Puzzle Break #1: Escape from Studio D

I was pretty excited to hear that Seattle was getting its own live action escape-the-room game, called Puzzle Break, in November.  We decided to give them a few weeks to work the kinks out, and after hearing lots of rave reviews from fellow puzzlers, Nick and I bought our tickets for last Saturday.  We invited a friend whose puzzling experience was limited to one Puzzled Pint.

We picked up our friend on Saturday and found street parking about a block away from the studio where the game was being held.  Our friend told us this was a pretty hip part of town, and a good location for this type of event, in his opinion (lots of young people in Capitol Hill, and people who live downtown tend not to like to leave their neighborhood to go do stuff).

There wasn’t any signage for the event outside, and there were a lot of Studio D’s on that block.  Luckily, Nick had read an e-mail at work that said to be sure to enter the door with the right street number above it, and at that door we found a hand-written sign to wait in the lobby for Puzzle Break.  We were the first of our 12-person team to get there, but the others started to arrive pretty soon.

Our team was made up of a group of seven co-workers who got their company to buy their tickets as a teambuilding exercise, and a couple (or maybe two friends).  The demographics were pretty similar to my Real Escape Game team — lots of young adults, but a few more men than women.  None of our teammates had done anything like this, or did any other type of puzzling, but the couple had played a lot of Flash escape-the-room games to prepare.  (And I think it did help them have an idea of what to expect and made them a little savvier in the room!)

A Puzzle Break staff member greeted us and took us down to the basement of the building to the studio where they were set up.  We signed in and read the rules, and once all of our teammates had arrived, the staff explained the rules and took us to the room.

Just like my last write-up, I won’t go into any specifics about our play-through so as not to spoil it for future players, but I can still give a general re-cap of my personal experience as well as the criticisms I have about the game.

In my (single) experience, the thing you want to do most after playing an escape game is to play it again, using what you’ve learned to try and do better.  You’re not allowed to play the same game twice, but playing a very similar game is a pretty good alternative.  Escape from Studio D was remarkably similar to the one game I have played — Real Escape Game‘s Escape from the Mysterious Room.  The similarities definitely made it feel like I was getting a second shot at Mysterious Room, and that was very satisfying.  (For anyone who has the option, I would say to play Studio D first and Mysterious Room second, as Studio D was the easier of the two.)

Ignoring the similarities between the two rooms, I certainly felt like I had an advantage simply from having already played an escape game before.  I tried to take on an expanded version of the role I had played last time, giving directions to the group, suggesting things for different people to work on, and trying to keep our clues and findings organized (this part is so tough because there is so much stuff!).  I also became sort of the go-to person for a bigger picture of what was going on.  The staff said that a lot of teams will break back up into the groups of people who know each other and then stop communicating, which leads to a lot of puzzles being solved more than once by the different groups.  This is madness to me because communication is the only way to progress in the game at all, but I guess it happens.  In our case, there were a lot of instances where someone would bring something to me to ask if it had been worked on yet, or if I knew which puzzle it was a part of, or to find out who had been working on something that we had a new piece of.  I never personally felt like I had a good grasp over what was all was going on in the room, but acting as a general coordinator seemed to be helpful.

As the player with the most puzzling experience, I was expecting to have to be the one to solve a lot of the puzzles, but instead my teammates just took up whatever puzzle was in front of them and made sense of it on their own.  (I was also surprised how uninterested I was personally in working on those puzzles!)  I think that’s a good sign for the difficulty level of the event — that the puzzles are accessible to non-puzzlers, while other aspects can be challenging to experienced puzzlers as well.

I was also pleased to find that my puzzler’s toolbox appears to have finally been fully equipped with the very basics.  I found myself quickly recognizing puzzles I had seen before, and having extraction methods practically jump out at me, as natural as anything.  I remember telling Nick how to solve the final step of the puzzle he was working on, but I don’t remember figuring that out myself.  I just saw it and knew it.  That felt pretty dang good.

Our team, Imperfect Strangers
Our team, Imperfect Strangers

Our team escaped triumphantly with 8 minutes to spare!  Everyone had a great time.  The game was enjoable and well-run without any annoying puzzle issues or red herrings as far as I could tell.  But I think there are a few areas that could use some improvement.

