Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the great pleasure of attending the escape room The Psych Ward by Cross Roads Escape Games and thought I would offer up my thoughts for my fellow escape room enthusiasts. To best describe the story, I will turn to the website’s plot summary:
Sane or insane? Trustworthy or not? These are the questions Dr. Griffin wants you to answer. He has created a social experiment for a select group of patients. Some of these patients are sane, while others are completely insane. Like lab rats, he has put you inside his twisted experiments of paranoia and challenges you to figure out who to trust and who to betray.
What if the point of an escape room was not to escape?
I mean, there are puzzles to be solved, but we are not trying to gain our freedom.
In fact, we are really working against one another, trying to figure out who in our group is a traitor.
This is the novelty upon which the whole room functions, someone (in our case two people) that we came into the room with is lying.
Now, one might ask, is this person a plant, put in place by Cross Roads Escape Games?
Nope, this traitor is a friend, a member of our party.
Surely we are offered some clue as to who this person is?
Again, no, the selection of the traitor(s) is completely randomized.
This game mechanic is the entire basis of the room and the success, or failure, depends entirely on whether or not it works.
I am happy to report, that the traitor rules are expertly handled. The way we are pitted against one another is subtle and encourages us to cooperate, to a point. Though we are trying to suss out who among us is actually insane, we still have to work together to solve the puzzles for points. Along the way, we get to make accusations and hinder those who might be working against us, no matter which side we happen to be on. This element adds a lot of replayability to this room and as soon as we were done, I wanted to try my hand again, with a different strategy in mind.
Of course, none of this would matter if the room itself were not engaging. Luckily, there was so much happening at any given time in this experience that we were as occupied trying to figure out the room as we were trying to identify the double agents. In fact, they smartly made it so that there was more to do in this one small space than could possibly be accomplished in the time allotted.
Along the way we were guided by one of the hospital staff who could offer up hints when necessary or open up entirely new puzzles for us to explore. This actor managed to stay in character throughout and drove certain sections of the story forward very effectively. I am curious how many more hidden missions were available within this tiny space as he opened up a few cool little things for us to work out during our play time.
Now there were a few key segments that I imagine have to happen every play through that were truly memorable in their execution. One in particular was such a sensory overload that it was liable to make one think that they were actually going insane as we tried to work out the solution. There was even a clear cut finale where Dr. Griffin’s true intentions came to the surface providing an especially memorable moment for all involved.
The design of this compact space was really on point, with the action and the brain teasers surrounding us right from the get go. I especially liked that active puzzles would light up so that we knew which ones we were able to work on at any given moment (often we were working on two or three at a time). The solitary confinement room was a nice touch from both a game and a design perspective as it still managed to keep those suspected to be traitors involved in the action.
All in all, it has been a while since I have experienced an escape room with such a unique twist and I truly found this to be a groundbreaking new adventure. The room was expertly executed from a design, structure, and puzzle standpoint that I really would love to go back to try my hand at this all over again. Better yet, I know there were things we did not even have a chance to try to solve so there is some motivation and the hidden traitor mechanic means I could be playing a completely different role upon a return visit. Fans of cutting edge escape rooms or board games like Betrayal at the House on the Hill should definitely give this a go.