Thoughts following the REA Exclusive Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

We did it! And it worked! And everyone enjoyed themselves (a claim supported by data)!

Escape room enthusiasts descended upon New York City recently for Escape, Immerse, Explore.

Escape Immerse Explore 2017 Chart logo

Attendees traveled from Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Upstate New York… with one brave individual making the journey across the East River from Brooklyn.

Some were owners. All were players.

Community

This is our community.

From our first conversations on Friday, we knew we were spending the weekend with like-minded people. We were still enjoying each other’s company after midnight, long after booked events had ended.

By Sunday morning, it was like a camp reunion. Folks were looking for the people they’d played with on Saturday morning to ask how their afternoon escapes had gone. When the event wrapped up midday, people went off with new friends to escape more rooms.

Preferences

This event showcased the many different styles of escape rooms in New York City. These ranged from puzzle-focused to adventure-based. Some included context and story. Others presented more straightforward puzzle solving.

One person’s favorite was another person’s not-so-favorite.

Our selections only scratched the surface of what this city has to offer in terms of escape rooms and other immersive entertainment.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who came out for this. Thank you for the wonderful conversations, perspectives, questions, and ideas.

We learned as much from you as you learned from us and from each other.

Next time?

Based on the incredibly strong post-event feedback, we’re going to have to do this again.

We might run Escape, Immerse, Explore again in New York. Or, we might bring this to another city. Maybe both. We’ll just have to see what the future brings.

If you missed this one, but you’d like to come to the next one, please let us know.

 

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Trials of Bahamut [Review]

Moogles and cactuars and tonberries, oh my!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: October 20, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket early, $41 per ticket regular, $46 per ticket at the door if available

Story & setting

Based on the events of the video game Final Fantasy XIV, the primal dragon Bahamut, long thought dead, was reviving. We needed to gather the tools and knowhow to assemble a battle plan that would defeat this almighty beast. Failure would mean the end of the world.

In-game: The faux stone cavern set walls. There are ropes to guide lines and a sign that reads "Cactuar Cavern."

Trials of Bahamut was a mass escape event put on by Real Escape Games by SCRAP, the creators of many other large-scale events that we’ve reviewed such as a Legend of Zelda game. In typical SCRAP fashion, Trials of Bahamut took place in a sparsely decorated event space. The center of room was full of tables, one for each team of 6. Around the perimeter of the room, various sets represented different locations, each guarded by characters, played by actors.

Puzzles

As is typical at SCRAP mass events, much of the puzzling took place as a team around our table with pencils and paper.

As Trials of Bahamut progressed, there were opportunities to solve puzzles with the characters along the perimeter. These were more interesting and dynamic puzzles that also granted more compelling rewards.

Standouts

Each player was assigned a character class (thief, paladin, bard, ranger, black mage, white mage). Each character came with individual powers that only they could execute at specific points throughout the game. Some of these powers were the keys to individual paper puzzles; others required creatively interacting with actors. The roles kept everyone involved throughout the event and added an intriguing dynamic to the gameplay.

Post-game photo features our team holding up the signs of the character classes that each person played.

Trials of Bahamut was the most interactive SCRAP event that we’ve played (running around a stadium notwithstanding). In the past we’ve spent almost all of our time around a table, solving puzzles that could just as easily have appeared in a puzzle book. That was not the case in SCRAP’s Final Fantasy game.

Trials of Bahamut was more approachable than the previous SCRAP events that we’ve attended. Don’t get me wrong: most of the teams lost, but more than a few won or almost won.

In-game: The initial table setup. There's a book sealed shut with a padlock, a Moogle doll, and an assortment of paper puzzle components.
That Moogle was so damn adorable. He was also the team MVP.

The final puzzle sequence was smart. Our most common criticism of SCRAP events has been painfully obtuse final puzzles. While this challenging last puzzle sequence still required us to think exactly like the puzzle designer, at Trials of Bahamut, since we had been paying close attention, the steps were clear and deducible without logic leaps. This was a huge improvement on previous SCRAP mass event finales.

