The Franklin Institute – Intergalactic Escape [Review]

“Holy pop culture references Captain Kirk!” – Pete Townshend, Stranger Things

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: June 25, 2017

Team size: 4-14; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket, $399 per private game

Story & setting

Our team of intergalactic explorers ventured through a wormhole in a desperate mission to save a missing captain.

In-game: white computer console with three multi-colored keyboards. It looks like a dated vision of the future.

An exhibit within the iconic Franklin Institute science museum in Philadelphia, PA, Intergalactic Escape was built around a spaceship and sent us on a mission into the unknown.

The Franklin Institute with it's new Escape Room sign out front.

Puzzles

Intergalactic Escape regularly swapped between straight puzzling and immersive adventure. It was not an escape room to take lightly; there were many things that seemed as if they should have been easy, but were deceptively challenging.

Standouts

Intergalactic Escape had a playful, sci-fi vibe. It was an exciting, fun, and family-friendly space adventure.

In-game: A mysterious location filled with fog. A rock sits on a pedestal.

There was a lot of variety in Intergalactic Escape. We experienced different environments, puzzle types, and puzzling interfaces.

Many of the puzzles in Intergalactic Escape forced teamwork. In multiple instances, we had to collaborate to push buttons, type answers, move items, or perform other interactions. Teamwork was crucial to mission success.

Although we were working together, we were each assigned a specific role as crew aboard our spaceship. These set up the team so that players could have their own mission-critical moments.

Intergalactic Escape didn’t take itself too seriously. There were many funny moments.

Shortcomings

While there was a lot of puzzle variety, not every type of puzzle was fully thought out:

  • The choice of opening puzzle will make getting started extremely difficult for some teams.
  • Mid-game we derived a lot of information through a common escape room design trope that was sloppily and tediously implemented.
  • One main physically interactive puzzle was plagued with construction inconsistencies and poorly hidden tech that detracted from the experience and continually led us astray.

Intergalactic Escape included a lot of doubled information. We spent substantial time deriving incomplete information, trying to keep it all straight, only to find that we’d derive it more completely later from other puzzles. This was misleading at best and frustrating at worst.

While we appreciated having roles aboard our starship, they were ultimately meaningless, as we each gravitated toward our own strengths as players, regardless of the assigned roles. Additionally, I cannot imagine that 14 actively engaged players could participate the entire time.

Given its location at The Franklin Institute, we expected Intergalactic Escape to teach us something. There was some science, but it felt bolted on rather than integrated into the puzzles. Intergalactic Escape prioritized pop culture references over learning. While I think that’s fine – sometimes even encouraged – for typical escape room companies… The Franklin Institute is not a typical escape room company.

Both in the moment, and upon reflection, I am baffled by Intergalactic Escape’s commitment to an obscure Twin Peaks reference.

Should I play The Franklin Institute’s Intergalactic Escape?

Intergalactic Escape was challenging, humorous, exciting, and fun cooperative entertainment. It was an excellent escape room that would be a standout in many markets, including Philadelphia.

In-game: Some sort of security scanner device. It reads, "TFI 1138: Begin Joruney"

For most of the museum goers and escape room newbies checking out this game, it will be incredibly challenging, but a lot of fun.

It’s worth playing for experienced players as well. The escape room looked cool and we had to work hard to see Intergalactic Escape through to its conclusion.

So… we absolutely recommend it. End of review. Right? No.

Intergalactic Escape will be an ambassador of escape rooms to the general public by virtue of its location at The Franklin Institute, a popular destination for educational, family-friendly entertainment.

Bluntly: We expected more.

  • More thoughtful puzzle design
  • More refined set and prop implementation
  • More educational components

Intergalactic Escape was a lot of fun, but if it’s going to be an ambassador for escape rooms through its location in The Franklin Institute, it ought to be more than that.

Book your hour with The Franklin Institute’s Intergalactic Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Franklin Institute comped our tickets for this game.

 

Trapped PHL – The Factory [Review]

This factory manufactures befuddlement.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: February 6, 2016

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 6-10

Price: $28 per ticket

Trapped PHL logo.

