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Best Escape Rooms In Spain: 2023 Update

I was extremely excited to play games in Spain as Barcelona was my favorite escape room city in the world. This was one of the most ambitiou...

December 17, 2017

Mindtrap: Gold Rush & Conspiracy (Temecula, CA)

Gold Rush & Conspiracy
Written by Matt Neal: A weekend trip out of town for us almost always means exploring escape rooms outside our normal playground. On this trip, it meant a drive to explore what San Diego had to offer. San Diego has some great rooms to play, but can be overshadowed by the quality and quantity of experiences to be found in Los Angeles and Orange County.

As we hopped in the car to leave San Diego, that feeling persisted. We had a great time but we weren’t satiated by what we had seen. Our drive home took us through the small town of Temecula, known mainly for their wineries. On several occasions, I have been given recommendations for MindTrap in Temecula but have always been hesitant to make the trip to try it out. In my experience, rooms in small towns, isolated from a competitive market, are great for small towns. The market doesn’t support a lot of investment and the customers don’t have much experience with escape rooms, so you see a lot of no/low-tech rooms, common puzzle types, and nothing but lock boxes.  These rooms can still be wonderful, especially for beginners. It’s the format that initially got many of us hooked on escape rooms. Competition in dense markets, however, has pushed the boundaries as to what an escape room can be, leaving these rooms in the dust. So, on a long drive, passing through a small town, I was fully expecting to find a room great for a small town. MindTrap did not deliver on that expectation.

December 13, 2017

Escape Games NYC: Outer Space (New York City, New York)

Escape Games NYC (New York City)

The Outer Space room at Escape Games NYC was a blast! From start to finish, it was an enjoyable experience that has surpassed the dozen or so escape rooms I've done. The plot has you, the crew of the spaceship, stuck in a situation where the ship has started to malfunction and you must regain control of the situation or else you'll be stuck in outer space forever. Though it doesn't state it on the website's description of the room, there are references to the movie Alien throughout the entire room that made it more fun if you've seen the movie, but not essential to know if you haven't.

November 30, 2017

Maze Rooms: Magic Kingdom (Los Angeles, CA)

The magic is real

After playing Maze Rooms' "Lunar Mission" at the S. Vermont location, we immediately played a second room at the same location. We jumped into a magical world that took place in a colorful, fairytale like environment that was intricately designed. The Magic Kingdom turned out to be heavy on the immersion side with some great use of tech and fun puzzles. From their site:

"The Magic Kingdom: a place of wonder where all things are possible and magic is real. Join this fairytale adventure and save the Magic Kingdom before time runs out, and the magic is gone forever."

November 29, 2017

49 Boxes: Evening At The Houdini Estate (San Francisco, Los Angeles, CA)

Evening At The Houdini Estate
After not being able to find any enthusiast reviews for 49 Boxes, I decided to post about my experience at 49 Boxes San Francisco showing in November of 2017. At the time of this writing, there seemed to be limited showings of "Evening At The Houdini Estate" in both San Francisco and Los Angeles with costs ranging from $100 for a normal 90 minute session (my ticket) to $650 for a session and accommodations. From their site:

"The 49 Boxes is an episodic, story-driven experience where audience members play a role in solving mysteries that have been kept secret for more than half a century—all while interacting with artifacts from the Golden Age of Magic. This is not an experience that unfolds around you…it unfolds because of you.

Entry into one of the world's most exclusive and private members only club [The Battery]. An exclusive, intimate performance of the most buzzed about immersive storytelling puzzle experience: 49 Boxes—"The Magic of Thayer."

Reviewing this event was not a simple task as the designers do not see this as an escape room (more as immersive storytelling) but from an enthusiast's perspective, the format and experience is on par with any large format escape rooms games that a company like SCRAP commonly holds. There are 10+ tables with 8 people per table all solving puzzles with an overarching storyline.

November 28, 2017

Think Fun: Escape the Room Stargazer's Manor (Board Game)

Escape Room in a box!

This is our first review of an escape room board game! Not only are we escape room enthusiasts, we are pretty well versed in European style boards games which are basically games that rely on strategy and problem solving rather than just luck and dice rolls (I'm looking at you Monopoly). Board games that we love include Dominion, Agricola, Battlestar Galactica and Deception in Hong Kong.

The reason why we haven't played an escape room board game until now is because I felt that the point of an escape room was to be physically immersed in an environment. I like large and detailed sets with tangible puzzles and the feeling of being in a movie scene rather than imagining it D&D style. Note that the rating of this board game will be relative to other board games and NOT relative to physical escape rooms as they are completely different experiences. As for as escape rooms go, a good physical room is significantly more unique and fun than a good board game. From their site:

"Spend an evening working with your guests to solve puzzles, unlock hidden clues, and unravel the mystery of the Stargazer’s Manor. Will you and your guests be able to solve the mystery and save the astronomer before time runs out?

The Mystery: It’s 1869 and the town’s well-respected astronomer has not been seen since the untimely passing of his wife. Recently, strange things have been happening at his manor – loud and unfamiliar noises, an unpleasant smell, and smoke billowing from the observatory. It’s up to you and your guests to solve the mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor!"

