October 11, 2021 – It was the last full day of our tour around the American west, and we still had a long way to go. We started the day in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and we had a reservation at a VRBO in Boise, Idaho. Everything in between was a blank slate. But as I looked to my plan for the day, I realized I really wanted to squeeze in a room at Labyrinth Escape.
The hotel didn’t have any coffee, so I headed outside to explore the surrounding area for options. It was chilly, but not chilly enough to require going back up to the room to pick up a jacket. I’m pretty sure it was above freezing temperature. Dutch Bros. looked too far, Wendy’s was under construction, and Burger King’s lobby was closed due to a staffing shortage. Go figure.
The icy walk had given me some time to think, though. Our original plan for the day included taking our time heading up to Crater Lake, passing through Bend, Oregon (home of the last Blockbuster store), and pulling into our VRBO at an extremely late hour. By redirecting to head straight toward Boise, we could reach Labyrinth before it closed and get to bed at a more reasonable hour. (Or so we thought, before we realized we were staying at a murder VRBO)
One of the big details that drew me toward Labyrinth was how the site advertised its rooms using photos of the actual rooms. Whenever I see this, it usually gets me thinking about how the elements I’m seeing are used in puzzles, and from that point onward, I’m hooked and need to see it with my own eyes.
We booked the Shipwrecked room and hit the road. I was a bit disappointed to miss out on Crater Lake, but we saw quite a few other outstanding sights along the way. We passed through Klamath National Forest for most of the morning and alternated between mountains and plains for most of the drive. I even saw three antelope! It was also really interesting to see how truly remote a town can be; I’ve always considered our place in Crivitz, Wisconsin to be a remote getaway, but Crivitz is a big city compared to some of these towns in the middle of rural Oregon!
As we neared Nampa, we noticed a few neat things. It must have been harvest season, since we saw quite a few trucks hauling massive loads of onions, with loose onions spraying out of the trucks at every bump and collecting near the edges of the road. The air also started giving off hints of a nutty aroma, which we later learned was related to the area’s beet sugar processing.
We pulled in about half an hour early for our appointment, thankful to be nearly done with our long drives. We filled out our waivers in the waiting room and started sending messages to family members letting them know we had reached our destination safely.
The waiting area had an unusual door in it. We could see a sign advertising the “Explorer’s Club,” and through the door we could see an impressively decorated jungle hut motif. Christina and I speculated on what the room could be- maybe an introductory escape room game, or some kind of party room?
The reality was way cooler- it was a bar! Our host encouraged us to grab a drink before our game, and we gladly accepted the offer. We picked up a canned Moscow Mule drink and sipped it while chatting with the bartender.
Our surprises continued- the bartender was the escape room owner and designer! We chatted at length about escape rooms around the world. I’ve always felt that escape room owners and designers are some of the coolest people you can talk to- people who have the creativity to build incredibly impressive and engaging experiences- and I relish the opportunity for conversations like this. I even tipped my hand about how many escape rooms I’ve played, which isn’t usually something I do before I play through the rooms.
After a few minutes, our Shipwrecked room was ready, so we pounded the last of the Moscow Mule and headed for the room. I don’t know if it was the long day on the road or if the drink was just that strong, but the drink hit me hard. I later found that Christina was in the same boat, maybe even worse. I was hoping she was on her A game, and she was hoping I was on mine.
I was still able to follow the introduction to Shipwrecked (which takes place in a very neat time portal room) and get started with the game. We were members of a pirate crew that stole a set of ornamental skulls from an island and needed to return them lest we be cursed.
I hope we were fun to watch, since Christina and I both elected to use the strategy of “call out everything I see and hope my teammate has it together enough to figure out what to do with it.” We struggled for the first few minutes, but after a hint to get us on the road, we started making steady progress.
By the time we got through the first area, the effects of the drink had mostly worn off and we were back to our usual selves, aside from maybe talking a little too loudly or coming up with unorthodox names for things we were interacting with.
The Shipwrecked room was extremely well done, with multiple unique environments and “4D” elements to add some flavor and spice to the thematic presentation. The sets were very convincing and the puzzles had good variety and balance for both seek-and-find and conventional puzzle solving, with a heavy dose of observational elements.
The story made sense and the room had a well-conceived flow, building up the stakes and tension the closer we got to the final puzzle. The room was chock full of neat props that we could interact with, and it really made for an engaging, seamless experience.
We finished the game wanting more. Thankfully, the staff at Labyrinth were willing to accommodate us, and they found a way to get us into the World War II zombie room, Nightwalker 1944.
This time around, we were traveling in time to find the cure for a zombie plague which originated in a German bunker in World War II. We both received flashlights at the start of the game and dove into the experience.
Christina has been notoriously squeamish about attempting rooms with anything vaguely creepy in the theme. Up until a recent trip to St. Louis, Christina had avoided them entirely, and even though she started being more open to attempting them, we were still careful to limit the number of jump scares Christina might be exposed to. A dark bunker with zombies potentially around every corner posed a unique challenge.
One thing I want to pause and commend is Labyrinth’s use of light in this room. One of the most frustrating things is trying to read or examine details with insufficient light. Though the Nightwalker room used darkness extensively to add to the atmosphere, Labyrinth gave us each a high-powered, but narrow-focused, light to explore with. It worked incredibly well and balanced immersion with usability to make a top tier experience.
The room relied less on jump scares than I expected for a zombie room. I personally like this approach since it allows the atmosphere to develop with a little more nuance. I’ve commented before on a similar technique used in the Annabelle room at Deadlock near St. Louis, Missouri- sometimes the best scares are the ones your mind creates for you. The atmosphere in Nightwalker 1944 is possibly the closest I’ve felt to being in a classic survival horror video game (think the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, etc.) and it’s going to stick with me for a while.
Like Shipwrecked, Nightwalker 1944 had a phenomenal progression through the space as we progressed toward our objective, and also like Shipwrecked, the climax was intense and rewarding. The final puzzle was strong and capped the experience with a wonderful touch of theming that gave us a little something extra to remember our visit by.
We found the cure and saved the day- a perfect end for a long day on the road.
Our experience at Labyrinth is one of my highlights of our week-long trip. Labyrinth has more than I ever asked for in an escape room- plenty of rooms, phenomenal puzzles and sets, and a freaking awesome bar that itself looks like it could be an escape room. I feel rewarded for my decision to switch up our schedule for the day to make it to Labyrinth, and I’m starting to think about when and how I can make it back out to Nampa to try the rest of the rooms there.
One other crucial element I haven’t mentioned yet is the commitment at Labyrinth to providing a great experience. Game masters are referred to as “travel agents” and engage with players to a level I rarely see to make sure the experience is tuned just right for each audience. As a customer experience nerd, I’ve often noted how much value a good game master has for making a top tier experience. For having a large facility with so many rooms, Labyrinth does an impressive job ensuring each group gets the appropriate attention for a great experience, and I really appreciate that.
Flights from Chicago to Boise usually aren’t the cheapest, but having plenty of rooms left to try at Labyrinth makes me confident that a trip there just to play escape rooms (and maybe get some more unique Idaho potato snacks) would be well worth the journey.
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