If every player has fun, then they will come back.
A room has too many players if there are:
- players standing around with nothing to do (if you have nothing to do you should re-search the room)
- tight spaces that can’t fit the whole team, and thus players are missing out
A room has too few players if there are:
- too many puzzles for the players to complete in the time allowed
- physically interactive puzzles that take more hands, weight, or force than team has to offer
The more players you can fit in a room, the more money you can earn. If you charge by the player, an extra head is extra cash.
If you overstuff your game, then this is short term cash because players who don’t get to participate won’t have fun, and won’t return.
Long term, extra players = less money.
Communication breaks down exponentially as a function of team size. Be aware of this as you design.
The more players, the more risk the players take on as a team.
In my experience, the typical game starts with a lot of puzzles that converge so that fewer puzzles happen simultaneously, ultimately culminating in one final puzzle.
Escapistto calls this funneling “path-based” and compares it to the “sequential” design in this post, where he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. One of his considerations is team size, and teams of non-ideal size.
For the funneling, or path-based approach, that I see most often, and most enjoy: Design your room so that at the start, there are more puzzles happening than players to do them. Then you hit the sweet spot where everyone is busy and everything is in progress.
This means that different players have had different experiences in the room and will have different knowledge to contribute to the final puzzle.
As you approach the end of the game, your players should all experience the final puzzles unfold, even if they aren’t actually touching the clues or puzzles. Create an ending where there is space for everyone to stand and appropriate lighting. You want all the players to experience the climactic moments of the game.
Not every game funnels this way, but regardless of the structure of your game, consider each player’s ability to participate.
In my experience, 4-8 players is optimal. But it really depends on your game.
In the UK virtually all rooms are 3-5 (occasionally 2 or 6 are allowed). I’m only aware of one room that allows more and that’s the 12 player zombie escape room that’s been imported from the States. From my perspective I feel 4 is the optimal number of players, and I wonder how much that’s been conditioned by room designed with that average in mind.
Having said that, there’s something really fun about getting to the pub (bar…) afterwards and finding out about all the parts you weren’t remotely involved in: “Where did you get that key from? What do you mean from the bag? Which bag? The one you found by opening the safe? There was a safe? In the other room? There was another room?” etc etc.
The problem I perceive with rooms designed for 12 people is that you either share with strangers (which will be massively hit or miss), or you need to get a large number of people out – and potentially with a relatively small margin or error (too many and you can’t all play, too few and it becomes expensive). One thing I like about the 3-5 rooms is that if you get six people, you can just book two rooms (and typically they’re much closer to a price per person than price per room, so that isn’t too bad).
I’d never considered that “optimal” might be conditioned by the room design average. My “sweet spot” is a larger number than yours, and likely is the result of my playing a number of 8-12 player puzzles in the US. Interesting.
I know some players who prefer to experience every component of every puzzle within a room, but I agree with you. I much prefer hearing my friends tell of their genius moments that I completely missed out on. The post game pub/bar experience is almost as important as playing the game 🙂
I’ve actually known the 10-12 person puzzles to deter people just because they can’t gather the full team and don’t want to play with strangers. We’ve definitely had some interesting (and overall, less successful) experiences on the road when bringing a random assortment of people we sort of know who don’t know each other.
I know of an escape room with a minimum of 4 players. There was exactly only one puzzle that required more than a single person at a time, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much that was costing the business in the long run
Absolutely agree. I think of that more often that I’d like to.