Weekend Blast - Escape Rooms

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My Two Bits: Escape Rooms

I have a huge love for the “point and click” adventure video games that Lucasarts and Sierra put out in the 80’s and 90’s.  Space Quest, King’s Quest, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Leisure Suit Larry, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle and on and on.  The problem with these games were they tended to be short, and once you beat them, there wasn’t a lot of replay value to them.  Don’t get me wrong, I would still replay them even when I knew how to get through all the puzzles since many of them had great stories and a great sense of humor.

A while back, my kids (mostly through their Grandma) really started to get into point and click adventure games on their tablets, including “Escape Rooms.” While I don’t think most of these games have the same charm the old Sierra and Lucasarts games, I still think they are a cool way to keep the genre alive. About a year ago, my sister did a live action Escape Room with some of her friends.  They did fail (word is there was some alcohol to blame), but she had such a good time, she started to recruit other people to go with her to do more Escape Rooms.  

I was a little hesitant at first, to be honest.  The cost seemed a bit high for what amounted to an hour of entertainment.  But, I realized it was the closest I could ever get to living the life of Guybrush Threepwood (a mighty pirate) or Roger Wilco, so my wife and I went with my sister, her husband, and a bunch of our friends.  Our first escape room was the The Secret Agent room in Escape the Room New York City.  And I was hooked from the moment they closed the door. The puzzles were clever and well thoughtout.  It was a very intense hour, and we came down to the wire before solving the room and escaping.

We have done three more rooms since, and I am constantly bugging my sister “When’s our next escape room?”  

So, what makes a good escape room?

  1. Clever puzzles.  It helps when the puzzles are organized in a way that helps you know what’s next.  You should not have to constantly say "I have a four digit number, where should it go?"   I also love games where there is one big puzzle at the end with pieces you gathered along the way.

  1. A good cluemaster.  Probably the most important part.   It helps to have a cluemaster who is paying attention to what is going on in the game.  A good cluemaster will help point you in the right direction without giving you the answers.  Last room we did, we had a terrific cluemaster.  He had a great sense of humor and helped add to the engagement level tremendously.  It really added a whole new level to the play.

  1. Ensuring the players feel that IF they fail, it was through their own failing, not because of something the game designer did or did not do.  The players, even if they lose, should not feel cheated.

  1. A strong theme also can go a long way towards making the experience more memorable.  I love puzzles and clues that really tie into the theme. Like a spy room where 007 is a code.  That is always a nice little touch to me.  

I do want to say that not all our experiences have been positive.  The second time we went to an escape room, there were more than a few issues.  Honestly, if that was my first experience, I probably would have never done another one.  It really seemed like those problems were all caused by bad decisions made by the company running the game (Trap Door Escape Room), so I just have stayed away from their games.  In their defense, it was the first day running that particular game.  

Just some examples of bad planning that can ruin a game:

  1. Not giving proper equipment.  Such as the room was dark, and they only gave you one flashlight.  We had a party of ten, and most of the experience was yelling “Who has the flashlight?” or people trying to use light apps on their phone.

  1. Poor explanation on “what’s part of the game and what’s not.”  We ended up failing because we had no idea we missed an entire room.  We entered.  They pointed for us to go upstairs to start the game, not bothering mentioned the room we walked past on the first floor was actually part of the game.  Every other game we’ve done was great at explaining what was and was not part of the game.

  1. Shoving in additional couples without any ice breaker activities.  We had eight people, and were told we would have a private room.  At the last second, they put two other people in with us.  Personally, we have no problem welcoming new people into our group, but they were very uncomfortable, and seemed to be treating it like a competition, not sharing clues with us.  If you are selling to couples, you need to ensure they understand they may be partnered with strangers, and ensure every customer will enjoy the experience.

  1. During the game, providing no clues or assistance when the players are stuck.  There was not even a clock running to tell you how much longer you had.

  1. After the game, no explanation on what we missed.  Even games we won, the cluemaster has always been very cool about answering any questions we had.  Actually, we didn't even know the game ended as no clear signal was given until the staff walked in to let us know "time's up, we have someone else coming in, so you have to leave."   It was just “if you want to try again, you can do it at a discounted rate...but only if we are having a slow day.”

If you are looking for an escape room, there are a few good resources to find rooms:

If you are in the New York area, these are two very good companies:

I would also suggest keeping an eye on sites like Groupon as they are always offering discounted rates!

One last tip before I go.  When doing an escape room, try to keep things where you find them as much as possible.  In the first room I did, we had a series of drawers in a cabinet.  I kind of tore apart the cabinet to find a hidden key...but later we discovered that we needed to keep the drawers in their original order for a code we needed later.  Thankfully, one of our friends has a great memory and remembered the code, or we would have blown the whole room.   Now whenever we do a room, we freak out whenever something gets moved out of place.  

What did you miss on Critical Blast this week?

Game Jab: