it before, but it is doable. If you’d like to learn some lockpicking basics before you visit, watch this video:
As investigators, we were reviving a cold murder case at a local asylum that had been decommissioned due to illegal experimentation on patients.
While the setup and subject matter were grim, the room was about as non-threatening as it could possibly be. At its most intense, there was a chalk outline on the ground and a few Halloween-y “danger” signs on the walls. Beyond that, the room had a vaguely lab/ office feel about it. There was not a lot of ambiance.
Murder Mystery included an assortment of lab-esque items turned puzzles. These ranged from more traditional paper-based puzzle types to a few more mechanical interactions.
The most interesting parts of Murder Mystery were the few mechanisms to manipulate.
The gameplay in Murder Mystery flowed well.
Murder Mystery lacked ambiance. It felt cobbled together.
There was a hodgepodge of vaguely themed items in Murder Mystery, but they didn’t add depth to the interactions. The escape room relied on paper-based puzzling and unlocking.
One of the more visually interestingly set pieces turned out to be practically irrelevant to the gameplay.
While it wasn’t a red herring, we waited a long time to open a lock on a hefty switch. When we flipped it we were expecting a significant reveal… and what we got was anything but significant.
Should I play Riddle Room’s Murder Mystery?
Murder Mystery was Riddle Room’s first escape room. It was an older style of room escape where the puzzling wasn’t particularly connected to environment. There was a bit to find, solve, and unlock, but there wasn’t a lot of depth to the experience. Murder Mystery was fine. Its flaws were born from a lack of polish and intrigue, not from outright bad design.
New players looking to explore a puzzle room will find some fun and challenge, but we preferred Captain’s Curse, which is no longer open. We are curious about what Riddle Room will develop in its place.
Full disclosure: Riddle Room provided media discounted tickets for this game.
Captured by pirates who were in the midst of casting a curse upon humanity, we had to free ourselves and save the world.
Captain’s Curse was an office space filled with pirate-y props. The set was cute and hardly immersive.
Captain’s Curse was built around search and discovery. There were lots of little bits and pieces to collect. It heavily rewarded those with a keen eye.
Throughout Captain’s Curse we uncovered historical information about various famed pirates. Most of this came in short bits and any instances of longer prose never became arduous. Captain’s Curse communicated a lot of information without slowing the pace of gameplay. In fact, two of our teammates left wanting to learn more about Ching Shih, a remarkably badass Chinese pirate queen.
We enjoyed the adorable staging depicted above. Who can say no to that cute cuddly face?
Riddle Room chose mostly old-timey boxes and locks that seemed to belong well enough on a pirate ship.
Captain’s Curse contained a lot of itty bitty props and relied heavily on finding over solving. We were continually unlocking every little thing we uncovered.
The set design did not do a great job of conveying a plot or even a feeling. It was a vaguely pirate-esque office.
Riddle Room’s reliance on search collided with lighting issues and prop selection. Everything combined to deliver some tedious search work.
Much of the action in Captain’s Curse felt repetitive rather than layered. The repetition lead to an emotionally level game with few moments of intensity or deeper satisfaction.
Should I play Riddle Room’s Captain’s Curse?
Captain’s Curse was a solid execution of an older style of escape room: there was a lot to poke through and uncover, but it was not all scavenging… It ultimately led to some puzzles. Riddle Room had a few truly fun and interesting ideas here and then filled in the gaps with what have become escape room standards.
Newer players will likely enjoy Captain’s Curse. Much of what’s old hat to us will be new and fun. It would also be a great room for families, as an educational and not-at-all-scary pirate ship with plenty for children to uncover.
For more experienced players, if you find yourself in the area and want some light puzzling, step aboard, but don’t sail too far out of your way to plunder this game.
Following the story of The Missing Doctor, we volunteered to participate in the amusingly mad Dr. X’s experiment… but first we had to figure out what we’d even signed on for.
The Experiment didn’t really have a set. There was a clearly defined space within which the escape room took place, but it was basically walls, doors, puzzle components, and a few random pieces of furniture.
The Experiment revolved around discovery and experimentation.
We relied heavily on keen observation and communication.
The Experiment was frequently un-hackable. Each time we thought we could skip a step, Puzzle Theory thwarted us. They clearly gave information dissemination and gating considerable thought.
We generally loved the puzzles that were presented to us in The Experiment.
Their character, Dr. X, was amusing. I rarely read a nonrequired long-winded thing… but I wanted to read the funny conclusion Dr. X presented us.
The stories of The Experiment and The Missing Doctorlink brilliantly. If you don’t get the story or couldn’t remember the story (like me), ask your gamemaster to explain it afterwards.
The gamespace had an odd layout that was occasionally frustrating. We frequently found ourselves maneuvering around each other in cramped spaces.
