When I got an email from Trapped describing their new “audio escape room” adventure, my interest was immediately piqued. In 2019, Christina and I had previously had one big adventure involving Trapped, driving to Minneapolis during a blizzard to catch the final day of their Legend of Lyndale House game (a 90 minute escape room using a full multi-story house as the set). That game left a lasting memory for us, so the idea of playing one of Trapped’s games from home sounded almost too good to be true.
We’ve been dabbling in a number of online escape room games, from playing team-based video games over Discord to trying some of the remote games where the game master shows off a real escape room by video. But the “audio escape room” format seemed different than any of these.
What is an “audio escape adventure”?
First things first, all players sign onto Discord and join their game master on a private voice / chat server. This solution worked elegantly and made it wonderfully easy to keep the game organized.
Players start with a map of the room and a spoken introduction of the game scenario and the environment. As players progress, more visuals related to puzzle elements in the room are revealed, giving players more to work with to solve the room’s many puzzles. The game master narrates and responds to the players’ suggested actions.
Others in my group commented that this plays out like a game of Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve never played D&D, but as a long-time puzzle gamer, it reminded me of playing Zork, a classic computer adventure game that told a story through quality narration.
Both Dungeons & Dragons and Zork proved long ago that you can create a very engaging adventure using words, imagination, and a well-crafted scenario.
One of the benefits of this setup is that the players can try literally anything and the game master can make it happen in game. For example, a player might say “Light myself on fire using the matches,” and the game master could respond back with “You hold the lit match up to your shirt and the fabric catches fire. After about ten seconds you start to ask yourself WHY DID I DO THIS??? and stop, drop, and roll. You have one less match.”
Our game master (Brian W) did a fantastic job humoring all of our goofy suggestions and truly building this experience into something more than a home game. There are a few escape room home games similar in concept puzzle-wise, most notably the Thames and Kosmos “adventure games” series. While the puzzle interactions may be similar, I found that having a dedicated, engaging game master for Herbert’s Laboratory was well worth the price of admission, and it elevated the experience.
How do the puzzles work?
One of the things that impressed me about the game was how much everyone could participate. Because players request commands one at a time from the game master, it’s a natural behavior to powwow before making decisions or moving from step to step.
Because everyone is looking at the same materials, most of the puzzles are logic-based, with a good number of outside-the-box thinking challenges and a healthy helping of keeping track of all the details you find, so you can use them when they become relevant later.
Here’s a quick visualization of the kinds of puzzles involved (add 2 to memory if your group doesn’t bring enough pen/paper to write notes).
I especially appreciated with Herbert’s Laboratory how the puzzles organically fit into the story. Every “aha” moment is accompanied by some level of story progression, and most of the puzzles come from thoroughly examining the logical consequences of actions you can take in the environment. This allows players to use a broad set of problem solving skills, akin to real world troubleshooting, which is a nice touch.
How was the experience?
So analogies and puzzle breakdown aside, what did we think? Simply put- everyone enjoyed it greatly. My team was on the more experienced side, with the least experienced members having solved at least 50 escape rooms, and we still found the puzzles gave us a good mental workout.
The audio escape adventure format is really cool. It’s fun playing around with the core mechanic of engaging the game master to explore the space, and the well designed puzzles cement Herbert’s Laboratory as an excellent experience. Trapped has developed a game with lasting appeal that will still draw an audience long after the lockdowns have ended and life is back to normal.