November 26, 2017

Escapade Games: Zoe (Fullerton, CA)

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost

Being in the Los Angeles area the week before Halloween, Zoe sounded simply too good to pass up, so we went to see if it lived up to all the hype. Escapade Games' Zoe is an epic, satisfying mashup of themes pulled from throughout the pantheon of horror cinema. From their site:

"There is one scene in your mind that is busily following you. It has initially appeared in your dreams, the scene of an abandoned house, but it has started chasing you during the daytime. This house seems to be calling for you, it attracts you with an unknown force...What’s wrong with it? Is there anyone living there?Does he or she need help? You cannot survive it any longer, it’s driving you crazy...You start surfing and accidently [sic] you find the needed location…You reach the place. You open the door and...become trapped. You have only one hour to escape until your personality starts to change."

November 20, 2017

The Hidden Passage: The Pharaoh's Curse (North Hollywood, CA)

The Pharaoh's Curse
Written by Matt Neal: Southern California has a few things going for it that produce some amazing rooms. A huge population and endless stream of tourists keep the customers coming. The film, theme park, and haunt industries provide an amazing talent pool to pull from and inspiration to dive into. Well established escape room brands keep delivering amazing new experiences, driving competition higher and higher.

The amazing rooms and huge market, however, have brought quite a few “me too” rooms, popping up to try to make a quick buck. So, on a quiet Sunday, when two new unknown rooms popped up having just opened without any buzz or fanfare and a complete lack of reviews to be found, we knew we were taking a gamble with either. A flip of a coin and we were off to visit the Hidden Passage in North Hollywood to face the Pharaoh’s Curse. From their site:

"One morning as the Ancient Nile Breaking news was broadcasting a story about the Kings lost tomb, it was found by a couple of archaeologists! Upon the discovery the Tomb opens and the King awakens, raged, and is trying to escape his tomb to bring darkness onto all of Egypt as he wants to avenge his death.

The only way to shut the tombs door is from the inside. You and your fellow archaeologists did so and now you were stuck inside the tomb and need to find a way out. As you were wandering around, you step on a trap which triggers a countdown of 60 minutes for you to find the kings tomb and escape before you are trapped in the chamber for all of eternity. Will you make it out?"

Make it out we did and we were amazed at the gold we found inside.

November 11, 2017

Escape Games PDX: Sherlock's Secret (Portland, OR)

Escaping Sherlock's Secret

Having trekked to Portland for a family reunion, I decided it would be a great opportunity to introduce my cousins to escape rooms, and to check out the Portland escape room scene. Escape Games PDX's Sherlock's Secret did not disappoint, and proved a delightful experience for our escape room veterans and neophytes alike. From their site:

"You’ve been called in to help an infamous but now kidnapped detective and his assistant, a Mr. Watson, has asked for your assistance in recovering a missing artifact and using it to barter a deal to release the hostage. It might feel elementary but you will only have 60 minutes to discover all the hidden clues in Mr. Holmes’ library and help him escape, for if you fail, you will both be trapped forever!"

November 9, 2017

Escape Room LA: The Alchemist (Los Angeles, CA)

The Alchemist: A smartly designed room

If you are in the downtown LA area there are two popular escape room companies that are in the vicinity: "The Virus: Get The F Out" and "Escape Room LA". Both these public rooms take upwards of 10 people so it may be a craps shoot in terms of who shows up in your game. Escape Room LA's "The Alchemist" is known to be a puzzle centric and challenging room where you only have only 50 minutes to escape. We were lucky enough to play on a Thursday night with only our group of four. From their site:

"An ancient library leads you through a secret passage into a medieval alchemist’s mysterious lab, where you must find the four lost elements of earth, air, fire and water. Unite the elements and unleash the magical powers of the Philosopher’s Stone before the alchemist returns! Will you escape?"

November 7, 2017

Exit Game: An Hour To Kill, School of Sorcery & Lab 51 (Monterey Park, CA)

A hidden treasure in a jungle of escape rooms in the Los Angeles Area

Exit Games was one of the companies that we haven't really heard much about and initially not part of our LA escape room crawl. We heard good things about "The A.I." room so it made our final list but that particular game was down for maintenance so we ended playing some other ones instead. "An Hour To Kill" was their newest 007 James Bond game, "The School of Sorcery" was a Harry Potter inspired room and the closest thing I could think of for "Lab 51" was the X-Files. We played all these games as a trio, well short of their 10 person max. This turned out to be a good thing as I feel anything more than 4 people would greatly hinder the experience. From their site:

"An Hour To Kill: Come and be a part of James Bond's last adventure. James is on his last mission before retirement when he went missing. You, England's best agents must figure out a way to get through all the security systems in Military Intelligence (MI-6) and the vaunted training facilities and danger room. Your mission, should you choose to accept it agents, is to find out what happened to Bond on his final mission?

The School or Sorcery: It's your first year as a wizard. You have 1 hour to finish magical exams to prove your abilities. Conjure up spells, and make potions with your classmates. Be careful, there is dark magic in our castle.

Lab 51: As part of an elite military strike force, you must infiltrate Lab 51 and find out what happened to the mysterious alien life form that is kept there. The lab is set to self-destruct in 1 hour. The clock is ticking, soldier."

November 1, 2017

Maze Rooms: Lunar Mission (Los Angeles, CA)

Floating in a tin can

Written by Brad Melluish. Maze Rooms' "Lunar Mission" is the first escape room I've encountered that is fully committed to a hard science fiction theme in a space setting, so I was excited to give it a spin when I found out it would be part of our recent Los Angeles escape room marathon. The room did not disappoint, and it was refreshing to see this room boldly go into a genre that is so surprisingly unexplored! From their site:

"Try to escape lunar station in disrepair and survive. Far in the outer space. Only team work can return lunar crew home."

