So How Does it Work?

The ERA team loves observing trends within the escape room industry. We study where people are going, which cities are building up faster than others, and which cities aren’t as filled with escape room enthusiasts as some would predict. So when we had an opportunity to revisit Buffalo, NY (one of North America’s hottest growing cities for escape rooms) we couldn’t resist… no seriously, Buffalo actually IS one of the continent’s fastest growing markets for escape rooms, and enthusiasts are starting to multiply there quickly. Ok ok, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at The House of Secrets from our friends at Lock & Key to see if they are part of the trend…

As mentioned in our previous visit to Lock & Key, the entrance to their primary location is a bit hard to find due to the entrance being in an alleyway. They’ve since added a second location across the road which is very easy to find, but we were in the original location for this visit. The waiting area is comfortable with couches and tables, but fairly basic with a no frills approach in terms of entertainment or refreshments. The owners and staff are incredibly kind, interactive, and have a way of making you feel at home which is also a nice touch.

The physical room design and quality for The House of Secrets is very good. We were impressed by the level of quality building materials and props. One thing we particularly enjoyed was the lack of “do not touch” signs. It still amazes us how many designers and owners believe it’s an enjoyable experience for participants to walk into a room with a list of things they’re not allowed to interact with. This is definitely not the case here, and made us appreciate the room even more! The only drawback was the visible ventilation system in the corner of the room. Ironically it still fit within the theme of the room which impressed us further (i.e. turning a potential room weakness into a strength). This of course ties into the immersive aspects of the room…

The atmosphere created by the impressive room design was complimented by something our team absolutely loves… an engaging story that develops THROUGH the room. Imagine going to the movies and you discover your ticket will cost about $25-$30. Now how happy would you be if the entire plot of the movie was revealed in a three minute trailer right before it even started? A selective few might not care, but we’re guessing most would feel the same way we do: “Why in the world would you tell us the whole story before the movie even started?!!” Escape rooms are no different. If people are paying for an immersive experience, they want to feel like they’re part of the development, not knowing where the story will take them. The House of Secrets is excellent in this regard! We had a general idea what was going on, but throughout the entire time we were given snippets of information which led to even more suspense and mystery. For each new discovery, and bit of information, we genuinely cared how it connected to the bigger story we were trying to unravel… Truth be told, we’re hoping there’s a part two for this story on the horizon because it was presented so well!

The puzzles added nicely with just the right amount of variety and skills needed. We didn’t experience any bottlenecking, and we liked the synergy that was created through the use of collaborative puzzles. The hint system is something we wanted to highlight because of how simplistic and effective it was. Clues are unlimited and the game host simply offers a slip of paper under the door when the team shows signs of frustration or missed observation. It’s completely up to the participants if they want to read the hint or struggle for a bit longer. This leaves the power of choice with them while not feeling intruded upon. Fellow owners and game masters please take note however: This hint system is great, but the real strength lies within the instincts of the game master. Our game master knew instinctively when to slide that piece of paper under the door, which again, if one doesn’t understand the importance of why instincts and timing matter, it’s better to find a different hint system. One thing we agreed could be improved upon is the amount of standard three, four, and five digit locks – there were quite a few. More keys, magnets, or even different types of locking mechanisms would’ve helped, but in fairness we were so engaged in the room’s atmosphere, story, and puzzles, the locks didn’t bother us too much.

And did this room add to Buffalo being one of the new hotspots for escape rooms? You betcha! Sometimes a room doesn’t have to be the best in a particular area in order to be incredibly fun. This room simply had a great balance of all the things we look for. The House of Secrets has a good mixture of puzzles, an engaging and well developed story, and good set design… put them all together and you have one great room! And here’s the best part, this room can be enjoyed by almost anyone! There’s nothing too scary, offensive, or overly complicated that would keep anyone from enjoying it. The thematic use of “dark magic” might be a little uncomfortable for those from conservative backgrounds, but even then we felt it wasn’t overdone. This truly is a room for all beginners, enthusiasts, young, old, and those in between. We’d suggest an ideal team size of 3-6 people depending on the level of engagement you want with the story and puzzles.