We have deliberately avoided strict do’s and don’ts lists because there are many shades of grey in design.
However, a few months ago, a reader named Bill (@onepixelman) culled this list of Dos and Don’ts from our reviews and sent it to us. Derived from our commentary on a wide variety of games, he took these notes as a guide for his own designs and shared them with us.
I’ve organized the list and added section headings.
- Don’t make puzzles feel like homework.
- Don’t make clue collecting tedious.
- Do set a min/max on the number of players.
- Do watch out for clue bottlenecks.
- Don’t add too many distractions or red herrings.
- Do make sure the connection between clues is strong.
- Don’t require objects to stay in their original position.
- Don’t have multiple possible solutions to a puzzle unless it’s intentional.
- Do create a coherent, compelling theme.
- Don’t have too many of the same type lock or puzzle.
- Don’t let it be possible to miss big puzzles.
- Do have a climax / finale.
- Don’t put random / cheap crap in the room.
- Do check the functionality of critical set pieces.
- Don’t make the location hard to find, and, hell, jazz it up.
- Don’t have bad customer service at any link in the chain.
- Do have a rules explanation video, talk, or sheet.
- Do have a game master who is actively involved during gameplay.
- Do offer a walkthrough, group picture, and debrief session after the game.
Mind the details.
For more thoughts on the escape room industry and design tips, checkout our Room Design section.
Just for fun – I will add some pet peeves of mine for your consideration
1. Black lights are cool if used for well clued things – random black light or multiple “look everywhere” black light really is a time waster
2. Weighing things to get the answer almost always fails due to difficulty in maintaining the precision required – scales bad
3. blindfolds to go into a room seem really, really silly and rarely seem to add to the event (and now seem to be overused) – went to a room recently that required blindfolds to enter a strobe light filled room, once room started you were expected to just remove blindfold and turn on regular lights (and turn off strobe) – why would you go to the effort of the blind fold and strobe for no reason
4. make sure that if no force is required to open things that any strange/unique opening methods are clued/explained and that things do in fact smoothly open (rooms where post game the operators say things like “you are the thousandth team to have trouble opening that feature because it gets stuck” is not a challenging game feature – it is an unintended consequence) Had a recent game where I opened a very cool feature that provided access to a small old style electric box panel – excited to get there, I pulled on the panel and its odd opening mechanism – no luck – prodded pulled etc with no “force required” – finally, after an infinity of time, it popped open – apparently I should have recognized the need to push a hinge in a unique manner which was unclued (apparently I was about the 5th or 6th team in a row to have trouble with that feature – kind of like being asked to fire a gun that has a hidden safety that you are unaware of). Could have used a clue/nudge from gamemaster/etc as this was not a designed puzzle, just an unfortunate element.
5. If your game requires someone in the room to continuously nudge the players on how very elements should interact, your game probably is not as well connected as it should be. As with many great paper puzzles, if all the elements in the room are elegantly interrelated and required to be used (versus a bunch of random unused and distracting elements) the overall result will be much more of a wow effect and participants are more likely to at least know what they should be trying to solve. Getting to multiple points in the game where participants feel like they are completely lost (what do I do now that I have finished puzzle X) is not good – it is one thing to be stuck on a puzzle – it is another thing to finish a puzzle and it not result in a pretty obvious next puzzle action
6. for multiple room puzzles, be very mindful of not providing half a puzzle in the first room that cannot be solved until the second room – very frustrating to spend time trying to solve something provided only to ultimately discover that it is irrelevant until much later… this may be harder to control, but should be watched for
Hi Rex. I totally agree with you on these points as well.
Some of them we covered on our Safety Issues & Cliches post: https://roomescapeartist.com/2016/06/15/escape-room-top-10-cliches-top-10-safety-tips/
This whole post was basically written by a reader, which was a damn cool thing. So we tried not to amend it much other than providing an intro, outro, and headings.
And many of the topics you’ve raised are things we’re going to be posting on as well… Especially the blindfolds.
The blindfolds. Why, oh, why? We will be anxious to see your posr about it!