October 29, 2017

Get The F Out: The Virus (Los Angeles, CA)

Get The F Out: Dab Best!

"Get the F Out" states on their website that they offer "Virtual Reality that will blow you away". We decided to try out their game, "The Virus", late on a Thursday night and as a duo, we weren't sure what to expect given it was an eight player room. From their site:

"A deadly virus has ravaged the planet.  Join a team of top scientists and descend hundreds of feet to a military laboratory below.  There you must discover an antidote and save the world. But be careful not to set off the computerized decontamination system or you may be smashed flat by the slowly moving laboratory walls."

While there are a LOT of lab themed escape rooms out there, there are some unique elements at GTFO that were fresh and exciting. There was an Easter egg and I feel all rooms should have this as it makes the game more special for those who have extra time to spare. Given we were only two, when I saw the lab my initial thoughts were "we're toast, there are a LOT of locks in this room"...

October 17, 2017

Secret City Casa Loma: Escape The Tower & Station M (Toronto, ON)

So you're staying near downtown Toronto and ask around about what escape room you should do. What does everyone say? Casa Loma! This Gothic Revival style house is a landmark and similar to "The Secret of Station House No. 4" in that the actual location the game takes place in was film worthy even before escape rooms were invented. I don't know how companies are able to partner up with landmarks but the setting and environment are absolutely perfect.

Toronto is known for having large format rooms and I signed up as a solo player in Escape the Tower and Station M. The exterior of Casa Loma is magnificent and I was hoping for the game play to be great as well.

October 6, 2017

Crazy Cats Escape Room: The Deadly Dining Room (Houston, TX)

Crazy Cat Escape Room (Houston)

The Deadly Dining Room at Crazy Cat Escape Room was an enjoyable room. The story is that your long lost great uncle has recently died and you and some other guests have been invited to his estate for the reading of his will. Upon arrival you all find out that instead of a reading of his will, you've fallen into a trap and have 60 minutes to solve the mysteries and find his will or you'll meet your death. At the start, each person is given a character card on a lanyard which has some symbols next to the character name and bio.

September 18, 2017

Escape Games Canada: Crossroads & Syndicate (Toronto, ON)

Premier escape room facility in North America

Escape Games Canada was another Toronto escape room company that was highly recommended by escape room enthusiasts. There are two locations somewhat far away from the downtown core: one in Mississauga and one in North York. I was lucky enough to be staying close to their North York location (40 minutes north of downtown) where they have six, soon to be seven, escape rooms. I was expecting to have a great time with a bunch first timers by playing "Crossroads" and Syndicate: Relic Heist.

September 12, 2017

2017 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey

Fellow escape room enthusiasts Errol Elumir and Lee-Fay Low compiled an insightful survey about escape room players and owner. The below are  snippets of the survey and you can see the entire professionally done summary here.

September 10, 2017

Secret City Adventures: The Secret of Station House No. 4 (Toronto, ON)

The Secret of Station House No. 4, one of Toronto's finest escape rooms

Secret City Adventures runs a couple of different escape rooms series ranging from the familiar franchised Real Escape Games rooms (Time Travel Lab) to what I presume to be their own creations, the Casa Loma Escape Series and The Murdoch Mysteries Escape Series.

I heard through word of mouth that the "The Secret of Station House No. 4" was a top escape room in Toronto so I bought my ticket and flew out to the land of hockey and maple syrup. One thing that I noticed was that a LOT of the top rooms in Toronto are geared towards large groups so it makes it difficult for travelers to plan ahead. From their site:

"Solve the Secret of Station House No. 4
Detective Murdoch is missing and as Toronto’s newest constables you’ve been called into action, but the clock is ticking! You only have 60 minutes to save Murdoch. Discover the clues, piece together the evidence, crack the case, and unravel the Secret of Station House No. 4!

Step into a world of intrigue and wonder as Secret City Adventures & Shaftesbury bring the global hit television show Murdoch Mysteries to real life in the Murdoch Mysteries Escape Series, immersive escape games for all ages."

Although I had no idea what the Murdoch Mysteries TV show was all about, that didn't quite matter as the story was self contained and communicated by the actors in game.

September 5, 2017

EscapeX Room: The Attic (Irvine, CA)

Krazy Katz & Bill joined us for a midnight game
While we were in the Orange County area we met up with some other enthusiasts and it was fun to play with people who are just as passionate as we are about escape rooms. Bill and the Krazy Katz joined us for this last minute booking late on a Saturday night. From the EscapeX site:

"Sixty years after the disappearance of the Cain family, prospective residents have come to the manor ... every one of them citing strange behavior in the household. Voices echo from the ceiling and footsteps go pitter-patter across the attic floors.

Though the manor has remained abandoned, those that dare enter the establishment report inexplicable chills that linger in the air and feelings of being followed. Some say the spirit of Master Cain remains trapped in the attic, doomed to stay in the house for all eternity. 

Do you dare explore what lies in the attic?"

