Top 5 of 2017

Instead of having 2 different links to distribute here is one page to take you to the two pages for our 2017 Top 5 lists.

A few weeks ago Chris and I discussed whether we wanted to do a top rooms list of 2017 and if so how should we broach the subject? Chris did about 50 rooms this year and my wife and I attempted 20 (having a 1 year old son will make outings difficult sometimes) with 11 rooms in common between us (whether together or completed at different times). Given my small sample size and the small amount of crossover we figured that a top 10 would be too inclusive as one of every 2 rooms would make my list.

After a bit of discussion we decided that in order to make the list the room 1) Had to have been visited AND reviewed in 2017 and 2) Needs to still be in operation.

We realize that this narrows the field down a bit as there were plenty of rooms we did but didn’t get a chance to review yet, so next year the criteria will simply be it has to be reviewed in 2018 and still be in operation.

 

The top 2 rooms on each of our lists will receive one of the following logos designed by my good friend Tracey Dunham to post on their site with pride.

They will also be getting a certificate mailed to them to display in their lobby.

 

For Chris’ Top Five list click HERE

For George’s Top Five list click HERE

George’s Top Five of 2017

As 2017 winds down and the one year anniversary of LockedinReviews approaches I, like many others, reflect on the past 12 months. When I started this website it did it for the sole reason of writing about the hobby that had taken my life by storm the previous year. I loved escape rooms and I loved writing so why not combine the two. If people actually read my blog and become indoctrinated into the hobby so much the better. 45 posts, 1 contributing writer, and 2 special guest reviewers later the site has become more than I could’ve possibly imagined even in it’s fledgling state.

A few weeks ago Chris and I discussed whether we wanted to do a top rooms list of 2017 and if so how should we broach the subject? Chris did about 50 rooms this year and my wife and I attempted 20 (having a 1 year old son will make outings difficult sometimes) with 11 rooms in common between us (whether together or completed at different times). Given my small sample size and the small amount of crossover we figured that a top 10 would be too inclusive as one of every 2 rooms would make my list.

Without any adieu, my top 5 of 2017:

 

5) F5- Trap Door Escape

 

This one was hotly debated not only amongst Chris and myself, but also myself and my friends. As soon as I heard about the concept of an escape obstacle course I was intrigued and after the experience I wasn’t let down. While the main gripe amongst my friends was the lack of puzzles (there aren’t that many), the room makes up for it for amazing theming, and a type of challenge that we haven’t seen in New Jersey as of yet. It’s a physical course! There are some mental challenges like in a traditional room, but getting to the puzzles is the majority of the challenge.

 

4) Prison Break- The Escape Game

 

While the greater Orlando area isn’t hurting for escape rooms, the good ones have to do a bangup job in order to draw people away from the bigger tourist attractions right down the road. While there are some puzzles that make you scratch your head, I loved the way that Prison Break required the team to work together and communication is key. If you didn’t talk you didn’t win, simple as that. I was also a huge fan of their clue system in the fact that you could get as many clues as you wanted and it just added onto your time instead of taking away from it. While you won’t have to crawl through any sewers to get the full experience, you will have to get busy escapin’.

3) King Arthur’s Castle- Escape Room NJ

 

This was the second room from Escape Room NJ that my group did together and I thought that this was a better room all around even though I preferred The Lost Cabin’s theming more. I adored the non-linear progression for the way the room was set up which allowed for everyone to be doing something at the same time without having to sit back and watch one or two people work on a puzzle. The puzzles and props were all period appropriate and you really did have to pay attention to every detail in the room to succeed. King Arthur’s Castle seemed to rely more on puzzles than The Lost Cabin and when you emerge victorious clutching the holy grail you feel a sense of satisfaction.

2) The Cookhouse- 13th Hour Escape Room (Formerly Haunted Scarehouse)

If you’ve read my reviews you know full well that I am in love with this company. Steve is one of the most attention oriented owners that I have met and it shows in every aspect of their rooms. The fact that they have a room before the room to get new comers up to speed with the story and how the room will work is ingenious. Of the 3 rooms I’ve done from 13th Hour (John Hayden’s Room, The Cookhouse, and the Great Room) any could have been on this list but the Cookhouse takes it due to personal preference. The combination of storytelling, puzzles, immersion, and grime (ugh the grimeyness you felt) makes this room a must do for horror fans and escape room enthusiasts alike.

 

1)    The Submarine- Last Minute Escape

I flip flopped over my top two for a long while before deciding who would take the top spot for 2017. The thing that put the Submarine above all others for me was the necessity for teamwork and the cinematic climax for the room. Storytelling is a big part of why I love escape rooms. Often times there will be an awesome story on the company’s website to describe the room, but there won’t be a trace of it once you get into the actual room. Which is a shame because that attention to detail separates the good from the great, and the great from the outstanding. Without putting in too many spoilers, at one point of the Submarine you feel like your decisions actually had consequences to them. Your group HAS to work together or it is actually impossible for only one or two people to do the room by themselves. You feel like all the work you put in up to this point was building towards something….then you realize that you’re only halfway done with the room.

