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Review: Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny

The most wacky, backwards backwoods family you’ve ever done see sets the scene for an immersive adventure that’s goofier than a pet coon! This is Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny – a slapstick comedy escape game that transports players into a cartoon world full of Hollywood-quality set pieces, theatrical lighting, cued audio, special effects and more than a few dead animals!

Though posted within our Reviews section, this entry will not include a Key Rating. As a team, we at Escape Authority feel the correct thing to do is disclose that I was the Creative Director of this attraction, and while I am excited to share its final results with you, our readers, I cannot officially endorse it in order to remain neutral to other games we have and will continue to review.

I reckon’ thar’s nothin’ in this life more special than family, unless of course that family is the family your family’s been fussin’ and a’ feudin’ with for I‘d say more’n six decades! ‘Round these here parts, ev’body’s fixin’ to take a side, ‘tween either Big Maw Bertha’s litter or Small Paw Sampson’s kinfolk. Trouble is no one really knows why, but why’s not what this here story’s ‘bout.

This here’s a classic story of love, betrayal, moonshine and sabotage! See Maw and Paw, they may think different ‘bout most things but the one thing they both ’got in common is liquor. Maw and Paw both love their moonshine – separately, ‘course – and ‘fact is Maw and Paw both got mighty rich from it too. Truth be true no one really remembers why Maw and Paw started their feudin’ sixty-two and a quarter years ‘go, but none’a that matters none now ‘much as it matters they’re each other’s only competition in the local Moonshinin’ Market, and you can be sure as a one-eyed possum loves his tater tots that either one would give their fortune to see the other one outta’ business – well, most of it anyway.

For years Paw and Maw had been runnin’ neck and jiggly neck with each other but Maw reckon’s she might could have a new secret recipe so good it’ll put hair on your chest, and Paw outta’ business for good – and you can bet yer’ ole Paw ain’t havin’ none of neither! She’s fixin’ to hold a Hootenanny tonight celebrate the launch of her new brew, so there ain’t much tickin’ and a’ tockin’ left on the old time wheel for Paw to stop’er before its too late. ‘Cept ev’body round these here parts knows Paw, so he sure’n can’t just stumble into Maw’s shack himself ‘cuz she’d spot him quicker than a hog on chocolate grits!

Even a blind toad what’s got just three feet can see that’s where you come in. No one would ever suspect them fancy city folk – what with them shoes and not a single toe in sight – is really Paw’s ninth cousins thirteen times removed. It’s time to defend that family honor which’n no one quite understands and put Maw outta’ business ‘fer good. Ya best be hurrin’ cuz Maw will be back soon. Paw‘s kin’ll give you the tools you’re gonna need to do the job. So what are y’all waiting for? Stop listenin’ to me yammer on like a skunk in pie-eatin’ contest and break into Maw’s shack and blow her ‘shine-maker still to smithereens!

Who says everything needs to feel the same? Who said every game needs to be about danger and life-or-death urgency? Serious stories set in serious environments absolutely have their solid place in this industry – but I’ve already done that with The Legend of Atlantis.


(or in this case, the outhouse.)

Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny aims to fill a bizarre genre void in the hundreds and hundreds of games I’ve personally played: Comedy.

And boy howdy, is it bizarre.

You and your cousins start your adventure “outside,” in the fenced in yard at Big Maw Bertha’s shack on Moonshine Hill. The ground under your feet is the most realistic looking grass old Bertha could get to grow in such a shaded area under complete tree cover. Forget about finding a ceiling in this scene; every square inch over your head is covered by the leaves of the oak tree sprouting from the middle of the yard. And from that tree hangs a quaint bench swing, dangling precariously from a snapped rope (your first hint that Bertha is a… mighty woman.)

Naturally, an outhouse sits in the corner of the yard, locked for privacy.

The porch railing, lined with the ever-classy touch of chicken wire held by zip ties and duck tape has clearly been recently smashed through, with muddy footprints leaving a crooked trail straight from the grass, *through* the rail and into the shack. Don’t worry; she didn’t knock down her favorite pink lawn flamingo when she came stumbling home the other night.

Dozens of mismatched birdhouses line the side of her shack. Wind Chimes and Christmas lights line the porch, without regard for just what season it may currently be. Electrical wires are everywhere (and though I’m not here to judge, it does appear that they originate over the fence from the neighbor’s house.)

There’s art to making an attraction with a six figure budget

look at first glance as though it had almost none!


And then there’s the security cameras. Have you ever played a highly immersive attraction, only to be somewhat taken out of the storyworld by “the necessary evils” of an escape game, like security cameras hanging in all the corners? Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny takes that topic we all try to ignore and embraces the hell out of it – intertwining the actual game cameras with literally dozens of fake cameras, and sticking them abso-freaking-lutely everywhere.

Clearly security is important to Bertha.

Once inside the shack, things take an even wackier turn, as your dead center sightline immediately upon opening the door is the lovely Claudette, Bertha’s prized possum, who is not only dead center, but also, well, dead. Donning angel wings, surrounded by her favorite toys and favorite bone, Claudette sits next to a pet memorial stone, and is protected by “security bars” (read: more chicken wire, and for good measure, yet another security camera.)

“No Probin’ & A’ Proddin’ Claudette! She’s a’ angel now!”

This use of scenic is an intentional means of extending the story well past the game’s preshow, and using it in such a way that each action you take furthers the narrative and leads players deeper and deeper into Bertha’s wacky storyworld – including the ultimate reveal of just what caused old Maw & Paw to start their fussin’ & a’ feudin’ so many years ago!

