Personally, I love escape room and I will try and solve ANY puzzle I come across. I love puzzles, riddles, scavenger hunts, and even the pixel hunt kind of games in video games. I love the process of going from being completely unaware of the answer, to a full understanding of the puzzle by piecing together the clues. If a puzzle can do that for me, then I am over the moon!
The puzzles are a HUGE part of what I look for in an escape room. Though I don’t think that puzzle design can carry the experience on its own, it is definitely one of three big factors to my enjoyment of a room.
When I solve a puzzle, I want to know exactly how the puzzle works just by solving it. For example, there have been times where I thought “I don’t think this makes sense but maybe ____ is the answer?” Then it works, and I feel a little disappointed, even though I got the answer correct. The reason I feel let down is because the puzzle didn’t work the way I had thought it was going to.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking. You didn’t like the puzzle because it didn’t work the way YOUthought it would? And I completely understand the eye rolls that I might be getting right now but let me explain!
Making a good puzzle is very much like writing a good plot twist into a story or movie. If the twist is not foreshadowed earlier in the movie, then it just feels like a plot device. But if there are subtle hints from earlier that influence how you should be thinking, then when the twist happens you are like “WHOA! I knew that that painting from earlier was going to be important!” Same goes for puzzles. If your team has been trying things to no avail and then you look at one clue you haven’t used yet and suddenly everything clicks and you exclaim “WAIT! What if the ____s are actually showing us how to use these other clues!” then you have yourself a GOLDEN “aha moment!” And in the end, isn’t that what all puzzles are really about?
The next thing I look for in an escape room is theme. At the end of the day, if you don’t like the theme of a room then you won’t be having as much fun as other people that can really engage with the setting.
I am a huge Horror film junkie! I watch them all; everything from the Exorcist to Zombie Mutant Vampires from the Hood! What can I say? I am a silver lining kind of person. I can find diamonds in just about any roughs. However, just because I enjoy the genre does not mean that all horror movies are good. Same goes for escape rooms. The theme of the room is kind of like the salesman for the room: It is what catches my eye fastest when I am looking for an escape room to play. However, once I actually get into the room, I feel that theme carries the least amount of weight on whether I will find the escape room enjoyable or not.
Third, and possible most importantly, is immersion. I don’t care if my team is being hunted by a serial killer or if we are all aliens trying to break out of area 51, I need to be sold on the idea. It isn’t enough to tell me that I am a fish in an aquarium, you need to sell me on that every moment of the experience.
This can be achieved in many ways. It could be as simple as giving everyone a mask to wear, or as complex as having actors in the room that interact with the players in a certain way to get the desired result. Trust me, nothing convinces someone that they are an outlaw in the wild west more than giving them a cowboy hat, a bandana, and having the “law dogs” lock them up in a jail cell. We’ve already talked a lot about immersion in one of our other blog posts, so I don’t need to go too far into how to achieve full immersion… but it is VERY important!
So, to sum this up, when I am looking for an escape room to play the three things I am looking for are:
1) What is the theme?
2) Do they have well thought out puzzles? (This is kind of hard to find an answer without spoiling anything, but reading people’s reactions to the puzzles in reviews is often a good way to find out how good the puzzles are.)
3) How immersive is the game? (One thing I look for is people discussing a game’s hint system in the comments. I ask myself if it makes sense for the setting or not.)
Look at the escape room’s website to get an idea for theme, and then if you are intrigued read some reviews. I can temper my expectations based on other peoples’ reviews and how well the room markets itself. I have only played around 30 escape rooms so far, so I would not consider myself an expert, but this method has helped me search for the next game my team will take on.
What do you look for in an escape room? Let us know in the comments below!
Game Master & Manager
Cross Roads Escape Games