Escape room games are becoming more and more popular in every part of the world.
No matter if you tried one already or just heard about it from a friend, it’s without a doubt one of the best activities to do as a team-building exercise.
Live escape games are a relatively new concept that was first launched in Silicon Valley in 2006 by a group of programmers and rapidly became very famous.
The next popular escape room appeared in Japan in 2008 and so it started…
The whole concept was inspired by once popular online games with the same name: “escape room games”.
I don’t know if you ever played one, but they were very well known when I was in high school, at the beginning of 2000’s that is.
The whole point of an online escape room is for you to escape a room – Duh!
Obviously, the plots can be very different and sometimes connected to famous books or movies.
I just played an online escape game – Elements and I think it’s not a bad representation of what all online escape games are about.
But enough with nostalgia and back to our main topic, the real life escape games!
Currently, escape room games are springing up like mushrooms overnight and there are more and more of them in each city.
I remember having just one or two in London and everyone waited with anticipation for the themes to change.
If you are new to escape room games, this post will help you with an explanation of what to expect from a game and where to find the best ones.
First things first:
Live escape games are played with a team of a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 10 people.
Most of the games take place in a series of rooms, where a player needs to solve a set of puzzles in order to move from one room to another.
Most of the games I visited featured between 2-5 different rooms.
One game lasts for 60 minutes and you will always have a timer on a wall, as the main goal of the game is for you to exit the room, as soon as possible.
Most escape room games have their own wall of fame for each game. Some great escapologists can even exit a completely new room in 15 minutes.
There are world famous escape room players who compete between each other, travelling the world and playing the games.
Sometimes, you will come to an escape room and see the same face all over again.
My best ever time was 37 minutes and I think we were just very lucky to have a very organised and intelligent team.
I would love to see someone getting out of the room in less than 15 minutes.
But, let’s get back on track.
There are ultimately two ways in which you can go about your escape room experience.
The first one is enjoying the game and trying to solve as many puzzles as possible, whilst getting out within the time limit.
The second one is more popular around people who really want to get on the wall of fame.
Frankly, I think it’s not as much fun as the first one.
Basically, you will always be given a walky-talky when you get into the room. You may use the walky-talky to communicate with the game master.
The game master may also decide to contact you on walky-talky anytime he/she feels you need help or are going in a “wrong direction”.
If you feel stuck yourself, or don’t want to focus on one task for too long you may as well ask a game master for a hint.
Now, some escape rooms will penalise you for using those hints.
However, some don’t. That’s where you can really go all out on trying to use as many hints as possible and getting on the wall of fame.
Usually, you will be penalised 1 minute per each hint that will be added to your exit time at the end of the game.
I strongly recommend playing fare and only using hints as a last resort option.
We play games to have fun, don’t we?
Escape room puzzles may vary greatly and I would like to list some of the types in this post. I won’t post any spoilers though, as I want you to enjoy your first (or next) game as much as possible.
In my opinion all escape room puzzles can be divided in the following categories:
- Searching and sorting
- Locks with passwords
- Batteries and gadgets that need fixing
- Fun stuff: remote control cars, smelling, coding, or whatever was the freakiest idea that came to the mind of the escape room inventor.
All of these categories come in various forms and shapes and I guess it won’t be a big spoiler, if I just explain what you should expect from a “usual game”.
You should pretty much know the tricks if you ever played an online escape game before.
If you haven’t you will understand it well as soon as you do your first game, but I think you will be much more effective with this manual.
Searching and sorting through the escape room
Many escape rooms will start from you having to ferret around the room to find loose items.
That may or may not be useful.
Very often an escape game master will tell you in advance if there are any items in the room that you should not touch.
Most of the items that have no direct relationship to your escape will be marked with a sticky tape or colour-coded in some other way.
Don’t waste your time and make game masters nervous.
Really, leave those items alone!
You are much better off focusing on the small loose items that will most likely matter.
My strategy is to make some space in the middle of the room and put everything there.
After you are done examining the room, you and your team can have a look through what you have gathered.
Most items will be related to puzzles and you will most likely understand what you need to be looking for further.
You may as well divide the tasks and puzzles between each other.
It’s quite possible that you will be able to find some keys through the initial search.
So have a look around for a lock that the key will open.
My experience tells me that on the first stage of the game you will be able to open at least one lock with at least one key found in the first search.
Some games however will want you to work harder.
After you are done searching for items you will need to start solving puzzles.