Most of our teammates had little or no experience with Final Fantasy and we still found Trials of Bahamut enjoyable.

There was a hilarious and morbid moment that anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy game could appreciate.

Some of the actors really went for it.

The stuffed Moogle on our team was freaking adorable. You should get one. 

Shortcomings

Trials of Bahamut suffered from long lines to meet with characters. Luckily our team got out to a quick lead and never relinquished it, so we didn’t wait on too many lines, but these really backed up. This is a common event problem. With linear progression, individual characters become bottlenecks.

Some of the character classes assigned to us were more interesting and essential than others.

While Trials of Bahamut was less paper-puzzley than previous SCRAP events, it still relied heavily on them… and some of them were pretty silly.

Trials of Bahamut began and ended with a lengthy, cringeworthy video.

SCRAP hires most of their actors and staff in each city that the game visits. We played the first instance of Trials of Bahamut in NYC and at each juncture our team was the first to approach the actors with solutions. Far too often our correct answers were rejected because the staff wasn’t quite up to speed. A little more training would go a long way.

The ending was anticlimactic. We had prepared to battle a dragon… but we only needed to submit a dragon-fighting battle plan. The conclusion had all of the drama of turning in a pop quiz.

Should I play Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut?

I’m really glad that I went to play Trials of Bahamut. This experience has given me hope that SCRAP is evolving their events, that they aren’t a one-trick pony, and that they can do something different with this rarely-explored escape game format.

I was ready to write off SCRAP’s events. Bluntly, I didn’t want to attend Trials of Bahamut. I’ve played Final Fantasy III and X, but I can’t claim that I’m a fan of the series. We attended because a friend bought the tickets, planned the evening, and invited us.

Trials of Bahamut was an engaging, intriguing, and entertaining event. We left excited that we had conquered a fair and interesting challenge. SCRAP’s escape events still have plenty of room to grow, but the next time they bring one to New York City, I will not drag my feet on booking a ticket.

We would recommend Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut, but New York City was the final stop on its tour. If it ever experiences a revival, you should check it out.

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

 

Exit Escape Room NYC – High Speed NYC [Review]

Please mind the gap.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: October 16, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

We were trapped on a 1 Train in the NYC Subway. A vengeful conductor had abandoned the train after forcing it into high speed and disabling the breaks. It was up to us to save our own lives as well as the other passengers on the train.

The entryway to game looks like a subway platform with a white tiled wall. The door itself is built into a recreation of a subway car.

High Speed NYC captured the look and vibe of a New York subway car. From entry to exit, it had nearly accurate layout, temperature, lighting, and aesthetic. Additionally, Exit Escape Room NYC used video to create a sense of motion.

Puzzles

Exit Escape NYC put their own twists on a few common escape room puzzle types. The puzzles flowed well. Most of the puzzles were embedded into the set and environment.

The puzzles took inspiration from the theme. This was more pronounced in the first act of the experience.

Standouts

The theme and the set were quintessentially New York City. Given Exit Escape Room NYC’s location in midtown Manhattan, this made so much sense.

In-game: Orange seating a metal polls in the interior of the subway car.

The set looked and felt like a New York subway car. It was deliberately crafted to conceal puzzles within a familiar space. It was surprising.

We especially enjoyed how Exit Escape NYC turned subway riding actions into puzzles.

High Speed NYC included primarily large-scale, tactile, group puzzles. They took a few common escape room puzzle types and made them their own.

The ending was adorable.

Shortcomings

While the puzzles were on theme, they didn’t really tell the story of the escape room. At times they just felt like assorted puzzles from subway-esque props. This was more pronounced in the later potion of the escape room. Exit Escape Room NYC could work to tell a story though puzzling, instead of by way of gamemaster introduction, which would bring this experience to the next level.

There are small places in the set where the set construction could be more polished.