August 14, 2017

Mission Escape: Escape The Hydeout (Anaheim, CA)

Caleb was the star in this room!
The Hydeout is the same room that was originally created for the NYC location.  The Anaheim location is smack in the middle of the Anaheim GardenWalk mall beside Disneyland, which is a bit surprising as most rooms are usually in an office building or in some remote industrial area. Judging by the pictures I have seen of the set design, it seems that the Anaheim decor is far superior when compared to the original NYC location. From their site:

"The Hydeout is a Victorian-era mission inspired by the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Be prepared to go into the good doctor’s home but beware of his dark side. Dr Jekyll has been acting strange and gone missing. It’s up to you to find out what has happened to Dr Jekyll before Mr Hyde shows up…"

August 8, 2017

Red Lantern Escape Rooms: Midnight On The Bayou (Anaheim, CA)

Unique and different...in a fun and enjoyable way!
Red Lantern Escape Rooms opened earlier this year and there weren't any enthusiast reviews that we were able to find to help guide us in our research. We were intrigued by the theme so we made a stop here after we played the Hex Room and Funhouse at Crossroads. From their site:

"You haven’t set foot in Bayou High since graduation, but this carnival-themed reunion sounded fun. Though it is a little strange they’re holding the event on the old Boudreau property at the edge of the swamp, where decades ago several students died in a barn fire. And it is odd that all the carnival workers are mysteriously absent, with the exception of your reunion host who keeps nervously glancing at that creepy old chest…"

August 2, 2017

Countdown: Pandorus & Krampus (Los Angeles, CA)

Escaped Pandorus and Krampus
Countdown Live Escape Games has great reviews on many sites and its "Krampus" room is a 2016 Golden Key recipient from EscapeRoomArtist and its "Pandorus" room is a Top 15 LA Escape Room for EscapeRoomTips. While I am personally not a horror fan and never frequent haunted houses, we decided to give it a go when one of our team members really wanted to play Krampus. We were also very excited to play Pandorus as for some reason, there aren't that many spaceship themed escape rooms.

July 19, 2017

Evil Genius: Occam's Apartment & Norcross Art Gallery (Los Angeles, CA)

Chapter One > Chapter Two
Evil Genius created a two chapter adventure that you can book in a single two hour slot. This was the first time we had seen such a scenario and we hoped that there would be a natural transition between the rooms. Chapter One came out a few years ago and they more recently added Chapter Two, so these rooms could also be played separately. When played in one session, teams can bank the extra time from Chapter One and put it toward Chapter Two and that's exactly what we did. The transition between the chapters was fun and the layout of the location also helped make it feel more immersive.

July 18, 2017

60out: Titanic, Wizards Workshop, Senator Payne (Los Angeles, CA)

60out is often touted as having extremely high quality set designs and “Titanic” in particular is recommended on many escape room blogs. This company actually has a few locations in the LA area after some independent rooms were merged together so expect some variation in style between the different franchisees. "Titanic" and "Wizards Workshop" are at the Marina Del Ray location while "The Mystery of Senator Payne" was at Corinth spot. We also played Grandma's Masterplan at the Melrose location which was one of our favorite escape rooms of all time. We love tangible puzzles and beautiful set designs but we're aware that this alone doesn't make a great room.

June 27, 2017

Cross Roads: The Hex Room & Funhouse (Anaheim, CA)

What a bunch of clowns
Crossroads Escape Games is consistently the number one recommended escape room company in Southern California and I put this location on our "must do" list for our Los Angeles/Anaheim trip. "The Hex Room" in particular, has a reputation of being a solid room with a strong storyline and immersive theme. "The Funhouse" is known to be a fun room, although better suited towards a younger audience. From their site:

The Funhouse: "Come one, come all! Step right up and see if you have what it takes to become a magnificent magician! In this room filled with trickery and illusions, you and your team will be put to the test. Work to beat the clock as you search for clues and solve mind boggling puzzles in a topsy turvy experience of a lifetime! Now all you need to do is ask yourself, do you have the wits of a magician?  Or are as clueless as a clown?"

The Hex Room: "Can you survive a horror film? This murderous horror movie fan wants to watch you try. Each player will take a quiz before the game to find out which character they are: The Nerd, Virgin, Jock, Rebel, Prom Queen, or Detective. Your team will be divided up into separate rooms where you must work individually and as a team. Not only do you need to escape, but you must also survive! Who will live? Who will die?​"

June 22, 2017

60out: Grandma's Masterplan (Los Angeles, CA)

This room is gold!
As we head towards the 80 games played mark, we become more appreciative of new themes. Given that a handful of themes (prison, bunker, lab, serial killer, castle...) seem to make up 90% of the market, it's not easy to find something vastly unique out there. Via word of mouth, we heard some good things about 60out's "Grandma's Masterplan" and the scenario looked different enough for us to put this on our "must-do" list for our LA trip. From their site:

"The story begins when your granny suddenly disappears without notice. No one has a clue where she is, but one day you come across a letter in which your grandmother reveals a secret about her inheritance. All you have to do is to go into her house and find it -- simple, right? We'll see about that."

June 20, 2017

The Basement: Boiler Room (Los Angeles, CA)

The Basement's "Boiler Room" was a 35 minute escape room and the last of the three scenarios we played at this highly talked about location. "The Study", which is their latest room, is currently one of our all-time favorite escape rooms and since the Las Vegas location didn't have the Boiler room, we ventured off to play it at the Sylmar location near Los Angeles.

The Boiler Room was physically confined. The max of four players would make it really uncomfortable and claustrophobic for a lot of people. Playing in such close quarters with strangers would also be equally awkward but we were lucky enough to only be a party of two.

