The first time I walked into Cross Roads Escape Games, years ago, to experience THE HEX ROOM, I was blown away. Luke and Madison Rhoades created something special with it, almost re-inventing how folks played escape rooms. It was clever, unique, and something that other companies have not been able to replicate. Their success continued with THE FUN HOUSE. Though not out-right horror, it still played with the conventional ideas of what an escape room should be. And then, they began to tease their next game, THE PSYCH WARD. Though it’s been almost two years since they started talking about it, and I’ve been waiting patiently this entire time, I can report back that it was well worth the wait.
THE PSYCH WARD isn’t your typical escape room; it’s not even really an escape room. Instead, it’s part escape room, part immersive theater, and part living board game. Whereas most rooms the object is to get out in under an hour, that’s not the case here. You’re not racing the clock, as you will actually WANT to spend every moment of your hour within its walls in order to complete the tasks at hand.
THE PSYCH WARD turns you into test subjects of Dr. Griffin. The good doctor is conducting a social experiment. Each group entering into THE PSYCH WARD will be split into two teams: sane and insane. They will work together, and against each other, in order to solve the most tasks and score the most points. However, you won’t know who is on your team, and you’ll have to try to figure that out on your own as the game progresses.
Each person is assigned a patient number, and given a wristband and hospital gown to wear. Then you are lead into the room, one by one, and asked to scan your wrist band. This will let you know what team you are on. If you’re marked as sane, you’ll be set into the room. If marked as insane, the machine will let you know who your fellow partner in insanity is.
Once the clock starts, it’s a battle of wits and trust, as you will need to work together to solve the tasks in the room. Every time a task is completed, you can scan as many, or as little, wristbands as you’d like in order to score points. If only sane people scan, the sane team gets the points. However, if one insane person scans their wristband amongst the rest of them, the insane team steals all the points. It may sound slightly confusing, but the execution is brilliant. There is a score board that updates every 15 minutes, which shows which team is in the lead.
In addition, every time the score board updates, your group votes which two people they believe to be insane, and they are locked away in the isolation chamber for the next few minutes. But don’t worry, you’re not completely helpless when you’re locked away: there are some hidden things to do that could make your time in the isolation chamber shorter…if you know where to look…
The combination of these two acts (the point scoring and the chamber) leads to a very CLUE-like aspect, trying to figure out who may or may not be insane. It’s a great addition to the game and adds a good bit of strategy to how you play.
The game itself is a LOT of fun. The room is filled with tasks for you to complete. Sometimes the puzzles don’t take much to figure out. Others had us scratching our heads until we reached an “aha!” moment to figure out the next steps. This variation, from simple to incredibly hard, definitely made us put our heads together. It’s a delicate balancing act, because you need your group in order to hold things, but you’re not entirely sure if you can trust them.
At any given moment, there are a handful of tasks to complete, so not everyone has to work on the same thing. In fact, it was kind of fun to work with people, and gauge how they were playing, to try to determine if they were on your team or not. Again, when a task is completed, you get to scan your wristband for points, while another task opened up elsewhere in the room. There was no shortage of things to do, and it made for a lot of fun moments. Each task was wildly different, and the structure of them all was great. This isn’t your standard lock and key-type room; Cross Roads has built some incredible systems to make each action feel unique and fit into the theme of the room.
The “hint” system was clever as well, employing a nurse of Dr. Griffin who was there to assist in many ways. Pay attention, as what may seem like an off-hand comment could actually be a clue in helping you solve something. Our nurse, while being incredibly entertaining, also unlocked additional tasks for us to complete; some of which were in surprising places! It was fun as hell interacting with her, and her interactive puzzles were a fun deviation to partake in.
As per usual, the set design was top-notch. With both Rhoades’ coming from a design background, it’s always known that their stuff is going to be amazing. THE PSYCH WARD looked and felt exactly like you’d expect it to. Considering this is the psychological experiment of a crazed doctor, it set the tone perfectly. Even tiny details, such as a vent in the padded isolation chamber which sometimes played the screams of other patients elsewhere in the facility, are wonderful little touches. And the intake room, which you are in for literally 30 seconds, looked amazing. I was impressed by their level of detail all over. The room may look old and barely functioning, but that’s a testament to the fantastic set design.
Seriously, THE PSYCH WARD was a lot of fun, and a new twist on traditional rooms. Don’t go into this like it’s a typical escape room, expecting to rush through to get out in the least amount of time, because that’s not happening. Instead, enjoy the hour you’re in there (because you WILL be in there for the hour), and really focus on whom you can trust. Appreciate the details. And don’t trust anyone.
Jeff Heimbuch writes. A lot. On a variety of things and in different mediums. He also created the fiction podcasts LIGHT HOUSE and RETURN HOME (of which you can find both on all podcasting platforms), loves all things horror, works in social media, and is probably writing something right now. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok at @jeffheimbuch.