The second act of High Speed NYC was more challenging than the first act, but less exciting. The intensity of the room escape dropped over the course of the game.

Should I play Exit Escape Room NYC’s High Speed NYC?

High Speed NYC is one of very few New York City-themed escaped rooms in this city. Its local theming and convenient midtown location make it a particularly fun choice for tourists.

Note that you don’t need to know anything about the New York City subway system to solve these puzzles, but if you do, that might give you a leg up on one or two occasions.

If you’re new to escape rooms, High Speed NYC will be pretty challenging, and definitely surprising, but highly enjoyable. From puzzles to technology, it will give you a good feel for what escape rooms offer. I can see High Speed NYC hooking new players. More experienced players will appreciate clever and clean execution of escape room gameplay.

High Speed NYC was an enjoyable adventure. From the set to the puzzles to the story, it was a lot of fun to play.

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s High Speed NYC, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

 

First Person Xperience – RED; Revisited

This summer we reviewed RED, an immersive game that claimed to have captured that ever elusive replayability.

We left it bewildered, but exhilarated… and we wanted to return.

In our first apocalypse playthrough, we uncovered only a small portion of the mystery and earned a comically low survival rating. Here is the original review, from that vantage point:

First Person Xperience – RED [Review]

Revisiting RED

The Approach

The first time, we played to survive. This time, we played to thrive.

RED's logo over the white figure of EVE.
Image via First Person Xperience

We brought a large group of friends, most of whom had already played RED once before. Over dinner, we talked about the bits and pieces we’d uncovered in our various earlier playthroughs:

  • What did we understand about the apocalyptic world of RED?
  • Which characters were we likely to meet?
  • What actions should we take?
  • What information should we seek?
  • What could potentially be solved? How?
  • Who should be responsible for the various aspects of the game?
  • How would we each play our own role in RED?

We divided the key responsibilities amongst the group. We strategized hard.

The Result

It worked. We were the second team to achieve 100% survival.

We learned much more about the world of RED… and we opened up so many new questions.

RED was fully replayable. In fact, we would play again.

Additional Thoughts

We stand by our original review, but with the following additions:

  • There was an incredible world to unravel within RED. The more backstory we filled in, the more questions we had.
  • There was a more complex puzzle to solve in addition to the “practical” survival logistics. We unearthed the clues from the space and from the characters. There was a lot to uncover and put together.
  • The actors were exceptional. We couldn’t throw them off. We tried.
  • The in-game upgrade for the Elite Package was exciting. Once we understood our role in the scenario at hand, we could use it to our advantage.
  • First Person Xperience had changed the final scene since we first played. While the new ending provided a sense of accomplishment, the old one was more dramatic. The folks in our group who’d experienced them both generally preferred the new way, but we were conflicted.
  • The post-game content was still too lengthy, but with additional insight into the experience, it was less intimidating and we were more interested in chewing on it.
  • Our experiences in RED depended entirely on our approach to it. Our playthroughs were different, but equally captivating.
  • If we played again, we would not strive for 100% survival. We would do something different just to see what would happen.

Remember that RED is not an escape room. If you approach it like an escape room, you’re missing the point.

RED is playing through December 3rd. Whether new or returning, get a ticket while you still can.

Book your session with First Person Xperience’s RED, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Clue Chase – Ultimate Heist [Review]

You’re going to want to fence that Beany Baby quickly.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 14, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5 to 7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1998 and we were burglars attempting to rob a notorious thief and steal the final piece of an artifact. Throughout Clue Chase’s 4 games, we’d been looking for pieces of this precious artifact. Of course, while thieving, we were aiming to rob this guy blind. Because money.

In-game: A locked box featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's smoking pipe.

Our goal was to escape with as much money, in the form of valuable items, as possible. At the end of the game, we received a score based on our plundering.

Ultimate Heist took place in a study/ trophy room: dark walls, heavy wooden furniture, and valuables in glass cases.

Puzzles

Ultimate Heist was packed full of puzzles to solve. The majority were standalone challenges that unlocked stealable valuables.

