Upside Down Escape Games – The Arcade [Review]

Insert Coin

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Few things make me as nostalgic as arcades. They remind me of my birthday as a kid, the birthdays that really meant something.

The Arcade packed a lot of great content into a small package. Upside Down Escape Games modified a lot of old equipment into fun and fair challenges. I think that there’s something beautiful about that because all of these classic video games were about making interesting and fun mechanics out of basic technology.

In-game: A few arcade cabinets, the closest one reads, "Nintendowl"

If I were to ask anything of this game, it would be for more of the kinds of interactions that made this game special. I’d love to see it lean a little harder into the gaminess of the setting.

Upside Down Escape Games did a great job of using their technical and artistic chops to pull together something entertaining and unique. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend checking out The Arcade, especially if this feels like the kind of nostalgia that will put a smile on your face.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Video gamers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The Arcade pushes a lot of nostalgia buttons
  • A good mix of puzzles

Story

Our friend Darryl was hosting his birthday party at the local arcade – but the guy had just disappeared – from his own party. I just wanted to play some games, but the rest of the group figured we really should find him. After all, it was his party.

In-game: the inside of a claw machine, filled with stuffed animals.

Setting

The Arcade was a small arcade complete with a couple of video game cabinets, a claw machine, and skee ball.

It was a small approximation, but it felt accurate. I think what really sold it for me was the ridiculous carpet.

In-game: a skee ball machine in an arcade.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Arcade was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and functional arcade games.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: The Escape Block arcade cabinet.

Analysis

➕ The Arcade looked authentic. That carpet! Throwback.

➕ The arcade games were real and functional. We didn’t even need any coins to play them. If a player just wanted to play video games or Skee Ball for an hour, that’s kind of an option.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games worked the arcade games into the gameplay, which was tons of fun. They created fair challenges out of mechanics that could easily have been impossibly difficult. They balanced how much time we spent in front of each cabinet while solving the escape room.

➖ Although the arcade games delivered tangible gameplay, there was opportunity to take other puzzle elements off paper and make them more tangible. 

➕/➖ One great game stole the show. We enjoyed the thematic set pieces, and the different ways it was incorporated into puzzle design. That said, by the end, it felt over-used.

➖ Although Upside Down Escape Games built some surprises into The Arcade, they didn’t all pop. With additional sound and light cues, these reveals could become events.

➕ There are countless obscure and overt video game references in The Arcade… if that’s your sort of thing.

➖ Our exit lacked a boss fight. We wanted a more impactful finale.

➕ As we exited the game, there was a surprise waiting for us.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Upside Down Escape Games’ The Arcade and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Upside Down Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Artists – Baldwin Manor [Review]

Another day, another curse

Location:  Orlando, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

There’s a good game in Baldwin Manor, but it was hidden by a lot of sloppiness:

  • It was too dark and our team was only given 1 flashlight.
  • The tech was far too finicky to be trusted.
  • There was so much wear and tear on a game that frankly wasn’t that old.

Escape Artist was playing with some fun concepts, and had they all worked as planned, this game would have had some great moments, but I felt like it undercut itself at every conceivable turn.

In some parts of the world, Baldwin Manor could stand out. In a fairly strong Orlando market, this game feels like it’s a few steps behind the upper crust. If you’re in the area and looking for an escape room fix, it will do the job… but I suspect that you’ll leave wondering why the execution wasn’t cleaner.

In-game: A strange chair with a very tall back at an old desk.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Some great moments
  • An atmospheric environment

Story

Our family had suffered from a century of bad luck. Legend had it that our poor luck was the result of our great great great aunt’s attempt at black magic. She had been trying to bestow herself with great luck… but had cursed herself instead.

We had recently inherited the family estate, the very property where the curse had originated. By chance or destiny, we’d arrived at the home on the exact anniversary of the spell. According to legend, this anniversary would be the one chance that we’d have to break the curse.

In-game: Portait of a dog dressed as a human beside an old grandfather clock.

Setting

Baldwin Manor was a dimly lit, stately manor with odd dogs-dressed-as-humans art on the walls.

As the game progressed, it shifted from oddly cute to slightly grim and menacing. It never crossed into horror territory.

From a construction standpoint, the set was showing a lot more wear and tear than we’d expect from a fairly new game.

Gameplay

Escape Artists’ Baldwin Manor was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and navigating the lighting.

Analysis

➕ Baldwin Manor was a puzzle-focused escape game with a lot of nifty solves that revolved around typical escape room props. We especially liked the layered puzzles.