Quadra: Remote Chance, A Cinematic Escape (San Jose, CA)

A fun and unique experience with a great group!
After enjoying "The Time Travel Lab" at Quadra, we decided to try out their latest game, "Remote Chance". While this wasn't a SCRAP game (Quadra created their own) there were definitely influences in terms of style. Triggers were all done via in-game actors and the interaction was actually quite unique and creative.

Of course, the success rate was low, somewhere in the single digits and typical of a SCRAP-like game. We were in a public room and somehow they booked over the max of 12 players (there were 13). Our theory was that the group prior to our timeslot didn't have enough people so they put them with our timeslot. A bit underhanded as they didn't think to ask us beforehand about it. The story was as follows: 

"Remote Chance is the latest movie from the great director Alan Smithee. It was unfortunately rushed through production and had a poor theatrical release. Alan Smithee decided to make a director's cut of his movie but passed away before he could finish. Luckily, he did leave behind clues in his office for someone to take up his work to complete filming and creating that director's cut."

June 15, 2017

Omescape: Sorcerer's Sanctum (San Jose, CA)

It took some veteran escape roomers (+ a relative newbie) to escape this challenging room!

Omescape's latest room, "The Sorcerer's Sanctum", was located in the same facility that has Pandemic and Dark Altar. Sorcerer's Sanctum was a polished game with automated puzzles and also one of the most challenging games, in a good way, at Omescape. We were the 67th team to play the game and only two had escaped so we knew this would be a challenge. The story was as follows:

"You and your friends have accidentally stepped into a house occupied by great magicians. Your team work will be crucial in helping you pass through a series of magical puzzles in order to escape from the spell in time!"

This escape room starts off with the team split into two rooms and while there wasn't that much in each room, they were sufficiently challenging enough to occupy both groups. As the game progressed, there were some fun reveals and some not so obvious puzzles that we could see people having a hard time with. While not totally unfair, you do have to pay attention to detail (surprise!) or risk being stuck on some riddles.

June 11, 2017

Quicksand Escape Games: The Diner (San Diego, CA)

When you run out of props and use a chair as a decorative element
Quicksand's "The Diner" room had a unique diner (surprise!) theme which was refreshing to see. The decor, down to all the furniture, was spot on and there were some awesome elements that perfectly utilized good old fashioned props. There was a nice mix of fair puzzles that blended in well with the surroundings and storyline. The story was as follow:

"After a wild night at a mob bar a few decades ago, you took up with the wrong crowd and now you find yourself about to rob the local diner.  This isn't your first gig and you're hoping it won't be your last.  The boys didn't give much detail, but said the prep work is all set; just be in and out in less than an hour.  If you can pull it off, you'll be in the "Money Honey".  On the other hand, if you mess this one up, you'll be writing your own version of "Jailhouse Rock", ya dig?"

June 6, 2017

Unlockables: The Informant & The Escape (San Diego, CA)

This post was written by Mio! The Unlockables is a relatively new set of rooms in San Diego with a very friendly owner/operator who is himself very well versed in playing escape rooms (+100 rooms). He actually took over part of the space from a previous operator so his own "The Escape" room was added in addition to the existing "Informant Room". As a result, the Informant Room makes for a pretty good introduction room for beginners, but will likely be a breeze for more advanced players. Even though it was your typical investigate a murder scene setting, it still was an above average game. "The Escape" room, on the other hand, is a great deal more immersive and challenging – one that our crew enjoyed a lot and kept us well occupied.

June 5, 2017

Steal and Escape: Mysterious Stranger (San Diego, CA)

We saved America!
Steal and Escape's Mysterious Stranger was highly recommended by everybody as a "must do" room in San Diego. Located south of San Diego in National City, we made the trek to see what this room had to offer. The story was centered around breaking into some random dude's home in order to either save or end America as we know it.

The room had above average decor and there were a lot of things to solve. There were a few crafty puzzles that were quite fun and we appreciated them a lot. We also liked the heavy searching element of the game as that's exactly what we like to see in a escape room. The weird part about the room was that there were bottlenecks that made it hard to move about the space and we were constantly bumping into each other with four players in the game.

May 31, 2017

Escape Era: Deja Vu (San Diego, CA)

The Mad Scientists are at work again
Escape Era, a newish location without many blogger reviews, was located a little out of the way, north of downtown San Diego. The story for their only room, "Deja Vu", was as follows: "It feels like you've been here before, but you can't remember. Can you solve the mysterious case of Deja Vu?". The theme of losing your memory and trying to figure out what happened was rather common but Escape Era did a good job in making their room a lot of fun. 

May 14, 2017

Real Escape Game (Quadra): Escape From The Time Travel Lab (San Jose, CA)

We're going back to the future...with a chicken
SCRAP's reputation precedes them and while we were not the biggest fans of their style, (heavy pen and paper puzzles, low tech, crosswords, illogical final riddle), we read that this was SCRAP's best room from another trusted escape room enthusiast, Will, at EscapeRoomTips. Three of us signed up to play in a public room and ended up with a group of eight teenagers. We knew this would be a tough room given that the success rate was 7% (pretty low compared to most which are 20%-30%) and that we were in a mixed group. The story was as follows:

"You are trapped in the mysterious laboratory, where it has been said, they study time travel...You wonder if they were able to make time travelling true… If you cannot find the key to open the exit, you will drop into the spatiotemporal distortion and not able to return to this world again. Will you be able to escape from the time travel lab?"