Theme & story

The setup was: “You and up to 9 other people are locked inside an abandoned break room. You have 60 minutes to figure out the clues and escape.”

The Factory looked a bit like an abandoned industrial facility and a long forgotten basement had a baby. The room had a compelling grit about it, an aesthetic born of the many years of haunted house design experience brought by the folks from Trapped PHL.

The room wasn’t scary, but it had an intimidating presence.

There was theme, but there wasn’t story.

Blindfolds & handcuffs

Prior to entering The Factory, we were blindfolded, carefully led into the room one at a time, and handcuffed by one hand to different points along the walls of the room.

The Trapped PHL staff had this process down and were funny while they shackled everyone up. Once everyone was affixed to the wall, the game clock began and we were allowed to remove our blindfolds.

This was the most professional and comfortable blindfold and handcuffing I’ve seen from an escape room. Even the blindfolds didn’t gross me out.

When companies elect to begin their games this way, it is generally intense, but it isn’t always comfortable from a trust or hygiene standpoint. The Trapped PHL staff brought an admirable level of care.

Puzzles & stuff

The Factory was packed with puzzles and a nutty assortment of stuff. The room managed to keep our experienced 8 person team busy for the duration of the hour.

There were a lot of puzzles and a lot of red herrings. The puzzles were generally eclectic. A few of the puzzles were wonderfully physically involved and bore no resemblance to anything we’d previously encountered.

“I heard you like locks”

There were a lot of locks, which wasn’t inherently problematic… but far too many of them were 4 digit number locks, which created the irritating situation whereby we needed to test every possible solution in a ton of locks.

A tiny speck of outside knowledge

There was one puzzle that required a little bit of outside knowledge.

Ironically, we all possessed the knowledge, but we were trying to solve the riddle with only information found in the room. We burned a silly amount of time on this before calling for a hint.

Trapped PHL The Factory Team Photo
One more teamup with the gents from EscapeClues.com.

Hints & choices

In The Factory, Trapped PHL uses an unusual hinting system:

Our team had to pose specific questions to our gamemaster and overlord Jim. In practice, this meant that if we worded our question poorly, or asked about something that wasn’t important, we could burn one of our three hints and receive little to no reward.

In the case of the aforementioned outside knowledge puzzle, when we opened the lock associated with the puzzle we received pieces that helped us solve something that we had already cracked. We killed a lot of time on the puzzle, burned a hint, and received nearly nothing for all of the effort.

This system put a lot of pressure on the hint request process. At times we came to a halt just to debate what question to ask. Unfortunately, sometimes we needed a push in the right direction because we didn’t know which direction was correct. However, the system forced us to choose a direction. This didn’t always yield positive results.

The discard bucket

There was a small bucket for depositing used items. This bucket was clearly there to make life easier for the gamemasters during their eventual reset.

Unfortunately, teammates dropped active items into the bucket because they thought these were used and that fostered dysfunction. I think this would have been less of a problem had there been no discard bucket at all.

Should I play Trapped PHL‘s The Factory?

The first escape room created by a new company is always an interesting beast. These games bear first-timer flaws. The Factory was far from perfect, but it had a charm and an atypical feel to it that made it both challenging and well worth playing.

At times The Factory was deeply frustrating, but no one ever said escape rooms need to make their players feel smart.

The Factory isn’t horror, and it isn’t scary, but it is gritty, a bit dirty, and more edgy than your average escape room. It’s probably not the best game for young children or those looking to experience something bright and friendly.

The staff at Trapped PHL, the look of the game space, and an assortment of wonderful puzzles made the experience worthy of our time and money.

If you’re already visiting Trapped PHL, you should also consider signing up to play their second game, The Attic. It’s a svelte 30-minute game that packs a level of refinement and demonstrates just how much the Trapped PHL crew learned from their first game.

Book your hour with Trapped PHL’s The Factory, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trapped PHL charged us half price for this game.

Trapped PHL – The Attic [Review]

A really pleasurable experience… I wouldn’t have minded if it sustained a little bit longer.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: February 6, 2016

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Price: $19 per ticket

Trapped PHL logo.

Theme & story

Designed by longtime veterans of the haunted house industry, The Attic doesn’t have a story, just a strong theme. We needed to escape from a creepy, old attic.