 We played Baldwin Manor in low light, with only one small flashlight for the group. This made gameplay more frustrating than it needed to be.

➖ The tolerance on the tech was too tight. All too often, we’d take the correct action, but fail to trigger the solve or the open. This made a lot of the gameplay feel untrustworthy.

➕ Escape Artists used misdirection well to set up a reveal.

➕/➖ In Baldwin Manor, it was too easy to leave the group out of any given moment. One crucial prop could only communicate with one individual at a time. Additionally, with the gameplay spread out in the late game, 75% of our team missed a shining moment.

➕ Escape Artists crafted one particularly exciting, memorable moment that was a true bright spot in Baldwin Manor.

➖This set was heavily worn. While the dark atmosphere obscured this somewhat, it was still apparent that Baldwin Manor had seen a lot of aspiring curse breakers.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking nearby.
  • Baldwin Manor is located at Escape Artists’ Orlando location, not their Sanford location.
  • Note that Baldwin Manor takes place in low light.

Book your hour with Escape Artists’ Baldwin Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Artists comped our tickets for this game.

Are Escape Rooms Scary?

It surprises most folks to learn that the overwhelming majority of escape rooms are not scary at all.

Yes, scary escape rooms exist.

However, the horror genre is a small subset of the escape room medium. Horror escape rooms are heavily desired by some and hated by others. Among the horror escape room genre, most are more creepy and intense than they are terrifying.

Creepy image of a person fearfully clutching the window of a door.

A few horror escape rooms are legendary in the escape room player community for their fear factor, but they are extraordinarily rare.

Escape room companies label horror games appropriately as horror. If you read a company’s website before you book, you won’t inadvertently book a scary escape room.

Let’s examine:

  • Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?
  • How can you determine whether or not an escape room is scary?
  • Where can you find some truly scary escape rooms?

Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?

There are 2 reasons why most people immediately assume that an escape room must be a horror experience.

SAW

It’s difficult to hear the words “escape room” and not think about the SAW franchise. Those movies are literally about a group of people confined within a space and forced to escape or die.

You can rest easy knowing that whatever escape room you visit in the United States is a proper business with insurance and a desire to not get sued or prosecuted for murdering a paying customer.

The Official SAW Escape Las Vegas logo depicting Jigsaw.
Image via Official SAW Escape

Escape rooms – even the official SAW escape room in Las Vegas – are not operated by serial killers hiding behind a literal puppet.

Escape Room Movies

While most escape rooms focus on puzzle and adventure, the movies with the name “Escape Room” are all horror movies (one was more watchable than the others). More specifically, these movies are basically low-budget SAW knock-offs… which is funny because SAW was a low budget flick in the first place, and the sequels are all SAW knock-offs.

A character solving a puzzle box.
Escape Room (2018)

How do I determine whether or not an escape game is scary?

Scary escape games are generally clearly marked.

Zoe, the scariest escape room that we’ve ever played, had this video advertising it on the booking website. It isn’t coy:

Companies like THE BASEMENT that specialize in horror experiences are direct about this on their websites.

Creators of horror escape rooms are targeting a specific audience. They aim to appeal to players who are excited for the experience.

That said, if a game tells you absolutely nothing about the experience, like Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown, you can also read the total lack of information as confirmation that it’s scary.

Where Can I Find Horror Games?

If you’re the type of person who found this post not out of fear, but out of excitement, here are a few places you can go to seek out the thrill of a horror escape room:

The Basement, Los Angeles, CA

The BASEMENT is one of the most well-known horror escape room companies in the United States. In each of their games, you are trapped by the serial killer Edward Tandy, who toys with you, his prey, as you solve his traps. From their collection, we highly recommend The Courtyard and 2017 Golden Lock Award Winning The Elevator Shaft.

DarkPark, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

DarkPark is one of the leading escape room companies in The Netherlands. At their locations in Delft and Zoetermeer, they create “mysterious, immersive, and blood-curdling experiences that take you to new worlds.” Their games are dark and intense. We highly recommend Golden Lock Award Winning games Honeymoon Hotel (2018) and The End (2019).

Single Games at Escape Room Facilities

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on-going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Riddle Room – Forest of Fortune [Review]

Flora and Fauna

Location:  Warwick, Rhode Island

Date Played: December 15, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We had played at Riddle Room before, but stepping into Forest of Fortune demonstrated such a leap forward in game quality that it felt like a completely different company. It was incredible how far Riddle Room has come in 2 years. From the gameplay, to the set, to their hosting, they have substantially leveled up every conceivable element of their business.