Calculating and solving Logical puzzles
After you have your hands full with items it’s time to understand what are you meant to do with them.
I should warn you: some items will not be colour-coded and will look like you should be using them, but most likely some of the items will simply be a red herring.
I once played a game that was mostly based on distracting us from the things that mattered.
There were magazines with different writings, color-coded tin cans, a world map cut in pieces etc.
Guess how surprised we were when we understood that none of them had anything to do with the game.
The whole game was actually relatively easy, if you remove all of the attention traps.
Most rooms will not focus on deceiving you, so it is what it is.
Some puzzles will need you to solve an equation. For example something like this:
ITEM1 + ITEM 2 + ITEM 3 = ??
The items above will have numbers written on them and you will have to calculate the sum.
You will most likely discover a coded lock or a simple key lock somewhere in the room.
Locks with Passwords as an escape room puzzle
Very often after you solved a puzzle you will have a number or a number and letter combination.
The places where you need to input the number may vary greatly.
Sometimes it will be simple, like in the example above.
From time to time however, you would need to input it in a computer software, open a safe, lockbox or a briefcase.
At some point briefcases truly became popular between escape room designers.
I won’t lie if I say that 90% of all rooms I’ve been to had a briefcase and in some rooms it was on the final stage of the game.
At some stage of the game – and again we are talking about 70% of all places I’ve been to – you will need to fix a gadget.
Batteries and gadgets that need fixing to exit the room
There are two ways in which the game may flow. You may either find the gadget and not have batteries for it, or find the batteries and not have a gadget for it.
The first option is more likely to happen.
Now, the batteries will most likely be used for one of the following gadgets:
- A torch
- A radio
- An item with a display (scales or clock)
If an item in question is a torch, then get ready to find a dark room next, or more likely if it’s a UV-torch get ready to turn off the lights and search lighting up the walls around you with that torch to find more clues.
Now, if you have a radio, then be ready to play the radio.
Most likely you will know what wave to listen it on or will simply listen to a tape.
There is a quite a high chance of you getting your clue by listening to a recording.
A good example of a radio puzzle will be you hearing the following que of sounds:
Barking dog – a roaster – sheep – a cow
Each animal also represents a number you found earlier, so you will have your password to probably yet another code-lock.
The items with a display work in the same way. The number displayed will most likely be your answer.
Nonetheless, we once had a scale and in order to find answers to an equation we had to weight different items and solve an equation with the weights we found.
I really hope that you will be lucky and will go to a room whose designer is a little more creative.
As in any business out there some rooms will be very cool, but some will be disappointing.
So what really makes a cool room cool?
Well, first of all it’s the game play flow.
The escape room designer needs to understand very well how most of us think and what will the potential client will expect to do next.
Rooms with too much “out of the box” thinking often become a disaster.
We played a game when we needed to escape from the Pharaoh chamber and I will be honest with you – it was so “artificial” that it was very hard to get.
For example: in order to solve one puzzle, we needed to stand on different parts of the floor for a door to open and it was supposed to be a “mysterious magic of the past”.
Basically, we knew that the code was: bird, beetle, snake and scorpion.
There were various animals drawn on the floor and walls.
The task was to stand or press on the picture of the right animal.
We probably spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure this out and we asked for a hint after.
We don’t usually just touch walls for doors to open – right?
But if the creator is creative and understands what’s logical and what’s not – expect some great fun surprises.
For example, in one of the rooms we had a remote controlled car with a camera that we had to navigate through the tunnel under the floor.
The car carried a key to the final lock to exit the room.
We all thought that it was cool, logical and smart.
In another room I heard of you will need to smell different pieces of paper and identify the smell of each of them to solve the final puzzle.
All in all, the more unexpected the better, as long as it’s logical.
In my experience the last puzzle is usually the best one.
As I understand escape room owners may decide to design an escape room themselves or buy a franchise.
If it’s a franchise you will know it is by its name. A very popular one is Claustrophobia
The note of warning here: be careful not to go in the same room twice in different towns or countries.
If you have already played many games it might be useful for you to read this blog post by Fred Pedersen: 101 best puzzle ideas for escape rooms.
He mostly writes for escape room owners, but he lists some interesting statistics in regards to most popular and least popular escape room puzzles.
I hope this post will help you exit your next room.
If you have any questions about escape games or have some cool rooms to suggest just leave us a comment.
Visit Time Race Manchester for one of the UK’s most immersive escape experiences.