May 10, 2017

From Game Design to Escape Room Design: Richard Thames Rowan - Epic Team Adventures (Seattle, WA)

Richard Thames Rowan (left)

We had the pleasure of meeting Richard Thames Rowan while on our Seattle trip in April. We wanted to know what goes on in a game designer's mind and the background behind creating an escape room. Richard has helped design quite a few rooms at Epic Team Adventures with his latest project being the one day (May 20) game of Scotland Yard: The Baker Street Affair in Seattle, WA.

What is your profession?
I have been a game designer and producer for the last 20 years. I have worked for Wizards of the Coast, Microsoft Game Studios, Gazillion Entertainment, and Glu Mobile over the years as well as run my own companies. I’ve worked on over 50 titles including everything from massively multiplayer games to casual web and mobile games. For the last few years, I have been teaching game and user experience design at DigiPen Institute of Technology, one of the top-rated game design universities in the country.

About 15 years ago, I started designing puzzles for the annual Microsoft Puzzle Safari, an annual letterboxing-style event hosted on the Microsoft campus. From there, I branched out to start designing puzzles for other large scale events like Microsoft Puzzle Hunt (~1000 people) down to small birthday and corporate events, and even private commissions for weddings or private parties.

How did you get into designing escape rooms?
As I mentioned, I started designing puzzles and puzzle events years ago, so when my twin brother and other friends of mine started Epic Team Adventures in 2016, they asked me to help design some of their rooms. I helped build Vault of the Volcano God and The Sparrow Files, constructing furniture, building a lot of props, and contributing to the puzzle design.

What was the first escape room you designed and how was that experience?
The first room that I designed as the lead designer was a six-episode room called Alchemy Arcana. I spent multiple months designing this room and pushing the development of the technology when it became clear that it was going to take a lot more technology research to make that room a reality. As a result, I shifted my efforts to a simplified design that mostly used technology that we already knew how to build. In about three months, we were able to finish this room, Quest for Excalibur, which despite its straightforward design, I am happy to say has been very well received. Next, I designed the follow-up episode for Storybook Legends set in the same physical space, The Raven and The Red Death.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way about what makes an engaging escape room. A lot of people say that “games are only good if they have multiple physical rooms”, but I think that is a somewhat simplistic perspective as a designer. A more nuanced statement would be that escape rooms derive a lot of their enjoyment from a sense of discovery. Obviously, multiple rooms are an obvious way to deliver on that sense of discovery, but I’m very interested as a designer in finding new ways of delivering on that sense of discovery. Without spoiling anything, The Raven and the Red Death has one of those methods, but we have several more very interesting ideas that we still want to explore in future episodes and rooms.

How long does the process take to design and create an escape room? How many people do you work with?
Well, it really depends. I’ve created a 15 minute escape room in a single day for the Extra Life charity event we ran, and that was just my twin brother, Jesse McGatha, and I doing everything. We received our theme at 6:30 in the morning and had to design and build the entire room in a hotel ballroom including certain mystery ingredients by 9:30pm that night. We spent the next 3 hours designing the puzzles, 6 hours shopping for materials, and the final 6 hours in production.

For a normal room, I’d want one to three months of concept and design time, followed by one to three months of production. I think Quest for Excalibur was three months and The Raven and the Red Death was four. For those rooms, I had four to six contributing designers that designed some individual puzzles based on my direction, a general contractor for building out the room, a couple technology guys building all the technology and programming the applications, and half a dozen production assistants that helped me produce all the props. We had an artist come in to paint the room, another artist produce the marketing material, and a webmaster to create and manage the website. All told, it was about a dozen people, though many of those were only involved part time at different phases of the project.

What are some of the top escape rooms you have played outside of ETA?
I’ve mostly played rooms in Seattle, though I did get to play a few in San Francisco the last time I visited there. I’m hoping to start doing more “escape room vacations” over the next year or two, though! I think my two favorite escape rooms outside of ETA are Locurio’s The Vanishing Cabinet in Seattle and EscapeSF’s Blind Tiger in San Francisco. I’ve heard fantastic things about Palace Games’ rooms in San Francisco, so I’d really like to check those out. Later this summer, I’m planning to do a “weekend escape” trip by driving up to Vancouver, B.C. and checking out every escape room I can along the way.

What is the funniest or most interesting thing you have seen in an escape room?
Well, I’ve been watching the Escape! series by Geek & Sundry on YouTube, and I’d have to say the funniest/most interesting thing was watching the Escape the Evil Sorcerer’s Lair episode for the first time about a week ago. As I mentioned, I designed a room called Alchemy Arcana last year, and it was interesting how eerily similar their room was to my design. It wasn’t exactly the same, of course, but a lot of the key prop elements had a striking resemblance to what I had designed. The interesting thing to me is how certain puzzle ideas naturally lead to certain tech solutions or are constrained by the needs of the technology such that you end up with some very similar designs completely independently. Thanks to an off-hand comment one of the actors made about one of the props, I was able to completely reconstruct the hidden technology that they used because that prop feature is exactly like the physical feature on one of my puzzles in Quest for Excalibur.

