One of the latest recreational crazes is the room escape game, where several players enter a pre-constructed room with numerous puzzles to solve in order to exit back out of the door they came in through (which has been locked behind them). They’re a ton of fun and I’ve played quite a number of them at several different locations over the last couple of years, and enjoyed nearly all of them. Here’s a NON-SPOILER look at the rooms I’ve tried.
There are certain things common to nearly all games of this type. I’ll hit the high points here, and mention any exceptions when I discuss the individual rooms. All of the places I’m going to discuss are in NYC.
- Everything you need to solve all of the puzzles is within the room(s) you are in. You don’t need to bring anything but yourselves.
- There is a strict time limit, usually an hour. If you don’t solve the puzzles and open the door by the end of that time you have lost.
- Each room has a maximum player count. Up to that many people can be booked for a given time. If you don’t want to risk being paired up with strangers, you can book the entire room (per person price times the maximum number of players) even if you don’t have the full number of people.
- These are designed for groups. You technically can book a whole room for just yourself, but it’s really not a good idea. The sweet spot is the full number to about 2 less. If you have less than that it’s better to book just for the number of people you have and maybe others will book at the same time and fill out the room. Obviously it can be more fun to play with people you know, but so far I personally haven’t had any problem the couple of times I was paired with some strangers.
- The rooms tend to be reasonably sized for the number of people allowed to play, and there is a gamemaster watching at all times (and occasionally providing clues). There is room to move around and the atmosphere is fun, so I wouldn’t worry about feeling claustrophobic or locked in. Only 2 rooms out of the 9 I played felt cramped (and one was intentional because it was a horror themed room). I’ll provide more details below.
Escape the Room
This is the first place I tried, and I played all four of the games I’m tried with them before trying other companies. They have two locations, which are vastly different so I’ll be featuring them separately.
Escape the Room – Midtown Location:
The Midtown games are all a lot of fun. The staff is friendly and the cluemasters helpful during games, watching through cameras and using a monitor to dispense clues as is most common.
The themes aren’t as deeply integrated as some of the other companies’ rooms, but they still provide a good amount of atmosphere and work well. The puzzles are logical and fun, and have kind of a “classic” feel, due in part to using less tech and gadgets than other places. If you’re willing to try a few rooms / locations, this is where to start.
I’ve played all three rooms at this location:
- The Home – A Victorian themed room after a certain famous detective. This was the first room I ever played, and remains perhaps my favorite. Lots of great puzzles and twists to this one.
- The Agency – A secret agent themed room, with an assignment to complete and complications to work around. I’d place this near the middle of all the rooms I’ve played. It was a lot of fun with a cool theme but some other rooms outshine it in terms of puzzles.
- The Office – They say this is their original room, and the advances in design show a bit in the others. The idea is to escape and avoid being trapped at work (“everyone’s worst nightmare,” the website says), but the setup is more “home office” than “actual office,” which isn’t very intimidating. Definitely a fun room and perhaps the most new player friendly one I’ve seen, but it was my least favorite of the three here.
Escape the Room – Downtown Location:
And here’s what enticed me to try other companies. There are two rooms here, of which I’ve played one. The Apartment is the most plainly themed room I’ve tried, the idea being simply that you’re trying to escape a NYC apartment.
This room is where several of the exceptions to the general information I provided pop up. The max player count crams WAY too many people in for the space. We were constantly tripping over each other. Now this may have been part of the idea – apartments in NYC aren’t known to be spacious. But as a practical matter it didn’t add to the experience, it just made it annoying to try to solve the puzzles.
Making things worse was the clue setup. Unlike every other location I’ve played, there was no way for the gamemaster to relay clues from outside the room. We had to hold up something in front of the camera to request a clue, then wait for him to come into the room to give it to us. Not only did someone coming in and out through the “locked” door we were trying to get out of ruin any sense of immersion, there were already too many people for the space so adding another was very annoying. He then would slowly walk around the room (with us having to struggle to move out of his way) to see what he could maybe give us a hint about, despite the fact that he was supposedly watching on the cameras. Given the timed nature of the game none of us were happy with this.
We had more issues, but I can’t get into them without spoiling puzzles. The puzzles themselves were good, so it wasn’t all bad, but overall this was the one time where playing a room escape wasn’t that enjoyable for us. It’s a shame because the Midtown games are great, but there are tons of great places to try so personally I’d avoid Escape the Room’s downtown location (although I haven’t played The Theater, so can’t speak specifically about that room).
That’s it for part 1. In part 2 I’ll cover the other 2 companies / 5 rooms I’ve tried.