It was creepy, not scary.

The Attic was packed with the type of stuff – chests, toys, games, assorted junk – that you would expect to find in an attic.

The cobwebs were an artistic touch that really gave The Attic that authentic “forgotten storage space” feel.

Scavenging

Ever try to find something in your grandmother’s dark attic? That was how this game derived its difficulty.

It was a small space, but it had a lot going on.

Some scavenging escape rooms can quickly become tedious, but due to its small size, and consistent theming, this scavenging was fun.

Short and sweet

The Attic was a 30 minutes game. It was quick.

This game was entirely linear. Each puzzle flowed right into the next and the flow worked well.

Should I play Trapped PHL’s The Attic?

The Trapped PHL facility offers miniature golf and arcade games as well as room escapes. If you like those activities and are shy about giving room escapes a try, The Attic is a great opportunity to get your feet wet.

The setting was dark and a little bit creepy, but it was certainly not horror (and trust me, I’m not a horror person). The fearful can play.

The Attic would be a great game for two people to enjoy together. If you’re an experienced player, it would also be a fun game to try on your own, if you are interested in giving that a try. (We know a guy who rocked this game solo.)

The game is priced at two-thirds that of Trapped PHL’s other game, The Factory, and it runs for half the time. The price felt steep, but maybe that’s because we escaped in far less than the allotted 30 minutes.

Room Escape Artist & Escape Clues The Attic
Another wonderful teamup with EscapeClues.com.

I probably wouldn’t trek to Trapped PHL just for The Attic, but it’s a fun addition to everything else they offer.

If you’re already there, you should play The Attic. It’s a short, but strong game. You should also squeeze in some putt-putt and arcade games. Trapped PHL has a lot to offer.

Book your game with Trapped PHL’s The Attic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trapped PHL charged us half price for this game.

Steel Owl Room Adventures – Escape the 1980s [Review]

Another 1980s escape room! This one was in Philadelphia and it was created before the one in Washington, DC. Time travel is so complicated.

Photo of a gun-weilding, sunglasses-clad Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator 2, captioned,

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date played: February 7, 2016

Team size: 4-14; we recommend 4-8

Price: $28 per ticket

2016 RoomEscapeArtist.com Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Theme & story

This game was set in four different 1980s commercial spaces. There wasn’t really a story so much as there were a series of pop culture and nostalgia fueled puzzles.

Everything 80s

Everything in Steel Owl’s venue was 80s themed.

The game, the victory photos, the event/party room, the employees’ clothing, and even the bathroom were 1980s themed.

Intro video

We have a new champion for best intro video. Escape the 1980s begins with an incredible Max Headroom-y explanation of the game, its rules, and its objectives.

The video rental store

Escape the 1980s began in a video rental store, which was one of the most grin-inducing escape room locales I’ve visited. It was strange to realize that I haven’t set foot in a video rental store in over 10 years.

Video really was the beating heart of Escape the 1980s. If you don’t know how VHS works, you will by the end of Escape the 1980s.

A video rental shelf containing a variety of 1980s classics movies, and some that aren't quite so classic.
This one goes to 11.

Great technology

From Atari, to the Commodore 64, to a very funny pop culture interface, there was a lot of tech in Escape the 1980s and it all worked. These items weren’t just added for flavor; they were deeply integrated into the experience and they were wonderful.

Photo of a Commodore 64 keyboard

How helpful was 1980s knowledge?

A strong understanding of 1980s pop culture provided a strong edge in Escape the 1980s.

That being said, everything was perfectly solvable without any outside knowledge and the game never really became truly difficult.

The bubblegum pop of escape rooms

I don’t mean this as an insult.

Escape the 1980s wasn’t difficult. It was designed for the players to experience the entire game and win.

There was a two-tiered hinting system: The first was the rooms soundtrack. The songs changed depending upon what puzzle we were working on and the chorus of the song was a hint at the action that we needed to take.

Second, we could also buy a clue at the cost of a three minute penalty. However, there were a couple of opportunities to earn extra minutes through humorous side missions.

The game also included candy and free beer coupons for a local bar hidden throughout the game space.

Everything was easy to digest.

