Psych Ward: A Strategic Game of Trust & Betrayal

Cross Roads Escape Games is all about quality over quantity. Their Hex Room is one of my personal favorite escape rooms. It also pioneered (or at least made popular) the concept of starting players in separate areas with individual challenges. Their latest creation, Psych Ward, has been in the works for quite a long time. It’s finally here, and surprise!…it’s not an escape room.

Where Is My Mind?

Trying to find a good description for Psych Ward is challenging because it is something new. It doesn’t fit into an existing box. It’s similar to an escape room, but there’s no escaping involved. You solve puzzles, but you also try to score points. You work together, but you also know that some of your teammates are sabotaging you.

Eventually, I settled on “puzzle room” but that feels too vague. Perhaps the lesson here is not to try to label things so simplistically. When you tell your friends, give them more than a cursory phrase. Give them a real description. Surely the invention of a new form of entertainment is worth that much?

Mad World

Nope, nothing out of the ordinary here…

As usual with a Cross Roads experience, the theming is wonderful. This extends to the hospital gowns that each person has to put on before entering, which are not only fun but have a gameplay element too. The innovative twist with Psych Ward is this: each person is secretly assigned to the Sane or Insane team. You are free to tell your team affiliation to whomever you want…but of course, with the Insane team working against you, how can you believe anyone?

This upends your thinking on a number of levels. While the room is crammed full of details and intriguing machinery, you’re already eyeing your teammates with suspicion. Some people (like me) may try to form secret sub-alliances with a single person you trust. Some people may also fall victim to lies and trust the wrong person (me again).

Basket Case

There are puzzles and challenges galore, and it’s brilliant that the Insane team is NOT trying to prevent them from being solved. Instead, they’re trying to steal credit for them, which means you (theoretically) really can work with the whole room to solve the puzzles. It’s only in the immediate aftermath that you need to wonder about ulterior motives. You even second-guess yourself! Are you believing the right people? Should you try to tell your suspicions to others?

I can’t stand it when people use the word “literally” instead of “figuratively.” So believe me when I say that Psych Ward is literally a game-changer. It scrambles your brain in a good way and makes you rethink the potential of the Escape Room genre. It is certainly the most replayable room I’ve ever done. I’m already planning a return trip, with new people. We are currently stuck on the terrible “What day is everyone available” puzzle.

I Wanna Be Sedated

Can you tell I was displeased with my friend?

Though I loved Psych Ward, it may not be for everyone. One person in my group had limited puzzle experience, so he really enjoyed the collaborative nature of the few escape rooms he’s done. Psych Ward, with its potential for deception and competition, removed an aspect he liked–working as a team with friends. Additionally, the scoring system, although clever, is a bit complicated to absorb during the introduction. You get the hang of it when you’re in the room, but the first run-through can be confusing. Fortunately I was with several other gamers, and unusual scoring systems are easy for us to grasp.

I’m very excited to go back to Psych Ward, to see if my experience will help my team do better the next time (we lost to the Insane team last time). Cross Roads promises there are more puzzles than you can possibly solve in an hour, so you will get new content on a return visit. They are open Wednesday through Sunday in Anaheim. More information and tickets are available on their website here.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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