Dan and I did our first escape room in November of 2018 with my parents, and immediately after the rush that I felt from doing that one, I basically became obsessed. I find escape rooms to be a really fun, immersive puzzle. With clues all over the place that you need to decipher and the teamwork you need to complete the rooms, it’s just a really great bonding experience that can either make your group closer or make you all hate each other by the end. Within a year of finishing our first, we did 18 escape rooms, and at this point, we’ve done 20 total at 8 different locations. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t able to finish all of them in time, but they’re still fun, even if you don’t make it out. Kinda.
After completing so many rooms, we know our escape room style. I have certain things that I look for when booking an escape room, as well as some features within each room that will definitely add or detract from the experience. Honestly, I like the fact that we’ve seen all different kinds of escape rooms, because you don’t really know what you’ll enjoy until you see something that you don’t like. While you can’t see everything about an escape room on the website and in their reviews, I always do my research before we book a room.
Primarily, I prefer to only do private rooms. This means that we will be the only people in our escape room and that they won’t put random people in the room with us. This is paramount for me because I feel like it’s impossible to rely on people you don’t know. I don’t only mean intellect-wise, either. I don’t like the fact that I can’t yell at people I don’t know. I want to be able to point to something and be like, “YOU! Do that thing over there!” and how am I supposed to say that to a stranger!? Information like this (and the ever-important “Will this room scare me!?”) can often be found in the FAQ section of the escape room website. I highly recommend checking out the FAQs before booking!
Once in the room, your Game Master can really make or break a room. The Game Master is your lifeline. They’re the ones who tell you what the room is about and watch you as you go through it. We’ve had Game Masters who were more involved and some who were less-so. Overall, I think that a more involved Game Master makes the game more fun. It can really help relax you if your Game Master is willing to joke around, as long as their joking doesn’t hinder your gameplay. If the Game Master is withholding clues and letting the clock run just to be sassy, that just gets annoying. Yes, we have had this happen to us, and it definitely took away from our experience.
How your Game Master communicates with your group is also important. While the large majority of rooms that we’ve played have had a screen that held our time and was the means of communication with our Game Master, we’ve also been in rooms where the Game Master was unable to hear us or rooms where we had no screen at all. Without a screen, the room was much more stressful because we were unable to see how much time we had left. We could have used our watches, but we didn’t even realize that there was no screen until we were in the room for a while. We just assumed that there must be one to let us know how much time we had left. It added pointless extra stress to the room.
Your Game Master is also assigned to your room to give you help if you get stuck. When you have an involved Game Master, this is no problem. You signal for a clue, and they help you out. No big deal, right? We’ve been to rooms, however, where there was no way to signal for a clue. The Game Master just figured if you were walking around aimlessly long enough that you might need one. Not only does this take away the autonomy of the player, it also removes much of the human aspect between the player and the Game Master. As someone who likes the Game Master to be more involved, this was a huge turn off for me.
When it comes to the content of the room itself, my favorite rooms have always been nonlinear. When I say “nonlinear,” I mean an escape room where there are several puzzles that can be solved at once, as opposed to linear rooms where your group needs to solve one puzzle at a time to advance. With a group of people who are all intelligent and excited to dive in, it can be irritating to have to solve one puzzle at a time to reach your goal. Everyone wants to be able to help out, but when you can only do one puzzle at a time, that’s just not feasible. I like escape rooms best when we can break off into smaller groups and solve different things then come together when we need to solve the harder puzzles.
Finally, the game room needs to be at least somewhat sophisticated. We’ve done everything from immersive rooms with human-sized chess pieces to rooms that we could have recreated in our basement. We definitely have a more enjoyable experience when we feel like we were really thrown into the scene. Escape rooms, in a way, are like jumping into a TV screen. I want to be wowed by the room, not feel like the pieces were bought on Amazon. Like I said before, there’s no way to really know about the Game Master, screens, and flow of the room in advance unless you call the location, but it has been neat to experience different kinds of rooms.
I would love to see if there are some actual statistics on this, but I firmly believe that, when you are able to get something solved within the first 15 minutes, you’re more likely to make it out in time. Not because of the time itself, but because of the group morale. I feel as though our most successful rooms were those where we started to solve puzzles right in the very beginning, because our confidence was high and we were able to plow through the rest. When we are unable to solve anything for the first 15 or 20 minutes, we’re much more likely to lose steam and become unsure, which makes the rest of the room more difficult, even if it wouldn’t be otherwise. Don’t get caught in this trap! These rooms were meant to be tricky. Try to ask for a clue and move on without getting so distraught that it affects your gameplay.
- Look in the FAQs to make sure the rooms are private if you want it to be just your group.
- Get on your Game Master’s good side before entering the room and let them know your experience level so they know what to expect and what level of involvement you want.
- Check for a screen the moment you walk into the room and start a timer if you don’t see one.
- Divvy up your group accordingly once you see how hard the puzzles are and if they need to be solved in order.
- Don’t lose morale if you can’t solve something right off the bat. Ask for a clue and keep going!
- Check out my post on escape room success. Success is 95% guaranteed!*
*A number that I 100% made up. Results may vary!
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/