It was clear that Riddle Room had put a lot into this buildout and pushed themselves far beyond anything that we had seen from them to date.

In-game: A stone wall with a metal gate.

In addition to the set, Riddle Room built dynamic mechanisms into their gameplay. On more than one occasion, they took an old, stale escape room cliché and morphed it into something unique and incredibly fun.

If you’re in Rhode Island, Forest of Fortune is a must-play escape room. It was fun and funny. On a personal level, we’re truly in awe of how Riddle Room has reinvented itself.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Novel puzzle and interaction design
  • Playful set design
  • Thoroughly fun gameplay

Story

We had received a text from our friend Justin that he needed our help. Justin was lost in the wilds of western Rhode Island, but he’d found a mountain of treasure.

In-game: Forest set.

Setting

Riddle Room set their adventure in an enchanted forest. The set had a whimsical woodland feel. It was almost cartoonish, which helped to sell the detailed, but homemade aesthetic. We liked it.

The stars of the show were some of the larger puzzle set pieces that were clearly the product of a lot of effort and ingenuity.

In-game: A stump with a a fleece hung on it in the middle of the woods.

Gameplay

Riddle Room’s Forest of Fortune was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: View of a a cemetary through a metal gate.

Analysis

➕ The mechanical interactions were dynamic and really cool.

➕ We enjoyed the theme and the setup for this adventure. It was unusual. Although the set looked handmade, it was clearly crafted with care and deliberate design. Everything felt playful.

➖ Forest of Fortune had experienced some wear and tear from players.

➕ We loved when the forest revealed its magic. This lifted our experience and opened up new thrills.

➖ The plot progression wasn’t entirely clear. Midway through the game, we became a bit confused with the story. Because our team split up to solve some of the later puzzles, some players missed some key plot points.

➕ Riddle Room’s outstanding props enabled us to wield magic. These were fashioned out of everyday items and escape room clichés… but crafted into extraordinary tools.

➕ Searching challenges were well clued.

➖ There was an opportunity to craft more engaging interactions and better incorporate cluing for one star element of the final act.

➕ There was a lot of puzzle content in Forest of Fortune, most of which lent itself to teamwork. The gameplay worked well.

➕ The hint system fit right in with the world. It was fun and engaging to interact with.

➕ The finale was surprising and momentous.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Riddle Room’s Forest of Fortune, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Riddle Room comped our tickets for this game.

Colorado Springs, Colorado: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: January 22, 2020

On our trip to Colorado, we drove an hour and 15 minutes south of Denver to Colorado Springs, where there were lots of fun games to play. These are our top recommendations for Colorado Springs.

We also have recommendations for Denver and Fort Collins.

Lisa & David resting on the red rocks of Garden of the Gods.
Also, Garden of the Gods is a beautiful place. You should visit it.

MARKET STANDOUTS

SET & SCENERY DRIVEN

PUZZLE CENTRIC

NEWBIE FRIENDLY

Spooky & Scary … with Actors

Doldrick's Escape Room – Super Bomb Squad [Review]

The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 of escape games.

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Super Bomb Squad was fast paced and frenetic. Doldrick’s Escape Room merged classic video game design with elements of laser tag and escape room gameplay to create a unique beast unlike anything else we’ve encountered.

The story was a riot and the music was fantastic. What really set this game apart, however, was how great it felt to play it quickly. In my experience, once you get past the thrill of setting your first couple of records, most great escape rooms aren’t better when you play them quickly, they are just shorter. Super Bomb Squad made speed feel engaging and necessary.

In-game: A large laser maze in a mirrored room.

There were a few places where the puzzle and tech design threw some unnecessary and frustrating friction into the mix. It was not game breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it did feel like there was some unrealized potential in this otherwise genius creation.

I loved this game. I really did. It sparked a child-like glee in me that few escape rooms ever even flirt with.

If you’re a fan of 8-bit and 16-bit-era video games, Super Bomb Squad is a must play. If you’re not so familiar with that era of video games, there’s still tons to love about this game – you just won’t be in on all of the jokes (sorry Lisa). I’d love to see other companies play with some of the ideas that Doldrick’s Escape Room introduced in Super Bomb Squad.