The Experiment was more physically demanding than it needed to be due to the awkward positioning of a crawlspace and the repeated transition through it. There was also one more active puzzle in a hard-to-reach location.
The Experiment didn’t look like much at all. There really wasn’t a set; it was simply a space to contain the puzzles.
Should I play Puzzle Theory’s The Experiment?
The Experiment was fully puzzling with a side of humor. Dr. X is amusing and his experiment ridiculous and entertaining. If I had to guess, the folks from Puzzle Theory are probably pretty big fans of Futurama and Rick & Morty… It’s just got that vibe.
If you play escape rooms for the puzzles, you’ll enjoy The Experiment. It required us to think in different ways and work through concepts that resulted in satisfying solves.
If your enjoyment of an escape room requires a beautiful set, The Experiment won’t be for you. Not at all.
The Experiment would be challenging for newer players, but is nevertheless approachable for the puzzle-minded at any level of experience. Make sure that you can crawl or that you have a few people on your team who can.
Price: $25 per ticket on weekdays, $27 per ticket on weekends
Story & setting
In the late 60s and early 70s, “The Zodiac Killer” terrorized the San Francisco Bay area murdering somewhere between 5 and 28 people. He celebrated his slayings by sending 4 enciphered messages to authorities. He was never identified or caught and only 1 of the cryptograms has been solved.
Decades later in Connecticut, a Zodiac Killer copycat had started taking lives and a $100,000 reward had been offered for information leading to his capture. As a group of college students taking an investigative journalism class at a local university, we’d decided to look into the killings… and we’d tracked a suspect back to his home. What could possibly go wrong?
The “serial killer” escape room genre generally comes in three flavors:
Horror murder house
Children’s haunted house of party store props
Creepy house of slightly intimidating death iconography
Son of the Zodiac firmly fell in the third category. The set was essentially the killer’s creepy living room puzzle confessional. It more than adequately staged Quandary’s puzzles, but didn’t contribute any dramatic flair.
Son of the Zodiac shined in the puzzle department. A few of the puzzles were pretty damn brilliant. Quandary did a good job of embedding their puzzles into the set and providing challenges with more than one layer of complexity.
Quandary’s story was detailed and established the set, as well as our reason for being there. Through a smart game design element, they managed to keep the narrative alive throughout the entire game right up to the conclusion. This is a rare feat in an escape room.
When we asked each teammate their favorite part of the Son of the Zodiac, damn near every puzzle was listed individually by at least one person. The puzzling was varied, complex, fair, and satisfying.
Two big puzzles were set up for parallel solving, but were mounted to the set in a way that resulted in a lot of crosstalk. The two groups that had split to tackle these challenges ended up tripping over each other both verbally and physically. This added tension to the escape room… but not the desirable kind.
The set didn’t look great. It was clearly put together with love and care, but there was plenty of room for improvement.
Should I play Quandary’s Son of the Zodiac?
Son of the Zodiac’s creepy-not-scary, horror-lite gameplay was fairly clearly stated on their website: “While the theme of this room is menacing, there are no “scares”: no one jumps out at you, no strobe lights, no loud noise.” They also made it clear that Son of the Zodiac would be more challenging than your average room.
This was not a room escape for people who get really into the scary, set-driven aspects of some serial killer games. It wasn’t frightening and in its climactic moments it only flirted with intensity.
While not an overwhelmingly difficult escape room, I’d recommend having played a room or two before taking on Son of the Zodiac. It’s not for total newbies, but it’s approachable with a bit of experience. You’ll want to know your way around an escape room before you go in because the puzzles in Son of the Zodiac were killer.
They have real treasure chests… and they are so much cooler than in the movies.
Location: Terryville, Connecticut
Date played: July 8, 2017
Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $23 per ticket (adults), $15 per ticket (teens)
Located at the site of the long-closed Eagle Lock Company, Lock Museum of America is a small non-profit museum dedicated to the history of locking devices.
The Lock Museum of America is a no-frills museum with a pretty amazing collection and a knowledgeable staff. They have well over a thousand padlocks, mortise locks, and safes. They have brilliant demonstrations of the inner workings of some of history’s most important lock designs, a gorgeous collection of bank time locks (which have an incredible and dark history), and a pair of over-500-year-old functioning Spanish Armada treasure chests with some of the most amazing closure mechanisms that I’ve ever seen.
My love of locks and lockpicking is well documented; I loved this little museum.
Within the museum they had an escape room style game… Should you play it?
Story & setting
The initial concept of the pin tumbler lock dates back to Egypt circa 4000 BC and the Lock Museum of America’s ancient Egyptian lock had been cursed. We had to break that curse or the bad things that happen when you don’t break an ancient Egyptian curse within an hour would set in.