If you had no constraints, what kind of room would you design?
I would design a whole island with an entire house and grounds full of magical things, kind of like a cross between Harry Potter and Spiderwick Chronicles! People would buy tickets for the entire weekend and attempt to solve the mystery of the island before the end of the weekend while staying as guests in the mansion.

What do you do like to do outside your professional life?
In my free time (ha, what’s that?), I like reading, playing games, playing escape rooms/puzzle events, solving puzzles, and sailing. I read many different genres of books, including science fiction, fantasy, general fiction, mythology, history, and transdisciplinary non-fiction like Guns, Germs and Steel or 1491. I have a collection of about 500 board games (mostly European style) that I’ve been collecting since The Settlers of Catan was first published in the United States in 1995. I also have a huge library of roleplaying games and supplements. Seattle and the Puget Sound is one of the best sailing destinations in the United States, especially if you don’t mind a little rain.

Favorite games (video, board games, any type...)?
Wow, this one is tough, because there are so many games that I love. In general, I love roleplaying games or any game with a strong narrative, turn-based strategy games, and puzzle games. Some of my all-time favorite video games are Myst, The Fool’s Errand, The Witness, and the Assassin’s Creed series. For board games, my favorites are probably Carcassonne, Catan, and Ticket to Ride (along with the many variants). Netrunner is my favorite trading card game, which is also a game that I got to work on during my time at Wizards of the Coast.

Favorite movies and TV shows?
My favorite drama movies are American Beauty, Fight Club, Hunt for Red October, and National Treasure (so lame, but scratches that puzzle itch!). My favorite comedies are Grosse Pointe Blank and Secret of My Success. I like a lot of TV shows, including Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, House of Cards, The Expanse, and my most recent obsession of Mr. Robot. I cut cable a few years ago, so most of my TV viewing is now based on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Red pill or the blue pill?
Red pill all the way! I love Wonderland, and as a designer, I’m wired to look for the true nature of the world.

Thank you for your time Richard!

May 8, 2017

Palace Games: The Great Houdini Escape Room (San Francisco, CA)

We finally got around to playing Palace Games' original game, "The Great Houdini Escape Room". We played "The Roosevelt Room" last year and despite the puzzles being average, the automation and grand reveals were enough to hype us up for their first room. We knew that The Houdini Room would probably be less advanced as it was older but we had to experience it for ourselves.

The storyline has Houdini building the world's first escape room a century ago and he challenges eight innovators to escape the room. These innovators include famous icons such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Charlie Chaplin. There was quite a lot to do so eight is a reasonably good number of people to take on the tasks at hand.

May 5, 2017

Epic Team Adventures: The Sparrow Files (Seattle, WA)

"The Sparrow Files" was the third room we played at Epic Team Adventures (ETA) and this was more like a traditional escape room rather than a quest or a puzzle intensive session like ETA's Storybook Legends. The scenario from their site says you "will be immersed in the most enigmatic cases of P.I. Carmen Sparrow: collecting information from various sources, examining evidence for clues,  investigating every suspicious detail, and racing against time to foil the evil plot". This film noir theme takes place all in one room so it's good to know this before hand to set expectations. I was debating whether saying if an escape room didn't have extra rooms was a spoiler, as it was not obvious this was the case for this game, but I feel knowing this before hand would make the experience better so, in my opinion, this is the opposite of a spoiler.

The set and the story were great and highly immersive. The familiar narration of the film noir genre was present and the look and feel of everything was spot on. The puzzles were a mix of paper puzzles and tangible elements and the storyline was quite important in this game. We enjoyed the automation of the reveals and the overall mood of the room.

May 3, 2017

Epic Team Adventures: Quest For Excalibur & Raven and the Red Death (Seattle, WA)

As Michael would say "FOR FREEDOM!"
We are graced by having fellow game enthusiast, Michael Thompson (front row, right), write this post for two rooms at Epic Team Adventures (ETA). Note that these rooms are quests and not your traditional escape rooms like ETA's Sparrow Files.

ETA Story Book Legends adventures consists of two scenarios: “Quest for Excalibur” and “The Raven and The Red Death”. They were created in that order, so naturally we played them the other way round, because we’re funny like that.

May 1, 2017

Hourglass Escapes: Rise Of The Mad Pharaoh (Seattle, WA)

We made Mummy proud
"Hourglass Escapes" features one room, "Rise of the Mad Pharaoh" and our group of four decided to play this while in Seattle after some word of mouth advice. The story followed Dr. Carter's archaeological dig, which sets off a trap and locks him in an Egyptian tomb. The narrative and countdown were relayed via a TV screen in the room and the flow of the game was smooth. Each player roleplayed a character and used their expertise, in the form of a hint on their character card, to solve a puzzle. We liked this roleplaying and have only seen this in a few escapes room to date.

April 30, 2017

Time Escape: Time Warp, Operation Rescue, Castle Secrets (Seattle, WA)

Operation Rescue: Save Ricky From Jason and Bobby

Time Escape is a franchise with locations in Vancouver, Edmonton and their latest addition, Seattle. We booked three rooms back to back and given they were 45mins each at $35/room, we were expecting some great escaping. The lobby looked great and the location was walking distance from the Space Needle.

April 27, 2017

Locurio: The Vanishing Act (Seattle, WA)

One Wizard to fight them all
"The Vanishing Act" is consistently highly rated by escape room enthusiasts and we headed over to Seattle to play it for ourselves. We were five people, which turned out to be a good number and most of us had some decent escaping experience. The story centers around the magician, Noximillian and the disturbing disappearances of his assistants. His latest assistant, Casey, asks for your help in uncovering the truth behind what's going on and sends you into Noximillian's private dressing room while he is performing on stage.