Should I play Steel Owl Room Adventures’ Escape the 1980s?

Escape the 1980s was a deceptively brilliant game. It was upbeat, player-friendly, and had no edge to it at all. That wasn’t bad.

Photo of an Atari with a paddle. There is a cartidge in the console that has had it's title redacted.

Escape rooms started as a very challenging form of entertainment. As the medium grows, expands, and evolves, one natural branch is a very friendly, softer experience. Escape the 1980s embodies this.

The puzzles were sound. The setting was fun. The game was funny. And the overall experience was very well thought out.

Some of the rooms in Escape the 1980s were stronger than others and the game relied too heavily on VHS tapes to the point of predictability, but overall, it was an incredibly pleasurable experience.

If you’re looking for a creative, technologically-driven experience that isn’t too difficult then you’re going to love Escape the 1980s.

If you’re seeking a serious challenge, or a gritty, intense environment, then you should look elsewhere.

Photo og a guy in a blue jackey covered in yellow chicks,
Mason “The Coding Designer” Wendell

I never stopped smiling in Escape the 1980s and that counts for quite a bit.

Dust off your Atari skills and book your hour with Steel Owl Room Adventures Escape the 1980s, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you by using the coupon code, Room_Escape_Artist to receive 10% off.

Full disclosure: Steel Owl Room Adventure comped our tickets for this game.

Escape the Room Philly – The Dig [Review]

[Formerly known as The Cavern]

A delightful adventure that is begging for a tangible plot.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Date played: May 30, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-8

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Golden Lock-In Badge
2015 Golden Lock-In Winner

Plot

“You’ve been summoned into the deep and have 60 minutes to unravel the mystery of the Cavern.”

Digging up the past

Defying expectations, “The Cavern” begins by dropping players into a church-like environment; it was decidedly not-cavernous… That part comes later.

The Cavern gives a second life to the expensive set pieces born from Escape the Room NYC’s (owners of Escape the Room Philly) collaboration with the USA Network on their Dig Escape Game. If you played that game, then you’re going to feel like you’re in familiar territory. Don’t get too comfortable (we did); the breadth and difficulty of this game has been ramped up a few levels (but you’re still going to know how a few things work).

Theming

The game feels like Indiana Jones and The Da Vinici Code had a baby, and that’s a good thing.

The look, the feel, the sights and the sounds of this game are all on-point. The experience is pretty incredible (especially if you hadn’t played Dig).

Puzzle variety

The folks from Escape the Room NYC have become exceptionally talented at crafting a wide variety of puzzles that fit elegantly into their games. The Cavern is no exception.

Each puzzle offers its own challenge, most of those puzzles are memorable, and many of them are physically interactive (more so than with most escape rooms).

Often the puzzles resolve in exciting, fun, and unexpected ways (not putting a combination into a lock).

Escape the Room Philly - The Cavern - Room Escape Artist

Tuning

Later in the game, there are some seriously inventive puzzles; two of them could use a bit more tuning to guide players along the way.

One we solved with the help of a clue (and I really don’t think we would have resolved it without one). The other we solved, but didn’t know it. Saying more would be too spoiler-y.

Story please!

This game begs for a story. The puzzles are almost telling a story, but each player must imagine what that story is.

Spicing it up with a cohesive narrative would make this game shine.

Up to 10 players?

The Cavern is billed as a game for “up to 10 players.” While the game space in totality can more than comfortably fit 10 players, I don’t think there are enough puzzles to keep 10 players busy throughout the game.

As you press deeper into the game, it becomes more linear (in a good way). However, there isn’t room around these puzzles for more than a few players at a time.

We had 6 people, and that felt right.

Should I play Escape the Room Philly’s The Cavern?

The Cavern would stand out as a great game in a competitive market; in Philadelphia it’s incredible.

If you didn’t play the Dig game, this one is going to really wow you. If you did, there’s still a lot of fun to mine from the Cavern, but it’s not going to shock you in the way it will an unfamiliar player.

If you recognize re-purposed props, there is one puzzle that you should sit out and let someone else solve it (I wish I had).

It’s a new game, so I would expect it to evolve some over the coming months. I’m betting its going to get even better.

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