 

Well that’s it, congratulations to the five companies that made my top 5 list of 2017. We want to wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2018 and can’t wait to see what the new year brings!

 

Did you do a room in 2017 that you think should have made the list? Or one that I should check out in 2018? Let us know.

Chris’s Top Five of 2017

First and foremost, let me begin by saying that I had a ton of fun writing for LockedInReviews in 2017, and appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to share my thoughts with you all on this site.  While it wasn’t feasible for me to review every room I went to this year, I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences with you all, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my reviews.  Reviewing escape rooms may be just a hobby for me, but it has truly enhanced my experiences, and let me to meet some awesome new people and make some new friends.

Since my wife and I have attempted around 50 escape rooms this year, narrowing it down to a top five was pretty tough.  I think it’s only appropriate, therefore, to start with a few honorable mentions before we break down our top five of the year.

So let’s get started with my year-in-review!

Honorable Mentions:

Video Valhalla – Escape Room South Jersey

Bad straight-to-video sequels are back — and this time, it’s personal.  This trip down memory lane had us laughing all the way back to the 80s.  While the set design is nothing special, the puzzle elements and custom-made video covers made us really appreciate the care put into the room.  Anyone who remembers the expression “Be kind, rewind” will LOVE the touches that Escape Room South Jersey put into this room to make you remember the “good old days”. This is a great room for new players, but is truly catered toward people who would appreciate the time period.

Deadwood Cabin – East Coast Escape Room

This small room includes a strong narrative that tells a dark and twisted tale, and let’s just say that “escaping the room” isn’t exactly what you should be concerning yourself with in this cabin.  While it’s not the biggest or most high-production room out there, enthusiasts will appreciate the unique twist on the typical escape room mechanic.  This is an easy-to-moderate difficulty room for those who want a little more story mixed in with their puzzles. With consistent improvements in their room design from room to room, we look forward to seeing more from East Coast Escape Room in the coming year!

Chris’s Top Five Escape Room Experiences of 2017:

5. Dr. Chen’s Office – Think Solve Escape

Dr. Chen’s Office is the finale of the Think Solve Escape trilogy of rooms.  If you try their other two rooms first, you’ll find this room to be a fitting (and challenging) experience to close out the series.  Outstanding construction, nice use of technology, and unique puzzles made this room an intense race against the clock.  We really enjoyed this experience, and definitely suggest you try the other two rooms first to get a frame of reference, and to better appreciate the story.

4. The Hatter’s Hideout – Empire Escape Rooms

An homage to Lewis Carroll’s twisted tale, The Hatter’s Hideout takes you down a rabbit hole into the warped minds of some of the most well-known characters from the Disney film.  From the doorknob face to the tea party table, the theming of the room is pretty much on-point.  The true reason for this room cracking the top five, however, lies in the progression — or should I say regression of the room, into a warped experience that is truly a spectacle to behold.  You’ll definitely walk away from this room a touch more mad than when you came in — and is that so bad?

3. The Mad Scientist – Klues Escape Room

We found this little gem while traveling to the Poconos for a wedding in May, and it resounded with us for the rest of the year.  While the room starts off looking a bit bare, this doctor’s office has a lot hidden in the files.  As the game unfolds, solving puzzles brings a pretty deep story to light, which we appreciated. Some of the effects and puzzles in this room were pretty unique, and absolutely awesome! Klues puts tremendous effort into their rooms, and it shows.  I sincerely hope they get their other two rooms up and running in 2018  — maybe we’ll get to see them on this list again!

2. Captive – Bane Escape Rooms

The serial killer known as The Collector takes us Captive in his home, and it’s up to us to escape.  This massive sprawling home is one of the most impressive spaces we’ve ever puzzled in, and working your way through the rooms can be exhilarating. While the puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, the detailing in the set is impeccable, and you really feel immersed in the environment as well as the story.  While people may have mixed opinions about the finale, the entire experience of navigating through the home to find clues, shouting back and forth with your teammates, can create an adrenaline rush that enhances the game. We absolutely loved this room, and felt like it “checked off the boxes” more than most others.  Kudos to Bane Escape for creating an outstanding serial killer room!