Captain Spoopy Bones is their creation that gets all of the attention and adoration from the escape room player community and that’s really well earned; Captain Spoopy Bones was freaking fantastic. But don’t ignore Super Bomb Squad. This game wasn’t as refined, but it was startlingly innovative.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Classic video game fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Frenetic action
  • Hilarious characters and story
  • A unique twist on the laser maze
  • There’s nothing else like it

Story

When a weapon of mass destruction must be eliminated, whom do you call? The elite group, Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome!

In-game: A piece of machinery with an illuminated blue biohazard symbol.

Setting

Super Bomb Squad had us infiltrating an enemy base… so of course we began in the elevator. The beating heart of this experience was the crazy laser maze room that looked badass and felt unique from the many, many, many laser mazes we have traversed.

Overall, the quality of the set build was strong. Everything felt like it belonged and the parts that stood out really looked great.

In-game: A locked refridgerator filled with an unknown substance.

Gameplay

Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Super Bomb Squad was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and shooting.

In-game: An assortment of wallmounted machinery and a flashing red alarm light.

Analysis

Super Bomb Squad was a high-energy escape room. With its cheeky, comedic tone, chip tunes music, and video gaminess, we couldn’t help but rush from puzzle to puzzle.

➕ That music. Doldrick’s, pretty please put your music on Spotify.

➕ The intro video was too damn funny. I loved the characters. Please sell merch!

➕ Doldrick’s modified a favorite relic of my childhood into the thing that my imagination always knew it was.

➕ In Super Bomb Squad the majority of the puzzles required coordinated teamwork, often across different props, and even different gamespaces. This added to the excitement.

❓ At the top of this review, I compared Super Bomb Squad to Sonic The Hedgehog 2, a game that was at its best when played as quick as possible. I don’t think that playing fast improves most escape rooms, but I wholeheartedly believe that it is true of Super Bomb Squad.

There were a couple of moments in this game that ground to a standstill. They didn’t add to the tension; they broke the intensity. I think that this game would be better with fewer points of heavy friction and a shorter game clock.

➖ Doldrick’s Escape Room could cut down on unnecessary frustration by fixing a case sensitivity problem.

➕/➖ Super Bomb Squad had us dodging, searching, and shooting in a high-energy segment that brought video gameplay to life. However, without clear feedback, we spent time resolving where we’d succeeded instead of refocusing our efforts on the action. This sequence was at the same time a high point of play, and the point of our greatest frustration with the cluing, feedback, and pacing.

➖ Super Bomb Squad lacked a final boss fight. It wouldn’t take much for Doldrick’s Escape Room to transform the conclusion of this game into a masterpiece. Most of the elements are already in place.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Super Bomb Squad, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doldrick’s Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Talking Tables – Host Your Own Escape Room [Review]

“With Interactive Ending” 🤔

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

Team size: 2+; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes (in theory)

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was not designed for us. If you’re a regular reader of Room Escape Artist, we can pretty much guarantee that it wasn’t made for you either. This game feels like light entertainment for adults who don’t play or puzzle much.

A lantern, instruction booklet, and welcome information.

Host Your Own Escape Room looked good, but it didn’t have much of anything going on beyond its elegant production.

Including setup time, we finished Host Your Own Escape Room in 20 minutes. There was a light searching component and approximately 3 puzzles (depending upon your definition of puzzle), all of which were incredibly common and basic puzzle types.

That isn’t to say that they were bad (except for the one that demanded a bit of outside knowledge). The puzzles were cleanly executed. However, there simply wasn’t much to it.

Creators in the escape room world are making so many delightful and creative games. Host Your Own Escape Room simply wasn’t representative of where this medium is moving.

Who is this for?

People who want to enjoy the faintest whiff of an escape room from the comfort of their own home.

Why play?

  • The 3 puzzles all solve cleanly
  • High production value

Story

We were trapped inside of a cinema in Tokyo.

Assorted large cardboard Japanese items.

Setup

A host is supposed to open the box, read the rules, and hide a few items in a room within their home.

Once the guests are in the room, said host reads a brief introduction to the setting and so begins the game.

The host can play with the group, provided they didn’t solve the puzzles in advance. They just have to hold back on searching (and maybe provide searching hints if they hid items too well or their friends are lazy searchers.)

If the team requires hints or solutions to any of the puzzles, the instruction booklet contains them in the last few pages.

The red maze box art for Host Your Own Escape Room.

Gameplay

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was a standard play-at-home escape game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

A welcome letter, part of a sudoku, a folder for clues, a collapsed lantern, and part of a script.

Analysis

➕ For $20, the production value of Host Your Own Escape Room was impressive. All of the materials looked great. They had an elegant red, black, and white aesthetic that demonstrated that someone really cared about the presentation of this game.

