An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: NOLA, Baton Rouge & Houston Final Thoughts
I have been home a full day now, slept many hours, and had a chance to let the whole trip process in my head. It is 14 degrees Celsius here so I am forced to wear long pants again. It’s sad. So…time for some final thoughts.
First things first: The trip was fantastic. Escape rooms aside, I loved seeing the city of New Orleans. It has an insanely rich history. Even if you are not a party person, there is a lot of stuff to see there (and eat!). I would 100% go there again…after all, there are more Gabriel Knight locations to find!
We only had two days in Houston and most of those were travelling to our escapes. Still, given that all I know of Texas is “Cowboys! Steak! Guns!”, it was fun to see the stereotypes subverted. I wish I had gotten the chance to see more of their China and Korea town!
I have not mentioned them much in these blogs, but a huge shout-out has to go to my Diva buddies, Mike and Ruby. They organized the entire trip and dealt with my occasional bouts of travel anxiety with patience and humour. Thanks for the many eats, Circle K, hurricanes, cockroach killing, and of course bingeing the entire third season of American Horror Story (set and filmed in NOLA). Now that I am a more seasoned traveler, I hope we can be travel buddies again!
Now for the Escapes!
It was comforting to see the owner community in NOLA getting along and sharing their ideas. The areas we travel to do not always have a healthy owner community and we were not sure what we would get going into NOLA and Baton Rouge. Luckily the atmosphere seemed very collaborative and open.
The owners of NOLA (at least the ones we met) are very down to earth. Whether they had the best rooms in the area or not, they were all realistic about their games and open to criticism. Of course I am keeping in mind that we cherry picked certain escape rooms. That might not be the case with other owners. But to see all the most well known facilities be so self aware was encouraging.
The Houston community did not seem to be terribly aware of each other, however they were not volatile either. Haley and Cameron seem to be trying to get to know the other owners more, and if the owners follow their welcoming example I can see it becoming a more collaborative environment. They may not talk a lot right now, but the GM’s and owners we met seem very passionate about their businesses. I’ll be interested to see how the industry thrives there in the next few years!
This is not just about the owner community though. What was really interesting to me was seeing Escape My Room get involved in local community events. As well as making a room at the local aquarium, they are also designing a large scale theatrical escape for a film festival happening in the French Quarter.
It’s really admirable to see an escape room working with its city so closely. It not only attracts future business but gives them a chance to experiment and grow other experiences. I have seen instances of it here in Ontario but would love to see more!
I was trying to notice any trends in Louisiana and Houston that set their escapes apart from Canadian rooms. I am not sure yet if this is a result of the public system or if they are local trends but at any rate, here is what I took away.
More puzzles: In general the number of puzzles in a room was significantly greater than what we are used to in Canada. Our team is normally able to complete a room with more than fifteen minutes to spare. In both Louisiana and Houston we usually had less than 10 minutes left. This is probably due to the rooms being built for more people in the public ticketing system. There is simply more to do!
Slides: Of the fourteen escapes we played, three had tube slides. This constitutes a trend for me :D. Gosh, you guys love slides! They did not always make sense to be in the room but they sure were fun to go down!
Experimentation: Of the escapes we played, I got a big indication that there is a lot more experimentation going on in NOLA than in other areas. Whether it was testing out new ideas in narrative, set, puzzles, or tech it seems the designers of NOLA and the surrounding areas are really seeking to see how they can push limits in their escapes. I could really sense the evolution of each facility as we played all their rooms.
Discounts: In Houston, one thing we noticed in all the escapes we played was an offer of a 20% discount for our next game (if it was our first game played there). That is absolutely nowhere in Ontario so it stood out as a local trend.
Final Escape Thoughts (and thoughts on Hype)
13th Gate is absolutely worth the trip. As far as sets, tech, and the integration of the two, there is nothing better out there (that I have played anyway). It’s not just about how the set looks though. The pacing of each grandiose reveal is something all escape owners should strive for. I don’t think my jaw would have dropped nearly as much had I simply been presented with a gigantic set piece from the get go.
Oh, and I know most enthusiasts are all Team Cutthroat, but I think Anubis had the better reveal. Fight me!… actually, don’t. I am a wimp.
The actual game play though could use some work. Keep in mind: I am not saying these are terrible games. Far from it. But with such amazing sets and attention to detail, I found the puzzles and game flow lacking, even factoring in our smaller team size. There was a LOT of hype about these being the best games in the world, but I think that should be amended to say these are the best set pieces in the world.
That being said, the games are improving. There is a clear upward trajectory in game and puzzle flow between their first game and their most recent. If this continues, then 13th Gate will be very tough to beat.
Escape My Room
Escape My Room was my favourite narrative driven experience. There is a rich world built into every inch of the escape facility. They might not have the grandiose sets of 13th Gate, but they use every other tool at their disposal to help you feel immersed in their world regardless.
The games are certainly not flawless, but we had a great time getting to know the eccentric DeLaporte family and can’t wait to see what they get up to in the next few years.
The shark escape room at the aquarium that we beta tested showed lots of promise. Kids and adults will both love it. It was interesting to see a traditional escape room take a more Five Wits approach to the experience. After playing the room though and knowing the intended audience, this makes complete sense.
I am sad we could not do their theatrical French Quarter escape but am pretty confident it will be lots of fun for those that do play!
Clue Carre will not be the absolutely most amazing games you will play, but they are still lots of fun. They have unique themes I do not see a lot of in escape rooms and use the local culture to their advantage which I always love seeing in the escapes I travel to.
Like 13th Gate, there is an upward trajectory of the escapes as they build more. We did not get a chance to play the new rooms they are building, but from what we saw they look pretty impressive.
Houston does not have the most well known escape rooms out there (apart from Strange Bird), but they still have some enjoyable ones. To be honest, they are pretty standard mid-tier escape rooms. The ones we played were a part of a chain or franchise and they seemed not so inclined to change the designs they were given.
Still, there were nuggets of growth being seen. Escape Again seems bound and determined to become bigger and better. Even though we could not play any of Strange Bird’s games it’s clear these guys are trying out some really interesting stuff which I hope ushers in a new escape genre.
Thanks so much for joining me and my friends on our adventures! It was fun to see your comments about your own experiences! I love to chat and compare notes so feel free to message me if you have any thoughts of your own about the area! I really hope to return in the future.
My next adventure is to Vancouver and Seattle in July. I shall see you all then!