1. The Great Room – 13th Hour Escape (Formerly Haunted Scarehouse)

I have to be honest here – I’m not 100% sure how whether this room would resonate the same way outside of Halloween season, without actors, but this was, frankly, the best experience I have ever had in an escape room to date (hence why it’s number one on my list).  The centerpiece of this room is, well, the room itself, which is a huge open space that allows you to stand back and appreciate the craftsmanship of the set and game elements.  Many of the puzzles require teamwork, and there are a few moments that will surprise you, making you truly appreciate the care put into this room.  Add into this experience actors that serve as the clue system (and, if you read the spoiler tag in my review, in somewhat nefarious ways), and you have yourself an experience that you won’t quickly forget.  I truly think this room would be best experienced during the haunted house season so that you have the actors, but it would certainly stand on its own as an excellent room at any time of year (they plan to have actors back in for Valentine’s Day — date night, anyone?).  The Great Room was more than just great — it was outstanding! Even though they currently have four rooms, 13th Hour is already planning for even more rooms in the coming year, and we cannot wait to make the trip back!

 

 

With the leap in quality and variety of escape rooms in 2017, I simply cannot wait to see what 2018 will bring!   I look forward to playing new games, writing more reviews, and hopefully playing with some of you next year!  I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season, and Happy New Year!  See you in 2018!

-Chris

Seeing ‘Red’ in an Escape Room

There are three main topics that are the escape room equivalent of “who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman”. The kind of topics where people are in their collective camps and are so adamant about their opinion it’s best to just not bring it up. Those topics are: clues, private vs public booking, and red herrings. In the coming weeks in addition to the regular reviews I’ll also be posting some pieces based on some trends I’ve noticed in my experience both only doing escape rooms personally but also working for one. Oh, and for the record Superman would win easily, two words: HEAT VISION.

Compared to other recreational activities, escape rooms are towards the more expensive end of the spectrum. For the $25-$35 one person spends for one hour (or less if they happen to get out early)in an escape room, a family could go mini golfing, bowling or a couple could go out to the movies (granted they couldn’t afford snacks but they can at least get in). With someone shelling out that kind of cash why would an owner want to intentionally upset a person to the point where they might not return to your venue?

Before we venture any further, there needs to be a distinction between red herrings and decoration. Obviously a room needs to be decorated enough for it to be an immersive experience for the customers. There’s nothing in the rule book that says that EVERY decoration in the room has to serve a purpose. Sometimes a clock on the wall can just be a clock.

Red herrings, simply put, are details that are put into escape rooms that are meant to purposely deceive escapers and waste their time. While they may be delightful in mystery novels, they are atrocious in escape rooms. Red herrings do absolutely nothing to progress the narrative of the room except to pad the rooms escape rate and irritate the people attempting the room.

I distinctly remember one room that my group attempted where it was originally deemed too difficult. Apparently the owner wasn’t happy that so few people were escaping they went back in and changed the story by eliminating two puzzles from the room. However the problem was that they LEFT THE PUZZLE COMPONENTS IN THE ROOM. While the end point (where you put the solution) was taken out, the steps leading up to it remained. Needless to say we didn’t make it out and when we questioned the GM about it during the post game walkthrough I was livid to find out they left it in to waste my time. (you can read all about it here)

With all that out of the way let’s debunk some of the reasons that a designer might put some red herring clues into their room:

“The greatest lies are the lies we tell ourselves” Richard Bach

TO MAKE THE GAME HARDER:

If the only option a designer has to make the room more difficult is a series of clues to nowhere they should reconsider their life choices. It screams laziness if people are getting out too soon or too frequently and the only thing a designer can think of is to add in some fake clues. There are numerous methods that designers can use to extend the life of a room: add another puzzle or two, change the order that customers find clues,  or split the existing puzzles up into more pieces. Get creative!

TO LOWER THE ESCAE RATE:

While posted escape rates on a room’s website should be a tool used by potential customers to gauge difficulty, often times it’s just a metric to stroke the ego of the owner. “MMMM yes, MY room only has a 2.7 escape rate! It’s the most challenging tut tut” My retort to this is: who the heck cares? If you’re that concerned about your escape rate you have two options: 1) lie (because who would honestly know the difference?) or 2) get over yourself. The point of the escape room is to have fun in an intellectually challenging environment. If the customer is happy then as an owner you are happy because you will make more money from return customers or word of mouth.

TO THROW ESCAPERS OFF THE TRAIL:

This one personally drives me the most insane. Having done my fair share of rooms (and was the GM for countless more) customers will jump to their own conclusions and overthink literally everything about the clues that they are given to the point of lunacy.

Example:  “oh look, the blinds are halfway pulled down that must mean we are at the halfway point of the room, or we have to pull all the blinds halfway down to open up a secret drawer somewhere, or if we close them all the way we will get a new clue…..”

No. the blinds were pulled halfway down because natural light is nice and brightens the room.  The point is, that for the one path that the designer thought of to get from A to B in a room, escapers will think of tens of thousands of ways to interpret those same clues.