There was also a series of interconnected puzzles that led to our escape route.

Standouts

The setting worked well. It was just stuffy enough in how it merged “office” and “museum.”

It was 1998 and Ultimate Heist was packed with amusing 90s pop culture references.

Clue Chase structured Ultimate Heist such that it offered an on-ramp to puzzling and then a free-for-all. There was a lot to unlock.

There were a ton of puzzles in this escape room. Our group of experienced escape room players solved most – but not all – of them before we made our escape. We were puzzling the entire hour.

Shortcomings

With a large team doing so many things all at one time, the entire experience was chaotic and hard to manage.

Not all of the clues connected back to the valuables adequately. We burned time trying solutions in multiple locks of the same digit structure. This made portions of Ultimate Heist frustrating.

Our gamemaster was a character in the game. He would appear when we shouted for him… or a couple minutes later. Although he entered the gamespace, he made us ask questions, which meant that if we didn’t ask the right questions, we didn’t receive any guidance from him. He then left us more frustrated than he found us.

The hardest puzzle in Ultimate Heist suffered from a gating issue. One component was available from the initial moments of the escape room, but it wasn’t solvable until later in the experience. When we didn’t make progress with this item, we asked for hints on it, and each time, our gamemaster told us he couldn’t tell us anything about it. This proved incredibly frustrating and burned a lot of our time.

We experienced one broken clue and two reset mistakes. Because of the lack of connections between puzzle components and locks, these had significant impact on gameplay. We only unraveled what had gone wrong post-game.

Should I play Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist?

The Ultimate Heist had a unique structure as a score-based puzzling theft. In this way, both new and experienced players can get a lot of out of it. If you love to solve puzzles, it’s jam packed.

That said, it didn’t quite come together for us. The lack of connections and subsequent hinting style added a lot of unnecessary frustration.

Clue Chase thinks up interesting concepts and continues to iterate on their experiences. Although they have great ideas, thus far they haven’t quite been able to execute on each concept in a way that we’ve found satisfying.

A dark wood contraption with a ring of metal buttons in the middle.
The final boss.

Since we first visited in January 2016, Clue Chase has added an overarching narrative that ties their 4 escape rooms together. There is even a bonus puzzle after you play all four games. This innovation definitely ups the excitement in their games. We loved the concept, but we didn’t get much satisfaction from the bonus.

We want to love Clue Chase’s games. They have an amazing location next to Bryant Park. They’re accessible to corporate clients and tourists. They have a lot to offer.

We feel, however, that Clue Chase is still iterating. They have lots of ideas and they haven’t quite managed to bring them all together.

While it’s frustrating at times, the Ultimate Heist offers something different. If you want to solve a lot of puzzles, enjoy 1990s pop culture, and try for a high score, give Ultimate Heist a shot.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

Paradiso – The Memory Room [Review]

More than meets the eye.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 12, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per ticket

Story & setting

The Memory Room was the second chapter of Paradiso’s saga about the secrets of the elusive Virgil Corporation. We had discovered that Virgil Corporation was researching the human mind and we aimed to save one of their research subjects.

In-game: A dark room with featuring a table lit dramatically with 4 boxes, each with a card greeting a different player.

Upon first glance, The Memory Room looked unremarkable. From the largely blank walls, to the minimalist seating, to the single table set with player greetings, the space appeared practically empty. This stood in sharp contrast to the detailed sets of Paradiso’s first escape room. It turned out that there was far more complexity hiding in The Memory Room than was initially apparent.

Puzzles

The puzzles required astute observation. As the setting transformed and introduced a character and puzzles, we needed to carefully observe, build connections, and make sense of what we were seeing. The Memory Room included more abstract thinking.

While of the most puzzles resolved in a physical lock, there were a few more unusual methods of triggering solutions.

