A nondescript guy stands in the lobby holding a bright green pizza box and a black paper bag. He says, “Pizza delivery for Kari?” and I nod. He hands me the box, then says, “I also have something off-menu for you,” and hands me the black paper bag. I wonder what this is. Excitedly, I hurry back up to my apartment. Inside the bag is a black box sealed with a sticker containing the words “Vampire.Pizza” surrounded by what look like vampire fangs, only…made out of pizza?
A themed dinner and puzzle game, Vampire (dot) Pizza is reminiscent of an escape room. The experience consists of a box containing seven puzzles (the last of which gets you into a secret vampire coven) and a three-course dinner: salad, pizza (obviously), and dessert. Upon ordering the experience, you have a choice between two different salads and three pizza options. Created by The Wild Optimists (Escape Room in a Box) in collaboration with Ghost Pizza Kitchen, part of the cost goes toward LEIA’s (League of Experiential and Immersive Artists) COVID-19 relief fund for artists. This was the second installation of Vampire (dot) Pizza in Los Angeles – labeled Chapter One – and it seems like there are more to come.
The theme of Vampire (dot) Pizza revolves around Belle’s Family Kitchen – a restaurant acting as a cover for the vampire revolution. Belle is a lonely vampire looking for change who is convinced vampires need to take over the world. She states, “…if humans destroy the earth, we immortals will just be left floating around space without Netflix [and pizza],” and she is determined to recruit vampires to help make the world a better place. “Pizza delivery is how we vampires are going to communicate,” says Belle in a hidden video. However, in order to ensure she recruits the best vampires, she has set up these puzzles to test if you have the skills she needs. These puzzles lead you to the password for the next video (i.e., the end of the game).
The vampire/pizza theme is best seen in the branding, with pizza slices being used to create vampire fangs, and hidden links found online behind virtual slices of pizza. Each puzzle contains references to vampires, pizza, or both. The puzzles themselves vary in difficulty and play to different strengths for a diverse group of people to enjoy. There is a good mix of logic-based, word-based, and visual puzzles. There is even a “hide-and-seek” element to the box, which is a fun addition to the experience. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the puzzles, some created frustration because the directions could have been clearer. For some of the puzzles, it took us many minutes and some experimentation just to figure out what we were supposed to do. The entire game took my partner and I about two hours to finish (not including dinner).
At the start of the experience, you fill out a Special Agent Profile, creating history for your character and stats, much like building a character for a Dungeons and Dragons game. I felt like this piece helped me get into the game more, especially since I am not one who is usually attracted to vampire lore. However, this profile isn’t used for much more of the game, other than Belle telling you how your chosen profession can assist the cause. The immersion of this experience could have been greatly enhanced if a guest’s personal details were added into the game somewhere.
This is my biggest critique of Vampire (dot) Pizza. It felt like more of an escape room-in-a-box than an immersive experience. While all of the elements are fun, the entirety left me wanting more. The puzzles are all print outs, whereas adding a bit of vampire magic/lore (vials of blood, disappearing ink, something to do with reflections, etc.) in the puzzles could have made me feel more immersed in the narrative, instead of solving puzzles only loosely based around a theme. Similarly, there could have been more in-depth storytelling around why Belle is so adamant about starting a revolution. I also would have liked live actor interaction as part of the experience. Even something as simple as having the delivery person dress up and have a few lines of scripted, “in world” dialogue would have created a more immersive event for me. Although this may produce additional challenges for the creators, I would love to see a phone call or Zoom call with live actors as part of the next experience.
The best thing about the night for us was the food. Everything in the three-course meal was delicious. My partner and I ordered a gluten-free Phoenix pizza (essentially buffalo chicken). This was some of the best pizza we’ve had in Los Angeles. The buffalo part was actually spicy, which is saying a lot because we’re a “hot sauce goes on everything, even your morning eggs” type couple, and the gluten-free crust was flavorful with a distinct taste and texture not usually found in gluten-free food.
Overall, Vampire (dot) Pizza is a fun way to spend a few hours on a Saturday night, and we would definitely do it again. The food is amazing and the puzzles kept us entertained. I enjoyed the idea of a secret vampire gang that communicates through pizza and social media, as well as the directive to #fangforce on Instagram once inducted into the gang. Hopefully we’ll see more in-depth immersion as more chapters are released. Given that I received an email from Belle’s assistant a few days after our experience, it’s highly likely this might be in the works.