Now that the live-action room escape game is becoming a “thing,” it’s impossible not to compare the different games in the genre.  And unfortunately, as I mentioned, there were a lot of similarities between Escape from Studio D and Real Escape Game’s Escape from the Mysterious Room, both in content and methodology.  I’ll have to play a few more to see just how much of those similarities would be considered simply a part of that style of game, but I think I would have made more of an effort to differentiate myself from the only other escape game in the US.  (Luckily, I think the nature of the game produces a lot of people like me who would enjoy playing essentially the same game twice.)

I was kind of expecting a jail cell theme based on the name of the event and poster for the room, but it was just the standard Flash-style plain room full of random stuff (similar to, but less cohesive than Mysterious Room’s living room-style room).  Hopefully Puzzle Break will continue to follow REG’s lead with a much more thematic second room.

I think that the entire room could have used a higher level of presentation and polish.  Nick recalled feeling a little bit underwhelmed when they opened the door to the room for the first time.  The lighting was poor, the walls and floors were mostly bare, there was no feeling of theme or cohesion with the props, and the placement of items seemed grouped almost in a station-like way.  The countdown announcements were so muffled and hard to hear over our own talking that we had to have the staff repeat the time for us at every interval.  Overall, the production value just felt a little low, especially when compared to Real Escape Game.  I hope to see this improve as the company grows.

If any readers happen to have been to both events, I’d be interested in hearing your opinions (spoiler-free, of course.  E-mail me if you’d like to get into details).

Although there were things I would have liked to have seen done differently, the overall experience was still great, and I can’t wait to try the next one (which Puzzle Break staff say is currently in the works).  And of course, I absolutely recommend it to anyone in Seattle!

2 comments on Puzzle Break #1: Escape from Studio D

  • Jenny Irons

    We signed up 8 of the spaces as a group and the other 4 tickets were purchased by strangers…who didn’t show up. That meant that 8 of us were working on the puzzles rather than 12. We enjoyed the event, but just ran out of time. At the end we were asked for suggestions and I proposed that if some if the full 12 didn’t show up, those that did show might be given more time. The response: “groups smaller than yours have solved it in the time allowed”….was, well, disappointing. We didn’t expect to be just 12; neither did we expect to be overall champions. All we wanted was an even chance to solve the room. A little more fairness would make it more fun.

    • clavicarius (author)

      This is an interesting problem that I hadn’t considered with the room escape format. It’s a difficult problem because you want to be fair to everyone who plays. I’m sure they’ve tried to balance the room for the ideal 12 players, so smaller teams would certainly have a disadvantage.

      From a business standpoint, I can see why they wouldn’t want to give more time to smaller groups. They’ve probably spaced out the time slot schedule so that they have just enough time to re-set the room in between groups. If they let smaller groups take more time, then they would run the risk of making the next group late. They would have to put a huge buffer in between every time slot if they wanted to play it safe for every possible case, and that would probably mean cutting one of the time slots each day. I’m guessing that the no-show problem isn’t common enough to justify that big of a cut.

      You also want to be fair to the other teams that play. You’re looking at the issue from the perspective of seeing all the content and completing the challenge, but another perspective is dollars to time spent. Someone on a team of 12 players paid the same amount for their ticket that you did on your team of 8. Why should you get an hour and a half of entertainment when they only got an hour?

      But I definitely agree that the “smaller groups have solved it” answer isn’t satisfying. Would they say the same thing to a group of 4, or 3, or 2? Maybe I’m wrong about the balance, and maybe they actually have balanced the room for about 8 people, and the groups of 12 just get out faster. Maybe they have a threshold where groups smaller than a certain number will be offered the choice to go ahead and play, or to get a refund or free ticket for another day.

      Or they might just be treating this issue as a risk you take when you play the game. Kind of like how they mention that if you don’t want to play with strangers, you need to buy all the tickets. Maybe they should mention that if you want to make sure that you have a full group of 12, you need to buy all the tickets.

      Interesting problem! Thanks for sharing =)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.