The metallic case that arrived at my door was hefty. It looked straight out of a big-budget spy movie, like something Ethan Hunt or James Bond would tote — some 30 pounds of metal, mystery, gadgets and dossiers. I summoned my best San Jose-style Jason Bourne impersonation as I hefted the case into the house and (with some help) onto the kitchen table. Our family’s mission? Save our city from nefarious forces in less than 90 minutes — and without leaving home.

It’s been a tough 2020 for the Bay Area’s escape room games. These fun hands-on, puzzle-room experiences are great for team building, not so much for social distancing.

Some escape game companies are beginning to reopen with limited capacity and COVID-19 safety precautions, although it may be some time before the public feels entirely comfortable. Real-life “locked room” puzzles are typically played in closed, indoor environments.

Many game companies pivoted to virtual experiences during the long shutdown, with players using Zoom, for example, to send a game guide around the actual escape room. San Francisco’s Escape SF took a different approach. They came up with a way to deliver a fully portable, immersive escape room experience right to Bay Area doorsteps.

Hence the mysterious case delivered by a mysterious stranger on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Dubbed Sabotage, it’s a true — pardon the pun — game changer for local fans looking for an escape room experience during these challenging times. Co-owner Andrew Belov says EscapeSF is the only company offering this type of high-tech home-based game in the Bay Area — and possibly the nation.

“Translating Sabotage to a home environment was as tricky a challenge as any we’ve posed to ourplayers. We’re thrilled with the result,” he says. Pre-pandemic, Sabotage was an actual escape room catering to large groups and corporate clients looking for a team-building activity.

“The home version strikes a nicely inclusive balance for families of all sizes and children of all ages,” Belov says. “The team-building aspects of escape room play really shine in a family environment. (It) offers families a chance to spend a couple of hours actively working together toward a common goal, rather than streaming another movie.”

Getting set up is the easy part: You order the case and book a delivery time at It’s $179 (plus $20 delivery) for two to five players. If your social bubble is larger than that, you can have an additional case delivered to the same address for $129. Afterward, simply repack the case and set it on your doorstep for pickup.

You’ll need two internet-connected devices — laptops, tablets or phones —  to play the game, one for video instructions for your mission, the other for an ongoing Zoom call with a gamemaster. In our case: Agent R.

Once the case is activated, you have 75 minutes to complete the game — which felt like 7,500 minutes less than my team would need, as we stood there motionless and perplexed, trying to figure out how in the world to open this huge case. We watched part of the online video, which sets the storyline and (maybe?) provides a few clues.

Apparently, the Secret Service Agency desperately needed our help to complete this mission. All I could think was, wow, the Secret Service Agency must be really hard up if they need our help. Do they know we can’t even open our spy case?

We dove into the task as best we could, only to run into continuous roadblocks that seemed to put our mission in jeopardy. Fortunately, Agent R was on the other end of the Zoom call, ready to help, and kept the game moving along nicely. We had some fancy spy gadgets at our disposal, which we used somewhat successfully — more successfully with Agent R’s help. And there was a folder filled with clues, which greatly added to our perplexed state. Somehow we managed to make it through one stage after another, as the timer ticked down.

There were five minutes remaining by the time we got to the final stage, which — no pressure! — we needed to solve in order to save much of San Jose from being destroyed by some type of bomb thingy. We did it with four seconds to spare — which Agent R informed us was the “second closet time I’ve ever had before.”

Whew. Saving the day was both exhilarating and exhausting. I was happy I didn’t have to drive all the way home after my escape. I was already there.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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