➕ The option and instructions for adding a search component into the game were well executed.

➖ The story was only thematically relevant.

➕ The puzzles within this game all solved cleanly, and pulled from Japanese culture and puzzle design.

➖ The puzzles were all common puzzle types without much of a twist.

➖ A large volume of the objects within this game had no purpose other than to look thematic. It’s a shame that these components weren’t worked into the gameplay at all.

➖ One puzzle required outside knowledge.

➖ The phrase, “with interactive ending” literally meant that we needed to use a web browser in the most basic way possible.

Host Your Own Escape Room came with a beefy notepad. It was hilariously large for this game. We’ve kept it and will be using it for some time.

A large notepad that says "Notes" at the top.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a room with a door and a small table
  • Required Gear: an internet-connected device, paper and pencil (or pen if you like to live dangerously)

Buy your copy of Talking Tables’s Host Your Own Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Talking Tables provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Claustrophobic?

Many escape rooms contain elements that could trigger claustrophobia in someone who suffers from that medical condition. At the same time, there are plenty of escape games that will likely be playable for someone with claustrophobia.

I’m no doctor and I’m no expert in claustrophobia, but I have played games with friends who were worried about enclosed spaces, and they found this wasn’t an issue.

We’re going to take a look at what claustrophobia is and what you should do to ensure that you’re selecting an escape room that won’t trigger your claustrophobia.

Stylized image of the interior of a steel elevator with closed doors.

What is Claustrophobia?

If you suffer from claustrophobia, you experience an irrational fear of confinement. Common triggers include elevators, tunnels, revolving doors, and other restricted spaces.

This is a medical condition. I am not a doctor. If you suffer from claustrophobia, I would strongly urge you to speak to your doctor. A general practitioner can help you find a specialist with expertise to help you through this. You do not have to live with claustrophobia.

Please read up if this sounds like you or someone you care about.

Will Escape Rooms Trigger Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is an individual problem that will affect different people in different ways. I cannot provide a concrete answer that will apply to everyone.

That said, I can speak to some of the common triggers as they pertain to escape rooms.

Locked In or Confined

When escape rooms were first introduced, some of them would lock players in. Modern escape rooms should never lock a player into a space without providing that player with a means of freeing themself.

If you visit an escape room that doesn’t provide you a means of emergency exit, you should ask for your money back and leave.

Tight Spaces

Each escape room offers a different experience in a different sized space.

Some escape rooms can feel cramped or confined, but many of them are large and wide open. A few are even outdoors.

Crawlspaces, small rooms, and elevator-like spaces certainly do exist in some escape games. In many games, however, only 1 teammate is required to go through the small space. This is especially true of crawlspaces.

What to Do Before Booking

If the size of the space is a concern for you, reach out to the company you’re thinking about visiting. If they are a good operator, they’ll answer questions and help you determine if they have a game that will meet your needs.

You should feel comfortable saying, “I (or someone on my team) isn’t willing to enter tight spaces or tunnels. Which of your games should I book?” It’s a completely reasonable question. It’s an easy way to get some peace of mind before booking. The person you speak with may or may not get into the details of the space, but they certainly should be willing to help guide your game selection. If they don’t, call another company.

Also, as a general rule, I’d suggest avoiding horror games. In my experience, they tend to have more crawlspaces, tight spaces, and other attributes designed to poke and prod at human fears.

There are so many different and wonderful adventures to have in an escape room. Many have nothing to do with tight spaces or even escaping. Find the right game for you and go have some fun.

Are Escape Rooms…?

This is the first piece in an ongoing series that we’re publishing to address the common curiosities, concerns, and fears of new escape room players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

The (Potential) Magic of the Single-Room Escape Game

We recently received a question about single-room escape rooms from Victor, co-creator of Sherlocked in Amsterdam. He recognized that making a compelling single-space escape room would be quite challenging and asked us if there were examples of successful ones, and what makes these successful.

Black & White, a lone person looking out a large window from behind.

When You Survey the Players

When asked, escape room players will tell you they overwhelmingly prefer multi-room escape rooms. (See the graph on page 4 of the 2018 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey.)

When most players answer that question, however, I don’t believe they are saying that multiple rooms are inherently more enjoyable. I think they are saying that most of the rooms they’ve loved – the rooms that have given them a sense of adventure, excitement, intrigue, and discovery – have multiple rooms.

It’s easier to deliver on these escape room virtues through multiple spaces.

