Game Design,  Travel

best of palace games escape rooms: houdini, roosevelt or edison?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have played all of Palace Games’ in-person escape rooms.  Located at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Palace Games offers the trio of The Great Houdini Escape Room, The Roosevelt Escape Room and The Edison Escape Room.

Each room costs (as of writing) $410 for a recommended 6-8 players, which is $50+ per person.  In my opinion, all these rooms are worth the price.  Certainly out of the escape rooms in the Bay Area, I can’t recommend the Palace Games ones more.

In this blog post, I want to compare the Houdini, Roosevelt and Edison rooms so you can decide which room is right for you on the occasion of your visit.  I will start with some quick recommendations and then go into a more in-depth, spoiler-free review on the strengths of these escape rooms from a design perspective.

Palace Games also has a fourth in-person experience available, called The Attraction, which I’ve written about in detail.  It’s significantly different from these three escape rooms, so I haven’t included it in this post.  The Attraction acts more like an interactive story with puzzles than a competitive escape room game.

Inside The Great Houdini Escape Room at Palace Games. Image from: Palace Games

Houdini, Roosevelt, Edison: Which Palace Games Escape Room Should You Play?

1. If you are only doing one Palace Games escape room (e.g. visiting from out of town, or only want to do one):

  • The Roosevelt Escape Room is the best all-round experience, combining solid puzzles with the best story progression out of the three.

2. If you want to do all three Palace Games escape rooms:

  • There is no required story order for the rooms, as they are entirely separate experiences.  But I would recommend doing them in chronological order of their opening, so you can see the evolution of Palace Games’ designs.  So, Houdini, Roosevelt, Edison.

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3. Best for larger groups:

  • The Great Houdini Escape Room is best-suited for large groups as there are a lot of puzzles that require splitting up into small groups or even solving them in pairs or individually.  In fact, this room used to be available to groups as large as 12, so there’s definitely enough space.

4. Best for smaller groups:

  • The Edison Escape Room is best-suited for small groups, with teams as small as 4 eligible to try their hand at Thomas Edison’s puzzles.  You may also find that some tasks are more spacious and less crowded with smaller groups.

5. If you are looking for cool tech and like video games:

  • The Edison Escape Room has the most advanced tech with some cool sensor work that makes you feel like you’re in a video game.  Fans of interactive technology and gamers will appreciate this one the most.

6. For less-experienced and more-experienced escape room players:

  • All the rooms have a similar difficulty level, though they might be split up in different ways.  For example, The Great Houdini Escape Room has you working separately on many small simple puzzles and them putting them together, while the Roosevelt and Edison rooms have much more interconnection of the disparate puzzles from the outset.
  • For all Palace Games escape rooms, it’s probably helpful to have one or two people who have done an escape room before.  Doing so will ensure you get the chance to see more of these elaborate experiences rather than getting stuck near the beginning.
The Edison Escape Room at Palace Games, with a picture of Thomas Edison.  Image from: Palace Games

Best of the Houdini, Roosevelt and Edison Escape Rooms at Palace Games

Each of the rooms has their own strengths in design.  Here are the single best highlights from each of the Houdini, Roosevelt and Edison rooms.

Poster for The Great Houdini Escape Room at Palace Games. Image from: Palace Games

The Great Houdini Escape Room: Best for Staging and Theatrical Effects

Very much the starter escape room at Palace Games, The Great Houdini Escape Room is also the room that started it all for the company.  The backstory, that Harry Houdini created a puzzle room to test eight great minds at the 1915 World Fair, lines up nicely with the mythos of the Palace of Fine Arts.  Placing magician Harry Houdini in the spotlight also lends itself to the practical effects in the room.

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The Great Houdini Escape Room made its mark on the escape room scene in the Bay Area because of these effects, which will awe players if only because we’re not used to having so much real stuff happening in favour of screens these days.  The concept of “show” is, fittingly, at the centre with this one.

To this day, the room is the strongest of the Palace Games’ offerings in terms of physical props, lighting and sound design, and stage effects.  In turn, it uses interesting lights and sounds not just for dramatic effect, but to mark progress in the puzzles and to highlight the occurrence of important events.

Houdini was also Palace Games throwing down the gauntlet with the high budget and production value that would become standard for its rooms going forward.

Poster for The Roosevelt Escape Room at Palace Games. Image from: Palace Games

The Roosevelt Escape Room: Best for Cohesive Story Progression

I recommend The Roosevelt Escape Room as the strongest offering from Palace Games because it has the best cohesion and story progression amongst the escape rooms at the Palace of Fine Arts.

The sense of history and the setting of World War I is more pronounced in The Roosevelt Escape Room than The Great Houdini Escape Room‘s backstory.  While Houdini is an escape room themed as an escape room in 1915, The Roosevelt Escape Room actually feels more historical.

The Roosevelt Escape Room does a better job at telling a progressive story than most escape rooms, so playing it feels like participating in a story rather than simply solving a sequence of puzzles.  The puzzles are well-themed to the time and the whole experience puts players on a journey that builds up from the start to a unique and fun conclusion.

The Roosevelt Escape Room has a good cohesion between puzzle, theming and storytelling, with each enhancing the other.  The puzzles are not prohibitively difficult, but moreso, they use props and items that fit into the story that the room is telling.  And its memorable ending provides a thematically fun experience that also has some fun puzzle elements and activities.

Poster for The Edison Escape Room at Palace Games. Image from: Palace Games

The Edison Escape Room: Best for Innovative Technology and Experimentation

The highlight in Palace Games’ Edison Escape Room is the technology involved in the puzzles.  It’s plain fun to be put in the video-game-like situations that The Edison Escape Room delivers.  The escape room is mostly focused on these puzzles, which use sensors and light (see: Edison) in interesting ways.

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The downside of this tech is that it can become glitchy if not maintained or as the room ages.  There were one of two small things that didn’t work on my visit, which was a disappointment to the whole experience.  Still, it is inspiring to see Palace Games push the boundaries and experiment with cool new puzzles that are difficult to create for the average escape room.

The weakest part of The Edison Escape Room is its story.  Out of the three rooms, players have to know the least about its namesake (Edison) going in to appreciate it, and will have learned the least going out.  However, this sacrifice in favour of more interesting puzzles and tech does not make the room any less engaging.

Overall Best Escape Room at Palace Games: The Roosevelt Escape Room

While all these rooms are excellent, The Roosevelt Escape Room is just an edge above the other two.  Escape rooms are strongest when they focus on story and create puzzles around their theme.  Roosevelt goes one step further and creates a storyline that has progression and lots of fun moments — a worthwhile experience for the escape room veteran and newbie alike.