Ultimately the problem with red herrings is that you don’t know if a room has them until you are knee deep in the weeds (aside from a trusted review site like LockedinReviews.com). If you happen to find yourself in a room with red herrings don’t dismay. Make the best of the situation and overcome the annoying inconsequential obstacles that have been put in your way. Take solace in the fact that not every room is as poorly designed as the one you just experienced. Don’t bother giving that company any more of your valuable money (and even more valuable time) and find a room that truly cares that you have a good time. 

Secret Agent – Escape the Mystery Room

West Nyack, New York
Room Size: 8 people (0 Recommended)
Escape Time: 50 Minutes
Price: $20.00/person

DISCLAIMER: This will more than likely be the harshest review that I will ever write, and ever hope to write…..tread lightly.

Prologue:

On October 2nd a group of 7 friends and I went to this room after having a day at the Palisades Mall. We had done all 3 of the 5 Wits Experiences there (more on that in a later review) and we decided to try this one out despite mixed Google Reviews. Upon arriving we saw rooms with walls that didn’t go to the ceiling and success rates that bordered on the single digits for most of their rooms. We were given a placard with the rules explaining the differences between “escape” and “detective” rooms. I asked which we signed up for and the girl explained that “we don’t have detective rooms at this location”. Once we were taken and stood outside our experience the girl doing the intro explained the rules of their “detective” room that we were about to undergo….uh oh this didn’t bode well.

Backstory:

From Escape the Mystery Room’s website: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to escape this challenging room within 50 minutes. Your objective is too Top Secret to put on this website.” That’s it…no semblance of a story or anything just “you all are secret agents, your mission will be evident as you work through the room.” Red flag #2.

Theming:

So as any fan of escape rooms will tell you theming can make or break a room. A puzzle that seems out of place or decorations that don’t fit with the story can totally derail the enjoyment of a room. Likewise puzzles that fit the theme and awesome decorations can make the experience THAT much more enjoyable.  With that said I’ve seen better theming at yard sales than was present in this room. An apropos metaphor as it looked like the majority of the furnishings were purchased from said thematic yard sale. 

The entirety of the room was a chest of 8 drawers with locks on all of them, a futon, and an entire wall made of a world map. That’s it….nothing about it said Secret Agent, it literally didn’t say anything. The puzzles weren’t spy themed, nor did they actually have anything to do with what was in the room. They were just there. At no point did I feel like a secret agent, I just felt in a really bad room.

Puzzles:

I honestly can’t say much to these puzzles as the majority of them were hobbled together and made absolutely no sense whatsoever. There was a note on top of the chest explaining how to open the first lock. However the “answer” to the puzzle was incorrect based on the information that we were given in the room. To put this in perspective: 8 experienced escape room veterans spent 30 minutes trying to open this lock as we figured there must be something we were doing wrong and we refused to use a hint before the first lock was opened.

From there the puzzle in each drawer opened the subsequent drawer…the only problem with this is the fact that some locks weren’t positioned correctly so some drawers were able to be opened without actually solving the puzzle.

In the end we didn’t make it out, but honestly we don’t even consider this a loss for our group as there was SO much wrong with the room.

Customer Experience:

There was so much about this that I didn’t like, but I’ll try to refrain from going too over the top. The facility itself was well lit and inviting with tables in the lobby for your group to gather before your experience. However that was probably the best part (aside from the fact that it’s inside a mall so accessibility was a breeze). Hints were literally the worst I have ever experienced. If you needed a hint you would push a little black button in the room and then your GM would come into the room to assist you. The problem is that 1) you didn’t know if someone actually saw your button press (if they were in another room they would have to finish up there come back to their desk and then come to your room) and 2) they had no way of knowing how far we had gotten before coming into the room so we had to get them up to speed. None of this added time on or gave us more and it was very VERY frustrating.

After our time had lapsed our GM came in and tried walking us through the rest of the room but by that time we were all so fed up that we honestly didn’t really listen to what she had to say (as it turns out one of the group members figured out the solution halfway through but figured that couldn’t be the solution as there was still half the room left). She tried consoling us as “it was a really hard room and only 1 group had managed to get out”.

Final Thoughts:

I have a very hard time being negative as a poor room experience doesn’t always denote a bad room. However in this case I have to insist that you avoid Escape the Mystery Room as a whole. This isn’t what Escape Rooms should be. It seems as though they are trying to make some money by cashing in on the Escape Room craze and are catering to people who honestly don’t know any better. Veterans will be appalled at the “quality” of the room and newbies will leave with such a sour taste in their mouth that it would be amazing if they gave another room a shot after experiencing this one. They boast about their low success rates but that doesn’t mean they are difficult (we have attempted and succeeded at several difficult rooms), it just means that they are poorly put together and a blind squirrel happened to find a nut. I didn’t want to write this review (frankly I wish I could have forgotten the entire experience and gotten our money back) but they happened to open a new location at a mall 20 minutes from my house and friends have started inquiring about it so I’m making this review as a warning that anyone and everyone should avoid it at all costs.