Standouts

While The Memory Room initially appeared unexciting, especially in comparison to the grand staging of Paradiso’s first chapter, The Escape Test, it surprised us. Behind the minimalistic facade, it turned out to be unusual and complex.

The Memory Room introduced a design concept we’d been awaiting for more than 2 years. Paradiso used the unadorned space as a canvas. With technology, they transformed this simple gamespace into a dynamic story and puzzle component.

We’ve never seen another escape room like this one.

In The Memory Room, Paradiso introduced a character whose presence helped build narrative and drive gameplay. The actor in this role was both engaging and withdrawn, intriguing and inaccessible. She was outstanding.

The Memory Room dove deeper into the workings of Paradiso’s Virgil Corporation. The gameplay unlocked a story.

Shortcomings

Although The Memory Room told a story, many of our teammates didn’t fully understand what had transpired. As a standalone experience, The Memory Room didn’t fully communicate to the players what they’d effected and how this connected to the Virgil Corporation.

The set wasn’t particularly well fabricated. More polished construction would improve the stark contrast between the seemingly barren physical space and the complex experience within it.

The Memory Room included one safe-style spinning combination lock that lacked adequate in-game operation instructions. This was incredibly frustrating… and it’s worth noting that spinning safe locks are generally frustrating devices.

Should I play Paradiso’s The Memory Room?

The Memory Room was a unique standalone room escape experience. It manipulated a gamespace, turning a simple setting into an unexpected myriad of environments. We’d never seen anything like it.

The Memory Room had fun and satisfying puzzles, most of which resolved through physical gameplay components.

David and I played Paradiso’s more theatrical Path of Beatrice add-on experience (review forthcoming) in the week leading up to our booking at The Memory Room. The add-on Path of Beatrice enhanced our experience in The Memory Room. Our playthrough included some additional character interaction, which was really exciting. Furthermore, we had a better grasp of the Virgil Corporation, its research initiatives, and our goals.

We didn’t tell our teammates for The Memory Room that we’d been engaged with the Virgil Corporation for few days already. We wondered whether they’d notice that we were executing sneaky side missions. Our friends never realized that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, but they did enjoy the differences once we explained them over dinner.

The Memory Room offered something different in terms of the set and story behind the puzzling and the role of an actor. (Review these tips for playing room escapes with live actors.)

If you’re looking for a grand scale, outrageous set pieces, and large tangible interactions, this won’t be your favorite escape room.

If you’re interested in more cerebral puzzling, as you’re led through an unusual story and a changing environment, visit The Memory Room. It will be memorable.

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

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

 

Clue Chase – Alien Encounter [Review]

The power of an endearing hint system.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: August 2, 2017 (David) & September 14, 2017 (Lisa)

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was the year 2053 and we were making first contact with alien life. They had beamed us aboard a ship and had presented us with a series of challenges to prove humanity’s worth.

In-game: A glowing purple tube of light, in the background is a glowing skeleton.

The set of Alien Encounter was interesting. Designed as a spaceship, it was large by Midtown Manhattan standards. Upon initial reveal it looked impressive, but with up-close interaction, many of the set pieces looked cobbled together and unrefined.

Puzzles

Clue Chase creates puzzle-dense escape rooms and Alien Encounter was no exception. There were a lot of puzzles and many of them had a few layers of complexity. Each puzzle was connected to an early pivotal puzzle.

Standouts

Clue Chase created a really smart hint system for Alien Encounter. It brought personality to the gameplay. It also enabled the gamemaster to subtly focus us on critical steps, which was important in the large gamespace.

I truly enjoyed the way that Clue Chase tied nearly all of their puzzles together. The room may have been a collection of largely unrelated puzzles, but this one act made them feel cohesive.

The finale was fun.

The initial feeling that I had when stepping onto the set was otherworldly.

Shortcomings

I wish that the otherworldly feeling that the set instilled had continued throughout the escape room. It fell apart when I started to touch things and could easily identify the hacked together hardware that Clue Chase used to built the set.

