The phrase “All Play Matters” is fast becoming my mantra. It is a reminder that, well, all play matters. This is in a effort to expand beyond my own thoughts and notions of play, which can admittedly become narrow at times in the quest for mastery. So when an opportunity to go to an escape room arose during my vacation with family, I danced around the kitchen like somebody who won the lottery.
For those of you unfamiliar with escape rooms, they are the hot new entertainment craze sweeping the nation right now and you should have an opinion about them if you want to stay relevant among your trendy friends. Here’s a crash course: You and your crew of people are taken to an elaborate room filled with puzzles, locks, and other mysterious items and locked inside. It is your goal to try and escape within the allotted time. If you have ever played a “point and click adventure” or a hidden object puzzle (from Highlights magazine, perhaps), it has a lot of the same elements. Clues are left around the room and every object you can move is potentially vital to your success. If being locked in a room sounds a little too claustrophobic for you, rest assured, you are monitored in some capacity. In the one I went to, there were cameras and a video screen where clues could be displayed. Also, the door had a special emergency latch from the inside, so we could leave at any point without finishing the game, so safety isn’t really an issue. I have heard of other rooms that actually leave a guide in the room with you, and for the VERY bold, there is at least one experience where every member of your group starts handcuffed to a piece of furniture. The rules and themes will vary from location to location, but the gist remains the same: escape the room.
I really wish I could share some photos and examples from my experience, but of course, the proprietors don’t want you to do that because it spoils the game and I respect that. I can tell you this: I went to Houdini’s Room Escape, we played The Game Room, and we escaped with only five minutes to spare. Apparently the room has a success rate of about 39%, and I will say even with a group of nine players, we BARELY made it out. Everyone had their own moment to shine. For example, when I [REDACTED] after reading a [REDACTED, AGAIN], it led us down a rabbit hole ending in [REDACTED. EXPECTING SOMETHING?]. Our guide even spoke to me afterwards about my success in discovering how [YOU SURE ARE PERSISTENT] worked. Truly, it was a [YOU REALLY GOTTA STOP THIS] for all. We even earned an EXCLUSIVE sticker for beating the game!
I am STILL having trouble finding the right words to describe the experience, so I’m going to let my lovely wife (who was also there) detail the game in a much more organized way:
No one is in charge. Well, yes, the game master/room coordinator is in charge of dispensing hints and making sure the group doesn’t damage the room [As a guy who may have accidentally field-stripped a cryptex, this is TOTALLY POSSIBLE. -Leland], but what is important is that no one from your group is in charge. This was an interesting dynamic because I have rarely experienced this in meat-space gaming. In D&D there is the DM who is your friend, but knows the whole plot of the scenario and only shares hard earned information with the players. Also, many of my board game experiences have been shaped by playing with someone who already knows how to play. In these cases, the game is still fun, but the dynamic is different because some players have an advantage because they are familiar with the strategies and choices of the scenario. This is why so many board game groups play the same games over and over; games are more fun when everyone is on the same page and skill level.
In the escape room, no one in your group knows what is about to happen! You are all trying to beat the clock together and are equally in the dark. The dynamic was interesting. It really allowed everyone to contribute something and the sheer amount of puzzles kept one person from taking too much control.
Clue, hints, and puzzles. I am admittedly a lover of hidden object games, which means I am already into using my noggin to find patterns and solutions. Thus, the escape room was definitely up my alley because a lot of it was solving puzzles OR needing to solve puzzles to find the key to discover the solution to another, as yet, unsolvable puzzle. As a gamer, I appreciated the variety of different types of clues and puzzles. (I have only experienced one room so far, so I cannot say for certain that all rooms will be like this.) Regardless: if you like puzzle games, you will not be disappointed.
How tangible it was. One thing I always find a little ridiculous about hidden object games is how many people seem to have custom made garden gate locks or briefcase keys. [As an observer of these games, it always baffles me why you can’t use “CROWBAR” for, legit, every door. -Leland] The escape room delivers on this concept in reality, which was fantastically fun. It was so tangible. Boxes, keys, books, cryptexes, padlocks, and more. Imagine: you have in your hands a locked box and you can hear something rattling around in there! What is it?! You’ve got to figure out the code first. Or is it the code to the other lock-box?! Even the room itself contributed to this concept. There’s nothing like sitting on an antique style sofa while you try to solve a cryptex. I have never experienced anything like it! It truly felt like a computer game come to life.
The backstory, the room decoration, and the puzzles all made for a very fun and interesting experience that I have not encountered anywhere else. 10/10, would escape again.
So try it out! It’s another fun thing to do and it’s centered around cleverness and ingenuity, which as a gamer, you’re probably chock full of! So find one around you and check it out. I discovered four locations (each with their own set of rooms) in the city near me, which is quite impressive since it’s not a big city. Try something new, try a new way to play, try a new hobby that’s reinventing meat-space gaming. What better way to kick off the new year?