The Lull of the Single Space

It is easy to make a mediocre single-room escape game.

When you spend 60 minutes solving puzzles in a single space, you begin to feel comfortable with the space. You’ve searched it thoroughly. You know everything about it. You won’t find anything new. You won’t be surprised. The excitement and sense of adventure subsides, slowly at first – and then quickly.

Unless…

You go out of your way to design an experience, not just a room.

The most successful single-space escape rooms make that room feel like it’s part of a broader world and story through a number of different tools.

The Narrative Twist

If the story changes, the players are in the same physical space, but they are experiencing something new there.

Let’s say that the team was put into the room on a mission to disarm a bomb. If the game ends with the diffusing of the bomb, there was no twist; there was no intrigue. However, if that bomb gets defused 20 minutes into the game and it turns out that something more sinister is afoot… that creates opportunities for surprise.

The Scene Change

If the setting changes – through lighting, sound, the addition or removal of props, or anything else – the space can once again feel new and discoverable.

Adding or removing things from the space can fundamentally change it. Additionally, large-scale reveals can create powerful moments. There are single-room games that feel like large puzzle boxes, slowly revealing big secrets and new interactions. This can be incredibly engaging. Arcane Escapes in California did this in The Hideout.

In-game: A wooden wall with pipes and a big red valve mounted to it.

The Characters Emerge

In games with actors, these characters can change the space with their presence. They will move through it and interact with it, drawing players to see it in different ways.

A live actor can also affect the setting in planned ways that a player cannot. SCRAP does this so well in San Francisco’s Pop Star Room of Doom.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

The Outside World Exists

Having the room feel like it is within a broader world is powerful. This is part of the magic of Strange Bird Immersive’s The Man From Beyond.

Image via Strange Bird Immersive

Incredible things can happen when it feels like the actions that you take within the room are changing the world beyond the walls, and similarly, outside forces are affecting you.

There are many other ways to do this. The key is to build drama. If the players get too comfortable with the setting and the story, then their excitement will wane. Keep the space in flux – in reality or in their minds – and single-room escape rooms can be incredible.

Single Room Hate

Players often look down on single-room games because the single room is frequently an indicator that the game was under designed. For every Man From Beyond, Pop Star Room of Doom, and The Hideout, there are many more forgettable single-room escape games.

We’ll never knock an escape game just for being a single room. We’ll argue against anyone who thinks that one room is an automatic indicator of bad quality. That said, we understand why an escape room player might draw the conclusion that single-room games offer a lower quality experience.

Announcing: 2 RECON Speakers!

RECON is going to have a stellar speaker lineup. The first two speakers have already been announced!

Nick Moran – London

One of our favorite things about playing escape rooms with Nick is discussing them with him over coffee or cocktails. He is so talented at noticing details about game design and articulating his thoughts.

We’ve heard Nick speak about escape room design to many different audiences, large and small. He is clear, polished, and witty.

A beautiful shiba on a train platform at night.
This photo of Nick Moran’s dog Elinor was stolen and published without permission.

On the RECON stage, Nick will be talking about Intellectual Property. He has extensive experience working with IP as Game Director of Sherlock: The Game Is Now, in collaboration with Hartswood Films.

Read his full bio on the RECON website.

Fun Fact: The day we met Nick, he and David debated the definition of art for two hours at a cafe in Amsterdam.

Errol Elumir – Toronto

The one time we played an escape room with Errol, he started by putting on a show… and concluded by solving an incredibly challenging puzzle that had already stumped a few teammates. And that’s Errol, in a nutshell.

Errol is a talented puzzle designer who has given much thought to his craft, and has written extensively about escape room puzzle design. He’ll be sharing his deep knowledge of puzzle design at RECON. Live – on stage, in an escape room, or pretty much any time – he is energetic and entertaining.

Comic of Errol screaming "AAAHHHH!!!"
Errol is also a cartoonist.

Read his full bio on the RECON website.

Fun Fact: We first reached out to Errol in 2015 when a REA reader asked for tips for playing escape rooms with children. We knew he’d have insights to share and he delivered.

Who Else?

You’ll have to wait and see!

If you want to be the first to know, follow RECON on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

Attend RECON

  • Date: August 23-24, 2020
  • Location: Boston, MA

Your ticket to RECON reserves your space at these talks. You’ll have a chance to learn from Nick and Errol and ask them questions. Furthermore, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss their talks with others, as you help each other determine what their insights will mean to your businesses.

Tickets are on sale now at the early bird price!