While many of the puzzles played well, one of them could easily be interpreted in multiple different ways. We found ourselves having to systematically yet blindly try different approaches… and when we stumbled upon the correct solution we weren’t even sure why it worked. The explanation that we received post-game was that we had to use “non-human logic.” This could have been ok with adequate clue structure. Plus, there were plenty of puzzles that did use typical human logic.

Alien Encounter cannot accommodate 12 people. While there was physical space for 12 and then some, there wasn’t enough gameplay. At multiple points, Alien Encounter was entirely linear. The hint system exacerbated this design decision. While newer teams will likely want a larger group, 12 is a few too many.

Should I play Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter?

Of the 4 escape rooms currently available at Clue Chase, Alien Encounter was the most interesting. It had personality and fun game mechanics that I haven’t seen before… and they worked.

It was not a perfect game, but with some set design improvements as well as refinements in puzzle flow, this could be a truly fantastic game.

Experienced puzzlers will find Alien Encounter a challenging opponent. Regardless of your level of experience, don’t be afraid to experiment or take a hint. Not everything was thoroughly clued.

One last note on team size and booking: You physically need 4 people at one point in the game and Clue Chase advertises the minimum at 6 people. I call this out because a few people have written in mentioning that Clue Chase cancelled their reservations near the last minute. This happened to us twice when booking Alien Encounter, even though we always met the minimum number of people. In over 400 games, this is the only company that has ever canceled on us multiple times.

If you’re looking for a challenging game with interesting design decisions, Alien Encounter is a solid choice. I hope that if you choose to book with Clue Chase, they will choose to honor your booking.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

BrainXcape – The Haunted Hotel [Review]

Haunted McKittrick Hotel.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 24, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: varies by number of players per team and day of the week

Story & setting

Locked in a hotel in the midst of a haunting, we had to find our way out.

BrainXcape created another beautiful set for The Haunted Hotel. It looked and felt like an older living space – maybe from the 1950s – had been ensnared by an angry spirit. It was detailed and dramatic.

In-game: A Ouija board in the foreground, a aged hotel with an old television in the background.

Puzzles

The Haunted Hotel was a challenging puzzle game. The puzzles individually required their own unique detective work with all solutions leading to a lock (and usually a 4-digit number).

Standouts

BrainXcape began The Haunted Hotel in a clever, unusual, and immersive manner.

We enjoyed the set and atmosphere. It was spooky, but not scary. Once again, BrainXcape hired a set designer from the famed immersive theater experience Sleep No More, and this room escape’s set felt like it could exist within that experience. That is to say, it looked fantastic.

All of BrainXcape’s room escapes are booked through private ticketing. This is on the very short list of New York City escape rooms that will never pair you with strangers.

The puzzling in The Haunted Hotel was challenging. We felt like we had earned our win.

Shortcomings

While the puzzling in The Haunted Hotel was fun and challenging, it was still missing a fair amount of clue structure. We were fed a lot of unrequested hints, especially early in the escape room, and frankly, we needed them. While we thought we’d received a lot of hints, we learned in the post-game that compared to most teams we used relatively few. The Haunted Hotel could be significantly improved by baking the most commonly required hints into the experience. Finding a clue always feels far more satisfying than receiving a hint.

Our team of 4 felt severely hindered by the dim lighting and limited number of flashlights. We regularly had someone acting as light holder and other players asking for lighting. Additionally, the flashlight that we had was player powered and required regular squeezing of a lever to get any light at all. More lighting would eliminate an unnecessary source of frustration. It could be added strategically to facilitate puzzling without aversely affecting the ambiance.

In one instance, The Haunted Hotel stumbled because it required precision, but the puzzle wasn’t designed in a way that we could know the exact way to execute it.

Should I play BrainXcape’s The Haunted Hotel?

The Haunted Hotel had an exciting start, a gorgeous set, and challenging gameplay. Additionally, all of BrainXcape’s experiences are private; they will not lock you in a room with a stranger.