The set was the second floor of the Lock Museum. They had set up a table in the middle of the main room which held many game components. The escape room included a series of lock boxes, puzzles, and hidden items within the museum displays.
Part museum scavenger hunt, part puzzle hunt, Lock Museum Adventure was less an escape room and more a puzzle-driven way to explore the Lock Museum. This was not a fancy room escape by any stretch of the imagination. However, it was fair and reasonably challenging.
Lock Museum Adventure included some items that no other escape room in the world could even dream of incorporating. Lock Museum Adventure was at its best when it physically involved items that were part of the museum itself. This came in two different forms:
Incorporating locking devices that were part of the museum
Creating puzzles from the existing museum displays
The Lock Museum did a good job calling out what was and was not part of the escape room, which was important because there was a lot to look at.
The setting within the Lock Museum was a ton of fun. I found myself shifting between room escape player and museum observer. The escape room was a great way to help visitors take in the many magnificent items on display.
While Egypt was significant in lock history, it wasn’t really the point of this Lock Museum. The “curse” story felt forced and disconnected from the space we were actually occupying. I would have loved a story that felt more connected to what we were seeing… or even no story at all. The Lock Museum was nifty on its own.
Most of the lockboxes that made up the core of the room escape were sealed with junky, uninspiring modern locks. It would have been more fun if these had been secured with less valuable older locks or even unusual modern ones.
Lock Museum Adventure gang locked boxes shut with a Master Lock Lockout Hasp. Gang locking kills any sense of forward momentum because solutions don’t reward players with new information.
I left the room escape wishing that more of the history and the space within the Lock Museum had been integrated into Lock Museum Adventure. This escape room could be an incredible way to learn experientially within an unusual museum. It does a little of this, but there is potential for so much more.
Should I play Lock Museum of America’s Lock Museum Adventure?
There are two pieces to parse here: Lock Museum of America and the museum’s escape room, Lock Museum Adventure.
If you’re even remotely intrigued by the design and history of locking mechanisms, Lock Museum of America is pretty damn cool. It isn’t fancy, but they display amazing things. I’ve been to museums that have more photos than genuine artifacts, where an hour or two on Wikipedia is more fulfilling… This isn’t one of those museums. The displays are tangible and the staff knows their stuff. I know this because I geeked out with them and asked all sorts of esoteric questions that probably bored my patient teammates to death.
I thought Lock Museum Adventure was a fun way to interact with the exhibits. It felt more like a scavenger hunt mixed with a light puzzle hunt, but it all worked. It could, however, do more to shine a light on what makes this museum special. I hope that it gets there because it has so much potential.
Between exploring the museum and playing the escape room, we spent about 2 hours in total at the Lock Museum of America and it was well worth the visit. It’s a convenient stop between New York and Boston. We learned a lot, saw some interesting and unusual things, and puzzled. If this sounds like a good time then I recommend a visit. I plan to return.
Poor Lenny Thompkins sold his soul in a decade where few care about the blues.
Location: Torrington, Connecticut
Date played: July 9, 2017
Team size: 4-6; we recommend 2-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $29 per ticket
Story & setting
Mediocre guitarist Lenny Thompkins went down to the crossroads and sold his soul for talent. With his contract nearly up, we had to find and dispel it to save his life.
Lenny Thompkins sold his soul to play the blues was loosely based on the old legend from the Mississippi Delta of Robert Johnson, one of the fathers of the blues. Johnson recorded one staggering record and then died at the age of 27. His work became legendary and inspired the later icons such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Fleetwood Mac. Johnson immortalized his own legend in the song Cross Roads Blues:
Which was later reimagined by Cream / Clapton as the blues rock classic Crossroads:
Yes… I’m a little bit passionate about the blues. Thank you for asking.
The set of Lenny Thompkins had an old music room feel about it. Lined with guitars, keyboards, metronomes, and instrument cases, it had that rugged “a broke musician who spends everything he has on gear” feel. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful set, but it felt reasonably authentic.
Lenny Thompkins was built around music puzzles, but composed in a way that didn’t require a musical background. It also had a mixture of more common escape room puzzles, most of which were a fair bit more challenging than in your average escape room.
Lenny Thompkins had a great intro video.
Music puzzles are very tough to create. Frequently, they either don’t provide enough information for folks who have no music background or they give so much away that the puzzles lose their souls. Pursue the Clues nailed their music puzzles, which really mattered in an escape room themed around music.
The musical prop selection in Lenny Thompkins was on point.
I loved the theme and story. Can you tell that I loved the theme and story?
The interactions that were built around search and discovery were underwhelming.
While the musical prop selection was great, there was a lot of room for improvement in terms of set design.
The story’s setup was fantastic and the conclusion certainly escalated, but the ending didn’t work. It felt jarring and unsatisfying. This was one of the rare escape rooms where our entire team (not just the blues lover) wanted more story and better gameplay integration.