The Bath Still Room hides the key to Bertha’s successful brew, her “incredibly high tech” moonshine maker.

Gaining access through the many locks which line the door to Maw’s Secret Stash Room will bring you and your cousins a lot closer to Bertha than you may have been prepared to ever get.

And if you’re still wondering about that last door, I have but one thing to say to you, cousins:

What is your fascination with the Forbidden Closet of Mystery?!

The sights, sounds and yes – even smells – of Bertha’s shack are everywhere, making it impossible to not become immersed into her backwards cartoon world.

Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny uses its scenic to not only tell the story of this attraction, but also as a  sort of love letter to all of the things that shaped my own personal sense of humor through the years – from growing up until today. If you’re a fan of tv shows like The Simpsons or The Office, you’ll find more tongue-in-cheek references hidden throughout this game’s decor than hair’s on Bertha’s chin!

You may even find a cleverly placed easter egg from the venue’s first game, The Legend of Atlantis!

I’ve said it many times, but to me, one defining feature of a great Escape Room is not only immersive story telling, but puzzles that don’t just fit with – but enhance – that story world.


THE GOAL FROM THE START WITH Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny WAS TO not only ENSURE EACH PUZZLE MAKES COMPLETE STORY SENSE, but also makes players laugh while doing so.


The puzzles scattered throughout old Maw’s shack on the Hill presented a unique design challenge: not only did they need to inspire that “ah ha!” reaction from players, but they also a just as powerful “ha ha!”

As in The Legend of Atlantis, you won’t find a single puzzle here just for the sake of being a puzzle. Every step builds in your slapstick adventure to help your old Small Paw Sampson sabotage Bertha’s moonshine still. Cousins start in the yard, and are handed a fully stuffed hobo stick without explanation. In it, you’ll find some tools vital to succeeding in your mission, as well as some of Paw’s personal belongings that he may or may not have forgotten to unpack first. Not only will you break into Bertha’s shack, but you’ll actually gather all the necessary ingredients to make – and sabotage – her moonshine, physically mix them, and if you get it just right, blow up her shack in an epic explosion that literally shakes the very structure of the building.

To further paint the picture of how story-driven the puzzle steps are, as part of this game’s design process, I actually did in-depth research on how old-time moonshine was made out in the nearby backwoods of the Great Smokey Mountains. Many of the puzzle steps directly connect to the real-world history behind them, albeit in a crazy, cartoon-ized way.

Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny again pushes the envelope of gameplay technology,  including some puzzles that have never been seen before within the realm of an escape game, literally invented in my own wacky mind and brought to life by our very talented tech-team.

I sometimes forget just how tech heavy  this game is – and that’s because there is no tech just for the sake of having tech; Every instance is artfully presented in a way that it feels organic and natural. Like any good illusion, much of the tech that makes this game so cool is basically invisible to the guest, and seemingly unfolds as magic before their eyes.


I’m often asked which of my first two games to open is my favorite, and frankly, the answer differs by the day. I’m in love with the epic, adventure-driven immersive storyworld of The Legend of Atlantis – pitting players into a real-life Indiana Jones-flavored fantastical world. But on the other hand, I was basically “raised” by The Simpsons – and Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny was an incredible opportunity to let a little more of my own goofy personality shine through.

This game was also written to be a bit of a love letter to the real escape room enthusiasts out there – poking fun at some of the things that drive us all crazy like price tags (in this case – intricately designed prop tags) left all over everything, and a little zing at those venues that think it’s ok to have red herring puzzles which lead nowhere.

Between the two options at Gatlin’s Escape Games, the player experience couldn’t be more different. Beyond the aforementioned stylistic variations, The Legend of Atlantis opens up to become a free-flow game where explorers can tackle several different puzzles in any order. Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny is intentionally a more linear experience to even further differentiate it from the venue’s first game.

Both games are very different from each other, but Big Maw Bertha’s Fussin’ & A’ Feaudin’ Moonshine Hill Hootenanny is simply different from *everything* else I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how, at the time, no one else had created a comedy-based game in the United States – and even since I’ve only seen one other. I like to think it’s proof that the escape game genre can appeal to an even wider audience, offering laughs and fun in an entirely different way than we’ve become traditionally used to.

At the end of the day, nothing will ever be more important to me than story. It’s where the cousins begin their adventure, and appropriately where it concludes. Failing your sabotage mission means getting caught by a very angry Big Maw Bertha (let’s face it – she just had to lumber uphill to get home *and* she’s run out of turkey legs to eat!)

But succeed and it’s time for old Paw to celebrate! Thanks to you cousins, he’s gonna be rich – perhaps even rich enough to reinvest in some new tin foil hats to stop a pretty big ‘Spiracy going down in these here hills, but more on that next time.

A cliffhanger?! Could there be a sequel in the works for the “timeless” story of old Maw & Paw? The way I see it there’s two possible answers: one which ain’t, and one that’s knee-high on a grasshopper. Which type ain’t you ain’t? Ya’ll come back now.







Venue:  Gatlin’s Escape Games

Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Number of Games: 2


Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 6 people

Group Type: Public  / You may be paired with strangers.

Cost: $28.98

Oh – and one last warning:


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Gatlin's Escape Games - Big Maw Bertha's Fussin' & A' Feudin' Moonshine Hill Hootenanny
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