Upon entering the room, the set will feel a touch scary to more jittery players. Note that there are absolutely no jump scares or actors in this room escape. It was not a terrifying game. If you can make it through the door, you can make it through The Haunted Hotel.

Newbies will likely struggle through The Haunted Hotel. It will be hard, but playable. Use your hints and don’t be shocked if you lose. If you need to win, try something easier.

Experienced players will find a beautiful set containing a challenging and slightly frustrating opponent. If you love escape rooms and are up for something more difficult than the norm, look no further.

The Haunted Hotel was a big step up from our first visit to BrainXcape. We are looking forward to seeing what they create next.

Book your hour with BrainXcape’s The Haunted Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Escape the Room NYC – Clock Tower [Review]

Don’t fritter and waste this hour in an off-hand way.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 20, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Clock Tower was a steam-punkish adventure to correct time.

The escape room took place in a laboratory called the Clock Tower, home to an eccentric keeper of time. The space included different mechanisms for altering and experiencing time. These were the crux of both the set and the puzzles.

In game: A table covered in steam-punkish machinery. An image of a Tardis rests on the wall of the detailed and weathered space.

Puzzles

The puzzles in Clock Tower were born of the incredible environment. The set pieces themselves were the puzzles.

Clock Tower’s puzzles ran the gamut of mechanical, observational, mathematical (nothing brutal), auditory, logical, and at one point, even “magical.” Multiple puzzles involved clocks, but with dramatically varied approaches. These different puzzle types all included tactile components.

Standouts

Clock Tower transported us not just through time, but into a space so unlike the midtown building that houses Escape the Room NYC. The room was composed of larger set pieces that contributed to a cohesive environment. Each set piece was exciting, beautiful, and intricate, but not distracting (mostly).

More importantly, the puzzling existed through the set. We explored, fiddled, manipulated, and even constructed parts of this set as we solved the puzzles. This made the puzzling that much more dynamic.

Many of the puzzles in Clock Tower were tech-driven, but the tech driving these interactions varied enormously and frequently felt invisible.

Through a combination of set, puzzles, and tech, Clock Tower delivered multiple cinematic moments. Each one delighted us.

Clock Tower included multiple puzzles we’ve never seen before. This wasn’t limited to different takes on familiar concepts. Clock Tower forced us to think of new ideas.

Clock Tower demonstrated that an escape room can be seriously challenging and still fair.

Shortcomings

The initial gamespace bottlenecked, both in physical space and gameplay. Clock Tower required a large team, but it initially couldn’t involve the full group.

Two of the early puzzles felt too similar, even though they ended up being quite different. This created confusion about whether they were standalone puzzles or somehow intertwined. It lead us needlessly off track for a bit.

While certainly both challenging and fair, in a few instances, Clock Tower would benefit from a little more clueing within the game. When we received hints from our gamemaster, they were always additional indirect clues; we would have liked to uncover most of those details ourselves within the environment.

Most of the puzzles in Clock Tower furthered our time-centric mission, but one seemed entirely out of place. It was a good puzzle, but we didn’t understand why it belonged.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower?

Clock Tower is an ideal game for escape room enthusiasts. It had a gorgeous set, integrated and tactile puzzles, and it will still be exciting and challenging even for seasoned players.

Very experienced teams will be happier in slightly smaller groups, if they can finagle such a booking, as there was some bottlenecking that left folks hanging and unable to help puzzle. We recommend that new players play at least a few other escape rooms first before booking Clock Tower.

With Clock Tower, Escape the Room NYC has nailed so much of what makes escape rooms exhilarating, from the interactive puzzling to the cinematic moments.

While they can continue to improve narrative integration so that all the puzzles feel natural in the space and deliver more story arc, they are making strides in that direction.

When the doors out of Clock Tower opened up, we felt that we had truly righted time and earned that victory in a fun little world hidden in Midtown Manhattan. That’s what escape rooms are about.

Book your hour with Escape the Room NYC’s Clock Tower, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.