Should I play Pursue the Clues’ Lenny Thompkins sold his soul to play the blues?
Lenny Thompkins sold his soul to play the blues was a challenging room escape, especially by 2017 standards. Whereas most escape rooms have gotten easier, this one was a bit of a demon. It was absolutely winnable, but newbies might have to sell their soul to complete it.
I highly recommend Lenny Thompkins for players who have won at least a few games, are in the region, and are looking for a challenging and creative escape room with a fun setup. It was a little gritty and far from flawless… but it left an impression.
Infected with the Black Death and seeking a cure, we approached the home of a mysterious alchemist. The rumor was that he had the ability to cure the disease, but he would only share this knowledge with those who could prove their wits and worth.
Staged in an ancient cabin in the woods, the set was compelling. It started off strong and the aesthetics only improved with each progression in the escape room.
Cure of the Alchemist contained tangible puzzles that generally required manipulation of the set pieces and props.
The puzzles escalated in difficulty and complexity over the course of the room escape culminating in a serious deductive challenge.
Unlike Team vs Time’s other escape rooms, they offer no hints in Cure of the Alchemist. We had to prove ourselves to the alchemist or die trying.
When we walked into Cure of the Alchemist, we felt like we were in a different world from the lobby at Team vs Time. The set was captivating.
Many of the puzzles felt on theme, as if they belonged in that environment.
We enjoyed a variety of puzzles, both simple and complex. We experienced quite a few fun moments of satisfying realization.
At one point, Cure of the Alchemist bottlenecked both in gameplay and physical layout. This stoppage of play was frustrating for the players who were boxed out.
Cure of the Alchemist was set up as a medieval escape room and the set supported that feeling… except that some of the locks were decidedly modern. The addition of a few older-looking lever locks would have eliminated some of the anachronisms.
Team vs Time set up a rather complex backstory, but it was ultimately irrelevant to the gameplay. Throughout our quest for the cure, we never felt the dramatic stakes of our mission. The completion of our quest was anticlimactic.
Should I play Team vs Time’s Cure of the Alchemist?
Cure of the Alchemist was a puzzle-driven escape room in an impressive medieval staging. The puzzles relied on the set pieces and the set was augmented by the puzzle components.
While not as suspenseful or dramatic Gangster’s Gamble, Cure of the Alchemist delivered more cohesive puzzle and set integration.
While Cure of the Alchemist was not as challenging as some of Team vs Time’s other escape rooms, we do not recommend it for brand-new players. Since players are proving themselves to the alchemist, Team vs Time does not give any hints. To that end, we recommend that you play at least a few other escape rooms before attempting this one. You should also probably play Team vs Time’s other games to get a feel for their unique style of gameplay prior to taking on the alchemist’s challenge.
Captured by a madman and locked away in complete darkness, we had 30 minutes to escape his trap.
The “you’re playing this game in the dark” pitch wasn’t an exaggeration. It was pitch black. The only illumination that we could see was an ever-so-faint emergency exit sign above the door and the LEDs around the gamemaster’s camera.
The Hole was entirely designed around playing in darkness. The puzzles were solvable via touch only. While there were zero jump scares, there were a few things that felt a bit icky.
Although the room escape was a little unnerving, it was exceptionally safe. There were no tripping hazards; it had ample padding along the floors and walls.
The Hole was an adventure through the darkness, not a puzzle game.
While there was plenty to keep our team busy, there was only one interaction that I would call a puzzle.
The Hole was a wholly different escape room. It forced us to explore, communicate, and interact in new ways.
It was fair and it was safe.
Opening locks in the dark was strangely satisfying.
There was only one true puzzle in The Hole. I wished there’d been even one more.
One early challenge greatly overstayed its welcome.
Elements of this exploration were a little more icky than they needed to be. Note that it wasn’t scary or dirty, just a bit gross.
Should I play Wicked Escapes’ The Hole?
If you’re interested in a different sort of challenge, I highly recommend The Hole.
Bring the right team. Everyone needs to be calm and communicative in darkness. You should also be comfortable with each other because you will touch, bump, and awkwardly interact.
If you’re looking to solve intricate puzzles, The Hole won’t be for you.
If you’d rather embark on a story-driven adventure, this room escape won’t be for you. The story is just a setup for the dark escape.
And, of course, if you want to gaze upon a beautiful set, this won’t be your game; there is literally nothing to see.
Beginners can absolutely attempt The Hole, but I’d recommend that they play at least one other game first, just to get a handle on how escape rooms work.
Experienced players should dive in, so long as they aren’t repelled by the darkness, ick-factor, or minimal focus on puzzling.
The Hole takes room escapes somewhere else. It’s a different type of challenge. The puzzle is in exploring, navigating, communicating, and putting all of that together. We really enjoyed it.