The immersiveness of The Vanishing Act was second to none. This escape room had an actress that help set up the story well and also provided hints with one of the best (seamless) hint mechanisms we've experienced to date.

April 18, 2017

The Basement: The Study (Las Vegas, NV & Los Angeles, CA)

The Study, Seriously, go play this room right now
"The Study" is the newest room for the much talked about location,"The Basement". The storyline revolves around a cannibalistic killer who captures you and locks you in his basement. After you escape "The Basement", you end up on the first floor of the house and have to find your way out of "The Study". While the continuity of the story is great, we played them in the reverse order and it was perfectly fine.  The BIG difference with this room and others of a similar "Psycho killer" theme is the immersiveness and in-game actors which make for an amazing escape room.

The Basement: The Basement Room (Las Vegas, NV & Los Angeles, CA)

The Basement (room), the original room

For those easily scared - be warned!  This room is not for the faint-hearted ... but this is mainly because it is so very immersive - impressively so.  Our group of half boys - half girls did well to upkeep those gender stereotypes with many a high-pitched scream emanating from the girls while escaping this room.

The Basement is the original room from this chain - rooms such as The Study (see review) and The Boiler Room follow on from this story.  In The Basement, your team is kidnapped, taken to an underground lair, and threatened with death by notorious serial-killer, Edward Tandy.  You have 45 minutes to escape a terrifying and gruesome death.

April 17, 2017

Escapology: Shanghaied & Budapest Express (Las Vegas, NV & more)

Flying to victory!
Escapology is an escape room chain with 7 different rooms in 12 cities (soon to be 21 cities) and it was one of the places that seemed really polished in terms of production value. We played two rooms at Escapology, the "Budapest Express" and "Shanghaied" with four people. The first thing that you notice when you walk into the lobby (at least in Vegas) is the beautiful decor. The seating area was large, comfortable and lavish and while it's not that important, it's a nice to have while waiting between games.

April 11, 2017

Escape Hunt: Treachery at the Racetrack (Brisbane, Australia)

A family outing to the escape room

Today's submission comes in the form of a guest blog post from one of Randy's regular partners-in-crime, Mio. Being an Aussie and being back home on vacation from my normal residence in California, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place when my Dad's 70th birthday outing went awry. And what does one do when one needs a birthday present in a pinch?  An escape room of course!  So off I went with the parents for their first ever escape room.

April 3, 2017

Kuma Escape: Detention (Santa Clara, CA)

Michael (second from the right) was a bad boy in detention

Kuma Escape's "stage 3" room, Detention, opened in May 2016 and even though it touted the highest escape rate (20%) out of their three rooms, it was actually the most difficult one. Keep in mind that "stage" simply means room and you don't have to do "stage" one or two to play the third one. It seemed that a lot of enthusiasts played this room and given that the record was only 45min, it was no surprise that this was a challenge. We were six people in the group with two people who were new to escape rooms.

April 1, 2017

Escape Sacramento: The Seance (Sacramento, CA)

Escape Sacramento is located close to downtown and has easily accessible street parking (surprise!). The building looked like a house and it seemed like a friendly neighborhood escape room! We opted to play "Seance" which we were told was a "Gen-1" room meaning a first generation room without any fancy bells and whistles. We played this room with another random group of four and they were proud, self-proclaimed nerds straight out of "The Big Bang Theory".

March 23, 2017

Enchambered: Whispering Halls & Containment Breach (Sacramento, CA)

Enchambered is often hailed as the best escape room in Sacramento. We did both rooms here and as most reviewers have said, the production value was top notch. The puzzles were solid and the themes, although common, worked out well. All the rooms are open to the public, so everyone who books the same timeslot will be mixed together. The physical spacing of the rooms relative to the number of people was a downside which should not be overlooked.

March 20, 2017

Quandary: Runaway Train & Locked In Dead (Roseville, CA)

Runaway Train (left) & The Locked In Dead (right)
[Updated June 2017] Their new "Runaway Train" room was awesome and there were a lot of great puzzles that were new to us. The physical space was fine for two and I feel it would be cramped if there were any more than four people in the room, let alone eight. The co-founder, Ryan, explained how we solved the room the way he originally intended for it to be solved in terms of team communication. The room was simplified to accommodate the general public. If you ever play the room, you will understand :).

March 14, 2017

Escape Edinburgh: Darker Side of Edinburgh & Da Vinci Room (Scotland)

The Darker Side Of Edinburgh
We booked two rooms at this place which was billed as "Scotland's First Live Escape Game". Their website was terrific and we were excited to do both these room.

The Da Vinci Room
The first room we did was "The Darker Side of Edinburgh" and this was one of the least exciting rooms we've played to date. There were no extra rooms and only padlocks to open so maybe it is showing its age as the first escape room in Scotland. We also managed to open the final lock that gave us the key to the exit at around the 12 min mark which lead to the moderator to rush in and tell us not to use it. He questioned how we got to it and we explained that a riddle lead us to a number, which we were told was a coincidence. Ok, so we agreed to put it back and asked that he let us know when it was time for us to use the key since we already solved the puzzle. He never comes back and we eventually escape with 12mins to spare.